*Image above via Doen.
A good friend of mine just had a baby, and visiting her in the first few days after she’d given birth brought me right back to those sleepless, awed, overwhelmed early days of motherhood. I found myself remembering when my girlfriends had visited me just after my children were born, and I specifically recalled myself wondering: “Will I ever feel normal again? Like, be able to sit on a couch and chat idly about TV shows and nuanced interactions with colleagues without feeling like my brain and heart are spiraling in twenty-two different directions? Without being vaguely concerned about how long I had until the next feed, or whether that strange twinge I just felt along my scar is normal?” In some ways — the metaphysical ones — life after having a baby has never felt “normal” again. But I found myself wondering, on a more practical level, how long did it take me to heal?
Physically, I think it took about two or three months to technically recover from my c-sections. The first felt far more difficult and painful than the consecutive, most likely because I was able to brace myself the second go around, but with both, the first ten days were miserable; there was a major turning point around four weeks; by six weeks, I would occasionally forget I’d had a major abdominal surgery; and by three months, I felt more or less “normal.” At the same time, there are still movements — even now, two years after the birth of my second! — that leave me feeling strange along my scar, and I still feel like the entire area is a little numb. I’ve had a number of friends say the same things, and a doctor confirmed that these sensation are normal.
Emotionally, I don’t think I healed from the shock of mini’s birth until my son was born two years later. My second birth experience was so much more positive than the first. Understanding that birth by c-section could be — if not pleasant, exactly, just better, more supported, less alienating — made me feel validated, or exonerated (?), for having struggled to come to terms with the experience of my daughter’s birth. After mini was born, I had trouble thinking directly about the c-section. I would do anything to distract myself from its memory. I hated — refused! — to be alone for the first two weeks after she was born because I did not want to be left on my own without a fellow conversationalist to prevent me from dwelling on it. When a good friend told me a few months later that her c-section was “a breeze,” I felt defeated. Why was I having so much trouble getting over it? Why was I having trouble to begin with? There was nothing traumatic, complicated, or abnormal about her birth. Still, I would think back to the feeling of shuffling into the operating room on my own, then getting the epidural by myself, then laying down on the operating table under those bright lights with what felt like twenty three people milling about but feeling completely, entirely alone, alienated, and almost anonymous. I was flooded with relief when they let Mr. Magpie in, but by then, I was in a full-on panic. Next came the out-of-body experience of being awake while being operated on. I was shaking so violently from the medication that I felt as though I was jumping an inch off the table every other second, and the tugging was so intense, I could feel my body being dragged downward. After she was born, I was still shaking so badly that I couldn’t hold her, an unanticipated reality that left me bereft, and then it felt like absolute agony waiting the 30 or 40 minutes for them to finish stitching me up. Even writing about this now, I feel the prick of tears in my eyes.
Micro’s birth was a different story. I was mentally prepared. Mr. Magpie had given me an Hermes scarf with a soldier pattern on it the day before, reminding me I was strong and could take on anything. I felt determined. I went in ready to advocate for myself. I begged the anaesthesiologist to help me avoid the violent shakes, and he was deeply empathetic and did everything he could to help me avoid them, placing funny warm air-filled pillows and blankets all over my arms and teaching Mr. Magpie about a pressure point on my palm that apparently helps with preventing them. When I did start shaking, he squeezed my shoulder and said, “Shoot, I’m so sorry, Jen. Let me see what I can do.” I felt supported, and heard, and not in the least bit alone. I was able to hold micro within seconds of his birth, and it was heaven. The 30-40 minutes it took to stitch me up flew by this go around — I had my treasure in my hands. When the wheeled me out of the OR, I felt redeemed, healed, triumphant. After the nurse left us in the recovery room, I remember clutching Mr. Magpie to me with one arm, cradling our baby with my other, and feeling a wonderful sensation of intactness. My boy was here, and he had made me and my family whole.
I’m curious — what about you? How long did it take you to heal, physically or emotionally or both?
+More on the birth of my boy here. I could weep…
+I still stand behind nearly everything on my registry, but there are a few things I would add. I would also seriously consider the Doona (carseat/stroller combo) if I were giving birth again. Just brilliant!
+SUCH a darling dress for a conservative affair.
+My must-haves for raising a family in Manhattan.
+Just ordered this lipstick in the Rosewater color on the rec of a reader!
