THE HIGHS AND LOWS OF A POSTPARTUM WOMAN. BY ADEOLA ADEMOKOYA
From swelling like a mini balloon to change in skin color, to uncontrollable emotions, tantrums and the occasional involuntary farting, postpartum changes be it physical or mental for women is not only a rude shock but can either make or break her, her marriage or both. As someone who has been constantly granted the privilege to be around pre-birth and post birthing mothers (even had one deliver in my car during my NYSC days also known as National Youth Service Corps: I promise you it still gives me goosebumps when I think about it, never want it to happen again) sitting with them is always a roller-coaster of emotions, not just for them but everyone around. My focus will be the mothers and not people around them simply because only the owner of the shoe knows where it pinches the most, plus experiences differ.
When I look at pregnant women, I am in total awe, like seriously; you as a human being just like me can endure diverse levels of sometimes permanent pain and changes to your body? How? How do you endure the “miracle” of childbirth, another human being ripping and screaming its way out of you, how do you endure going through all that sometimes without the luxury of an epidural (medical aid to pain), just a prayer and hours of body contorting pushing pain (even those who go through cesarean section are not spared from certain levels of pain and discomfort…yikes) yet you can smile as soon as the baby is out? How? I can barely stand menstrual cramps and migraine without rolling on the ground like an Egyptian during the plague.
I get motherhood is a thing of joy, it should be wanted and celebrated but what happens when it is not? What happens when the mother is not feeling exactly grateful or joyful to be a mother? When it comes to childbirth; No matter how much you think you have read from now till kingdom come, no matter how many of your mom friends, family and colleagues you speak to, or even how many doctors, nurses or midwives (also known as doulas in the western world) you receive council from, it’s hard-hitting to know exactly how your labor and delivery will go or how your mind will accept the highs and lows that come with it. Here are some of the things men and other women may honestly not know about the changes and postpartum.
Being around a pregnant woman who has a ton of cravings can be scary, cute sometimes but definitely scary because you never know what she may want to eat or drink, if it is available or if it exists based on her description. You can laugh now but wait till you do not provide it and a shoe or two may come flying at your head (sometimes it is an involuntary reaction). A lot of people know about the cravings before birth but have you met a woman and her cravings after? Totally different. Some women can no longer stand the things they used to request for (this is bad news for you if you happen to buy those things in bulk… just start praying and crying or hope someone else may want them). I have seen women want only cold things, like all of a sudden, their tongues are so sensitive to heat it is ridiculous, I have seen some who never liked candy suddenly can’t do without or the ones who take spicy food to a whole new limit of testing how hot can hell be in your mouth. AHH the joys they say. Its food right, what is so tough about this? Well let me give you a shock…not every one can handle drastic changes, especially when it comes to nourishment. Imagine hating fish your whole life, not eating and being allergic to it, but now with the 360 your body has done, it is all your taste buds will settle for even if it makes you so sick to your stomach and your skin, the urge is difficult to fight. People thinking you have no self-control or intend to harm yourself and your baby, without truly understanding the powers of postpartum and its unspoken issues. I would suggest that if you happen to be around someone like this, keep your negative comments to yourself. No new mother wants to be bashed about what she puts in her body especially if she is struggling. How about you be kind and soothe her with kind words of understanding while finding alternative less harmful things she can eat and deceive her cravings with… I think that’s a better option.
After listening to about twenty women give their views/experiences about medical issues concerning postpartum problems as well as watching intense documentaries and realities shows concerning childbirth, I must admit being shook to the core of my soul in two ways, one being admiration for how strong these women are, how passive yet introspective they spoke about experiences, the second being it’s a no for me. I promise you its like an uncertain horror movie that only the writer and director can predict and the thought is terrifying.
Let me break it down for you to understand; I will be doing this by simply listing some, some of the medical mysteries that come with postpartum issues, bear in mind that some women are very very very lucky to never experience them, in fact they glow more during and after pregnancy, while some women just fall apart or keep it together while standing on the edge of a total break down each day. Ready? Okay here we go:
- VVF -Vesico Vaginal Fistula
- Discharge, pain or redness that doesn’t go away or gets worse around a c-section incision (cut), episiotomy or perineal tear
- Chest pains
- Trouble breathing
- Heavy bleeding
- Depression (postpartum depression)
- Possible bacterial vaginosis(also called BV).
- Possible endometritis
- Sore breasts
- High blood pressure
- Leaky bladder after every sneeze or hard cough (sometimes it never goes away)
- Hair loss etc. the list is endless honestly. Some women may have an unfortunate extreme response to an infection called sepsis, sepsis is extremely life-threatening with changeable symptoms like chills or feeling very cold, clammy or sweaty skin, rapid breathing, rapid heart rate, feeling confused and fevers. Even without going into descriptive details you can get a sense of fear and uncertainty.
Hence why I would say this again, no woman after birth needs you to make her feel much worse than her body already makes her feel. Being kind, being understanding, being helpful, being respectful and being available is what is most needed for women before and after birth.
The mind will always be a fascinating yet complicated object to be feared and adored at the same time. A regular woman’s mind is like a beautiful complex maze that only she can truly navigate, but what happens when the navigator or compass is broken. Madness ensues.
From negative comments from one’s spouse, family, friends and associates to self-condemnation and societal pressures constantly, by showing the need for perfection through illustrations in magazines, social media etc., as flimsy and careless as people may be with their words (masking it as being honest), these can cause irreparable harm to not just the mother but her baby and marriage as well. She must be pampered, consoled and reminded that she is much more that the vessel that holds her soul. She must be reminded that she is literally a walking art, a miracle in human form, a gift and a blessing anyone should be proud to know and love each day.
As much as postpartum issues in women can be intimidating and downright terrifying, we must not overlook how beautiful, positive and humbling the experience can be, not just for the mothers but her medical caregivers, spouse and family members. With childbirth you get to experience the resilience, strength and growth of a woman in a few hours or months. She is literally a miracle worker on earth. For many years the understanding of giving birth has had both long and short-term perspective for a woman’s wellbeing as well as survival (physically and mentally). The birthing ritual pre and post birth can be very satisfying especially when her support system is in tune with her every need from emotional to physical as well as mental.
Just like each woman is different with her experience, this translates to her emotions as well, by carefully listening and watching a mother, you show her that birthing can be a powerful and empowering journey. We as individuals must be considerate at all times in regards to celebrating the highs and lows of childbirth, certain things to consider are:
- Alternative management techniques (e.g., breathing or relaxation techniques), and
- Actions or interventions by the labor-and-birth staff.
- Emotional social support by peers etc
It is important to note that in celebrating childbirth that across the world there are similar process of taking care of postpartum mothers (physically that is) such as blessings amongst the Navajo Indians, closing the Bones in Mexico with a rezobo scarf, to Omugwu in eastern Nigeria with different fabric, and so much more, this is to help a new mother retain her body’s former glory in order to be found desirable by her spouse, boost her confidence and bond with her caregivers. It is a beautiful and very emotional right of passage to honor her growth, her grace and her strength.
So, keep this in mind always, just as we celebrate the beginning of a new life, we must not forget to preserve the one that came before it. To every mother out there, THANK YOU FOR BEING OUR STARS!