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Navigating Postpartum - Ash's Journey

Navigating Postpartum - Ash's Journey

Hey mama, so you’ve gone through the magical door to motherhood and birthed your baby! Can we just say Congratulations! We think that every time a baby is born, so too is a mother! And while we spend so much time preparing for baby, as new mamas we often forget to prepare ourselves for the transition to motherhood. 

We want to know (and share) what really goes on postpartum, so we asked mamas to share their experiences, ideas and words of wisdom about how they are navigating their postpartum journey. At Viva La Vulva we want to normalise what our bodies go through after growing and birthing a baby, and becoming a mother. Postpartum experiences are rarely talked about, but a baby changes you, your body and your soul! 

If you love the idea of normalising everything postpartum and wanna share your thoughts, feelings, ideas, wisdom with other mamas to be - you can share your story here. 

And Ash, thank you for this important conversation and helping us normalise these stories by telling yours, powerful mama.

VLV: How do you feel overall about your pregnancy, birth and postpartum experiences? And how far along in your postpartum journey are you now?

My pregnancy was pretty much a textbook pregnancy, morning sickness and the rest of it but I also felt the most beautiful i've ever felt during pregnancy, mostly because I didn't feel the pressure to be or look a certain way (which in life up until this point I had), I had more important things to think about like growing a human, and knew how important my bodies job was in it so I was able to see myself, honour and respect my body in a whole new way.  

I was terrified of birth and I'm not a big fan of hospitals and I was due just as the first wave of the COVID pandemic had hit. I knew I had to do a lot of mental prep work to overcome this during my pregnancy. I read so many books, listened to positive birth stories, watched births, meditated, exercised, talked to friends who had kids, did a online birth course, an antenatal course and read a hypnobirthing book!I researched the shit out of birth to know all my options and what I would choose should I end up in any given situation. The more I learned the more I knew I wanted a natural birth so I did everything I could to have this happen. I wrote my own birth affirmations, listened to birth affirmations everyday, did acupressure, had pregnancy massage, went to a chiro, ate medjool dates, pineapple, cimicifuga, raspberry leaf tea, expressed colostrum, you name it I did it... all in the lead up to birth… to help me have a natural one. 

The good news: I ended up having my baby girl in about 4 hours, naturally! I laboured mostly at home and was 10cm dilated when I arrived at the birthing unit. My waters broke in the car park. It was an intense experience but something I am so so proud of myself for. Because she came so quickly I had pretty serious 3rd degree tearing (where you tear to your bum basically!) and ended up being transferred to hospital for sutures, a crazy experience for me! 

I'm now 17 months in, in my postpartum journey and it’s been a wild ride! I’m still breastfeeding, my vulva has healed with some scar tissue left, the pesky hemorrhoids have gone - and I felt mostly back to normal down there by about 9 months, I’ve got tiger stripes and my boobs are different, I can count the nights i’ve slept through, over the past year and a half, on one hand, I’ve seen a counsellor to work through some identity shift stuff because I wanted and needed the extra guidance and support navigating my relationship with myself and I still have my lovely husband (thank goodness haha). I wholeheartedly love being a mama, but it is hard.

VLV: Tell us about your postpartum healing journey - how has it been for you?

To be honest I didn’t give postpartum too much thought as I was wrapped up in overcoming my fear of birth and what went with that. So I didn’t really have many expectations…  Looking back I wish I gave it a lot more thought. 

Although I definitely had ideas about being a mum, how rewarding it would be, how fun it would be, how it would give me a life purpose and take away my anxiety - which it has been those things but it's also a lot harder than I expected. The worry that comes with it can be overwhelming at times - making sure my baby has everything she needs, that she’s safe, respected. The tremendous amount of things I need to do to make sure it all happens. AKA the motherload. I thought I would sleep more, I’ve never been so tired in my life haha!

Physical healing: With third degree tearing and stitches it was pretty painful down there and I couldn’t really walk or stand for more than 5 mins at a time for about 2 weeks. Viva La Vulva  Perineal Healing Spray was an absolute lifesaver for me. And I used Witch Hazel on my hemorrhoids. I had major night sweats and got a fever when my milk came in which was scary as my midwife thought it was an infection! But I was sweet, it turned out it was just a drop in hormones and shedding excess water. I bled lochia for about 4 weeks and got my period at 10 weeks postpartum even though breastfeeding. I was guttttted about this haha, I thought I had a little more time but no!  

Breastfeeding was pretty straight forward for me, I was super engorged for the first week or so and leaked a lot for about 3-4months. I found it painful at the start when we were learning to latch and when I got thrush on my nipples, but other than that it came naturally, I felt and still feel grateful for this as I know it doesn’t always come easy. I did have major mood swings around the 4 month mark when breastfeeding for a few weeks feeling super down - this was a weird time but I pushed through and it passed, I put it down to hormones.