+Great new finds at The Outnet: yellow gingham shirtdress, white tweed jacket from IRO (a hero piece for back-to-work!), and a pink maxi wrap dress.
+Have been hearing really good things about these seamless bras.
+Majorly drawn to platforms at the moment — can’t explain why — but especially these two styles from Castaner: daisy and raffia. So fun with a cute mini like this or this.
+A great and versatile brown belt to add to any LWD in your closet.
+This yellow and white dress is TOO CUTE.
+Pair this necklace with these sandals and your go-to jeans/white-tee or LWD and you’re done.
+Filed under: things to buy for a boring, rainy weekend indoors.
+Pretty frames for pretty pictures.
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12 thoughts on “How Long Did It Take You to Heal from Childbirth?”
I’m on the eve of my third birth, and have been thinking a lot about how little the first two have prepared me for the third, which has the spectre of open heart surgery and then some unknown amount of recovery at the “end” of it. With both of my sons, I really enjoyed the process of returning, physically, to some version of my prior self — like my own Rocky montage, albeit more drawn out. I think that healing process, its fairly straightforward linearity, made space for the emotional one to proceed in its own time. Although: it’s hard to decouple any emotional fallout from birth with that of motherhood in general, especially the first time! But this time around, I’ve given very little thought to my own healing, because it’s going to pale compared to my daughter’s. I do hope I can return to running, or at least walking, quickly, because I think I’m going to need it much more this time!
Oh Claire – I am thinking of you, friend. I can’t imagine how you must be feeling at this time. Will continue to send you all my best wishes and peaceful thoughts during this intense time.
I have endured a tendency by many, especially men and especially those in an older generation, to conflate a delivery being straightforward with it not being a major physical ordeal. I had two fast, straightforward vaginal deliveries (for which I am grateful) and two long, grueling recoveries. Both times I had extreme tearing, and with my first it did not heal for months and eventually required another intervention. With my second, the cramps were so unbearable that they truly rivaled labor. I also developed a skin rash from having my second that has not healed months later and that has left doctors essentially throwing up their hands. To answer your question – it took me years to “heal” from childbirth, although my body can never look or function quite the same again. And don’t get me started on the fact that women who have a vaginal birth are not so much as looked at by a doctor for six weeks! Anyway, this comment isn’t meant to scare anyone – but to speak up for women who are creeping up on, or have passed, that several month benchmark and not feeling “healed.” I just wish it were more understood that a simple delivery does not necessarily equate with an insignificant or short-term physical ordeal.
Hi Leah – Thank you so much for drawing a line under this point: “a simple delivery does not necessarily equate with an insignificant/short-term physical ordeal.” I would add it also does not mean you aren’t emotionally drained or even traumatized by it! Like you, I do not want to scare any moms who are heading into delivery. There are lots of moms who have FANTASTIC birth experiences, and who say they enjoyed it, or felt empowered by it, or any other range of amazing outcomes. My sister is due in a few months and I recently told her that *whatever* she feels about her birth experience is perfectly healthy and she is perfectly entitled to. It’s so hard NOT to go in with expectations. Even though I didn’t think I had any (ha), I definitely did. It turns out that I was desperate to have vaginal births and I still don’t know why, but there it is.
Thanks for sharing this experience so vulnerably, Leah!
Your reflection that you didn’t really heal from your daughter’s birth until your second really resonates with me. I definitely didn’t fully confront the disappointment and trauma of my first experience with giving birth (water broke at 42 weeks, had to be induced 24 hours after that, she wasn’t born until 24 hours after THAT) until my second was born nineteen months later. I just felt so fearful and powerless during my first labor. I do believe now that God was reminding me that my carefully laid plans are not always His plans, but I also believe He does not want us to have a spirit of fear. I entered my second labor with a much calmer frame of mind, holding expectations more loosely, but also with a faith that if the circumstances allowed, I could pass through my fears and the physical pain to the other side of labor. It ended up being an incredibly therapeutic experience of being more wholly in my body that I ever have while also maintaining mental and emotional calm. So grateful for both my negative and positive birth experiences though because they helped me uncover parts of myself-fears, limitations, and untapped strength-that were previously hidden from me.
Hi Laura! I love this way of thinking about things, and admire your faith. I will be thinking on this for awhile: “both my negative and positive experiences…helped me uncover parts of myself.” Yes! So true. Thank you for writing in to share your experience so vulnerably. (And, wow, several days of labor…! Wow. You are a trooper.)
