In the United States, I have found that we have a big secret. Everyone tells pregnant women what to expect during pregnancy, what they think the birth will be like, and maybe even how to care for a newborn. What we DON'T talk about so much is what physical and emotional changes a new parent may experience. So I'm going to talk about it here!

"Postpartum"

When I say "postpartum" what most people think of is the myriad of mood disorders that may be present during the postpartum period, such as postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety, the baby blues, and postpartum psychosis. The word "postpartum" literally means "after birth" and describes the first 6 or so weeks after a baby is born. So a woman can be "postpartum" and not have a postpartum mood disorder. They're two separate terms.

I'm not going to presume to tell someone what they will experience after the birth of a baby, but I do want to bring awareness to the very wide variety of emotional and physical responses that are possible. Here are some words women I know have used to describe how they felt during their first 6 weeks after having their babies:

Raw, vulnerable, leaky

On edge, soggy, sleepy, in awe

Mighty - for delivering naturally. I was on a high!

Dazed. Sleep deprived.

Alone, isolated, exhausted, invisible

Happy but fatigued. Swollen. Uncomfortable and uneasy. Unorganized.

Consumed

Exhausted, overwhelmed, underprepared

In love, happy, engorged, like a mammal, beastly, like I can conquer all.

Depression, defeat, migraines, withdrawn, alone

Exhausted, invincible, overwhelmed, grateful

Elated, powerful, proud, exposed, dependent, naive, and wild (I had extreme and mixed emotional responses)

Dreamland (I'm a mom???), scared, sad, exhausted, worried about everything

Overwhelmed, elated, alone, disappointed (not in my child), amazed, in love, chaotic, drowning, handicapped, helpless, primal. Tons of conflict in my mind and heart and extreme feelings working against one another.

Strong, in love, exhausted, emotional

As you can see, there are some words that pop up frequently (exhausted, much?) but there are also some very diverse descriptions there! There's no right or wrong way to experience these first few weeks. It's a losing game to compare yourself with any other model you see - tv shows, celebrities, or even your family and friends! Some women are packing up their babies and going to the park within the first week, and some don't put real clothes on and leave the house for a solid month or more. It's important to do what feels right for you and your family.

Ask your postpartum doula for local resources for new parents. This might include feeding support groups, meal services, play groups, counselors, massage therapists, cleaning services, placenta encapsulation specialists, etc. If you are concerned about your mental health, or if the feelings of sadness and weepiness do not get better little by little, contact a mental health care professional who specializes in postpartum care. And pass along your experiences so postpartum won't be a secret anymore!