Mental healing/identity shift: All of the mindfulness, mediation and work I put in before birth actually helped me so much during the hormone fluctuations and baby blues straight after birth. I knew when I needed support and to ask for it, and I knew when I needed to tap out or have a break or have a check in. I had super low lows and very high highs with all the oxytocin and adrenaline pumping through me, everything felt raw and intense and new. For the first few weeks I felt pretty amazing (other than the vulva soreness) and up until about three months I felt generally pretty good! Then the sleep deprivation really kicked in and I’ve been managing and juggling that ever since.

I also noticed a huge shift with who I was and how I identify as a mother. I now know I was grieving my pre-baby self, the freedoms that come with not having a child, and I missed my old body, my vagina and my old creative self. I knew she was still in there but the sleep deprived haze had really taken over. I’ve felt totally lost, completely alone, unsure, sad and angry and not myself. It's hard to admit these feelings as a new mama. I still feel them although a lot less often.

I wanted so badly to ‘find the joy in every little moment with my new baby’ and ‘enjoy every minute’ like everyone was telling me to and not take any of it for granted, but I just simply couldn't do that everyday on the amount of sleep I was getting, it just wasn’t realistic. I love being a mother and I love my daughter and everything she teaches me DAILY about life and myself. But wow I was not prepared for all of these feelings; how to be a good mum, how to find patience and get shit done on 3 hours of broken sleep, the daily grind of groundhog day, the underlying worry and anxiety that often comes with caring for a child and keeping them safe, the endless laundry and chores, the relationship with my own parents changing, the relationship with my partner and with myself all changing!

And I’ve been learning to navigate this ever since and I feel I will for the rest of my life. Coming across the word Matrescence has actually helped me immensely. It’s given me the language to explain the unexplainable feelings that come with being a mama. I explain Matrescence as, what adolescence is to teenagers, Matrescence is to mothers. The transition to motherhood and everything that comes with it. It really is a personal journey. 

Becoming a mother has taught me the most about myself and forced me to get real with myself in SO MANY WAYS. It forced me to get real with my relationships, my parents, my childhood traumas, my boundaries and my body. It’s given me confidence. It taught me that it is okay to grieve for our pre-baby bodies. While all bodies are beautiful we are allowed to feel sad or miss them (and our prebabyselves) as we adjust into our new self. It’s taught me, for the first time in my life, at 33, to celebrate and honour and love my body and how it supports me! 

Being a mama is my greatest motivator, to be a good role model to show up for myself and my baby and family. It has helped me push myself, find my voice and provided me with heaps of creative inspiration too!

VLV: What are the hardest things to expect becoming a new mum and how did you overcome/work through these things?

I think everyone has their ‘hard thing’ with motherhood, for me it is sleep and not getting enough of it. I have had a fair amount of anxiety and depression in the last 10 years and sleep deprivation plays a huge part in me feeling good. My world for the last wee while has been focussed on getting enough sleep, how can I, when will I, what does it look like. Haha. When you’ve been surviving on broken sleep for months and months on end, it tests you, it pushes you to the edges and then some. It makes the simplest of things HARD. There’s been many tears. Mum rage. And hitting many breaking points but still coming out the other side. 

This has been rough, many people have said why don’t you just sleep train or move baby into her own room. These things didn’t feel right for us as a family. And the 2 times I tried a ‘sleep training’ technique I just had so much guilt and anxiety about it I couldn’t do it, my little gal didn’t respond well. It's not for us. I went against my values and beliefs and it made everything so much worse for me, I wasn’t trusting myself or my baby. After I found the ‘Beyond sleep training’ facebook group I never looked back! It was nice to find a group of parents that I could relate to. It was nice to not feel alone in my choices to co sleep, breastfeed and cuddle to sleep and it really normalised this for me. My mama friends also supported me massively through a lot of this by sharing ideas and experiences. I wouldn't have gotten through without their support and understanding. 

I’ve researched, read and talked to SO many people about sleep and how to get more of it, while still keeping true to my commitment to gentle attachment parenting, with a wakeful baby who for 18 months woke every 2 - 3 hours.

I had to learn how to manage it and myself:

  • I’ve shifted my expectations around sleep completely. I know that it won’t be forever, but it might be like this for a few more years. There are many different stages and phases and it changes regularly with babies!

  • To function okay the next day I know I need at least 3 hours in a row of sleep at a time through the night. And I need to get 2-3 hours of sleep between 5am-8am when baby wakes up for the day! My partner takes over in the morning so I can get some uninterrupted ZZZs in. Finding ways to rest wherever you can is important. Ask for help if you need to, do not go it alone, because burnout is no fun especially with a baby to look after!

  • I know the signs when I am nearly at breaking point. I get angry, super touched out feeling and overwhelmed. When this happens I make sure to go to bed early, rest in the daytime if I can, not do too much or put pressure on myself to achieve too much, ask for extra help and find some time to recharge on my own.

  • I take a night off every now and then and my partner does the full night, whether it means I am in the other room sleeping or staying at a friend's house! We introduced formula and bottle around 6 months and I still also breastfeed so I am able to do this.

VLV: Having a baby can change your relationships. Your relationship with yourself, your partner, your family, and your friends. What advice can you give around maintaining good relationships, during this time and beyond?