I had two healthy vaginal deliveries, and I as far as I can remember, the physical recovery was 3-4 months for both. I was induced the second time and the labor was several hours shorter, but I did need multiple stitches both times. Obviously things like sitting, getting in and out of chairs and bed, etc were painful at first. But I remember being surprised that my muscles and connective tissue were sore and tired for so long! On walks I could only shuffle along slowly like an old lady. Even when I started real workouts much later I could feel it in my groin when doing squats and side lunges. And those stitches were not healed by my postpartum checkup appointment…I think it is unrealistic for doctors (and husbands…) to hold the 6 week mark as the point when things go back to “normal.”
Emotionally, I don’t think I had a long recovery. I think caring for a newborn took more of an emotional toll than childbirth itself. And dealing with the start of covid while caring for a newborn and toddler the second time around. Although I remember watching Friday Night Lights about six months after my second daughter was born and just bursting into tears when Tami gives birth…so I did still have a lot of feelings, apparently!
Hi Stephanie! Thank you for sharing your experiences! First, so glad you shared that it took 3-4 months to recover, any why — it was so helpful to me to have other moms who had gone through c-sections share the specifics (i.e., “it still hurts more on one side than the other!”) because it just normalized things and made me feel less alone. Hoping some other mamas with similar recoveries to you take heart from your experience. (I remember a fellow c-section mom saying: “Will I ever feel normal again!??” It can feel like it takes forever to heal!)
And oh man I am also randomly surprise-triggered by moments like that on TV and even IRL. I still remember this new mom I walked by in Central Park who was trying to breastfeed her baby and she just looked like she was in a flustered panic and oh…! I so had been there. I so had been there! It took me right back to those first few days postpartum and how exhausting and confusing and overwhelming they are. I still kind of wished I’d figured out a way to encourage her, but I also knew that sometimes I just wanted to be left alone by strangers!!
One year out, I still think about this almost everyday. It’s taken me a long time to not feel like my birth was a failure – 32 hours of labor ending in a C-section. I fought so hard for a low-intervention birth, and it wasn’t meant to be. Because of COVID regulations, I had to check into the hospital much earlier than I would have otherwise (to avoid the ER) and wasn’t allowed to have a doula present. I was vomiting and shaking so much in the OR that I couldn’t hold my daughter. It was the peak of COVID in our area, so there were no family members or friends to greet us at home and help care for us in those early days. My physical recovery was luckily easy, thanks to regular exercise during pregnancy and pelvic floor PT afterwards. Emotionally, I’m still getting past it. So often people will dismiss the experience, saying, “At least you got a healthy baby at the end.” Of course that’s true, but it makes my grief feel trivial.
I did revisit your postpartum blog posts in those early days and they were truly a blessing. It was so helpful to read of your recovery and feel less alone.
Hi Tricia! I feel so deeply for you — I am so sorry you had to go through all of those additional complications w/r/t COVID procedures ON TOP OF having a long birth that did not map to your expectations. I totally relate, too, to your reaction to even a well-intentioned “but your baby is here and healthy!” comment. I definitely went through that and then felt sheepish/silly for having uncomfortable emotions around the birth.
On the flipside, there was one mom friend who came by just a week after mini was born, and she sat there and did not flinch or change the subject or attempt to curtail my emotions when I unexpectedly burst into tears after she’d asked how the birth went. She said: “Oh girl, let it all out. Let it all out.” And just sat there with me. And then I have had a few Magpies share that Rilke quote: “No feeling is final.” I find that one so liberating — such a great way to remember that it’s OK to feel the way you are feeling right now, and to fully occupy that feeling, and then to change tacks in a few days, and to remember that most things do pass with time.
Anyway, thank you for your candor!!! Right there with you.
The most surprising thing about healing from my birth experience was the emotional processing. I had a healthy and straight forward vaginal delivery and physically healed wonderfully. But I was processing the experience for weeks. How it was different from my expectations, reliving what I could remember, etc. Looking back on photos was immensely helpful for me, and I tell every mom-to-be to ask their birth partner to take photos throughout (even if being in a photo is the last thing they want at the time 🙂 I am genuinely excited to experience it all again early next year, and so curious how the recovery will be different. Thank you for sharing so candidly, as always!
Hi M – So well-put! I was definitely taken by surprise by the “emotional processing” — that’s just it. Sounds like you already have a good foot forward for your next go around!! Sending you the absolute best vibes.