  • Communicate your needs and emotions with your partner/family as much as you can, it’s key. Be open and honest with where you are at and any expectations you have. 

  • Nurture your relationship with your partner if you have one, this is not a waste of time, it will help keep the spark alive in the long run. Something that has helped me and my partner is if we argue or things get heated we make sure to apologise and check in to make sure we're okay a few hours after. We know to let it GO and not carry it around. We know in our hearts we’re both operating on minimal sleep and it’s not a personal attack, we need to check in with each other and make note of what we need to do next in order for things to flow or change! Communicate, and LISTEN. 

  • Check in with your partner/support daily in the early days of having a newborn, and weekly once you’ve got your rhythm going. 

  • Find ways to get some quality time with those you care about - this includes yourself! Having some me-time/space will help your relationships. 

  • Your baby will take up most of your time and energy, learn how to go with the flow and be flexible. You may have to cancel plans over and over. Good friends/family understand this!

VLV: Becoming a mother is a huge physical and emotional shift, in moments of overwhelm how do you find your calm, and look after your own mental health?

My go-tos for finding my calm when I am overwhelmed: 

Fresh air, the ocean, a walk around the block, a shower, deep breathing, 5 min meditation, watching a funny show on netflix, listening to my fav song, or talking to a friend who is a really good listener.

My go-tos for maintaining my mental health (on no sleep):

Prioritising eating well, having a shower, getting outside and walking, journaling, listening to an interesting podcast, seeing a counsellor, giving myself permission to rest with my baby if it's been a rough night, lowering my expectations on chores and on myself, spending time doing things I enjoy, spending time with people I enjoy! 

VLV: What advice would you give to a first-time mama approaching her due date to help her feel more confident about her postpartum journey?

There are so many things I want to say to new mamas, that I wish someone had told me;

  • It’s your unique journey mama, just as all births and babies are unique, so is your postpartum journey, it's a special time welcoming a new little being that you created into the world and learning about who they are, and who you are as a mother. It’s gonna be hard. Embrace the feelings, listen to them, express them, let them out. Honour them. It’s important you do. Know that it's all part of the process. The hard feelings will pass and change and the love for that little person will grow. 

  • Postpartum isn't just a set amount of time in my opinion it goes on for the rest of your life… It’s not just the fourth trimester it's much bigger than that - your body changes, your hormones shift, your life changes, your relationships change. Honouring, acknowledging and understanding this shift can help you adjust and flow with these changes. Making the adjustment easier on you.  Your identity shifts as do your priorities. In all of this make time for yourself. Your little person needs you to do this because they learn about the world through watching how you react and interact with it.   

  • No one knows what they are doing… not even parents who have babies already! Because every baby is different. Listen to yourself, your body knows what's up! You are wired to care for this little being. You know your body and baby best. So follow your instincts. If something doesn't feel right, it probably isn't. Speak up if you need to, ask questions if you need to, ask for more support if you need it! Do not suffer in silence, please mama, you and your baby deserve to be looked after.  

  • You are not alone in this. 

  • ALL feelings are valid.

  • If you are having a hard day, take it one hour at a time if you need to and go easy on yourself, you and your baby are both learning. If you are really struggling, get some experienced help, talk to someone you trust about it - don’t leave it!

Make a self-care plan that includes:

  • Your birth plan - what you need to feel comfortable when you birth / think about how you deal with stress / how you would like to be spoken to etc / what your birth preferences are in all situations (we never know what's going to happen, best to have thought about all the things and your preferences about them ahead of time, this gives you the power of CHOICE which means you’re more likely to have an empowered birth experience).

  • Check out this Postpartum Preferences cheat sheet, think about it, fill it out and discuss with your partner/birth support before your birth! 

  • Write check lists for birth, baby, postpartum care essentials, foods you like/are easy to make, chores you need help with, visitor preferences, things fam and friends can do to help - all ahead of time. 

  • Nurture your physical and mental health at this time - Think about a physio / counsellor or therapist that has experience with postpartum/mothers - know what to look out for with physical healing and mental health stuff i.e. postpartum depression. (Little Shadow has great counsellors - also available online/pricing is subsidised).

  • Nourish your body!!! You just grew and birthed a human, you need energy and nutrients to replenish and heal! Smoothies, fruits, nuts, veggies, bliss balls, probiotics, foods with iron, healthy fats, carbs etc! Chamomile & raspberry leaf tea are great for a contracting uterus and so many other things too!

  • Have something booked in your calendar to look forward to. I.e a dinner with a friend. a date with your partner, or a few hours to yourself to do something you enjoy.

  • Make sure you have some space to yourself each day if you can - a cup of tea, some fresh air and sunshine or an uninterrupted shower can do wonders for you. 

  • Get some Viva La Vulva in your life!!!

Thanks so much for sharing your experience with us!

xx VLV

Navigating Postpartum is a series by you, our sisters. If you love the idea of normalising everything postpartum and wanna share your thoughts, feelings, ideas, wisdom with other mamas to be, we wanna hear from you - please get in touch with us here.


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