The biggest challenge I faced when entering motherhood was the physical recovery after giving birth, and mentally accepting that struggle. To put it plainly, I felt like I had been lied to by my friends, my family and the media. But it’s no one’s fault in particular; we women don’t want to scare our fellow mamas-to-be…so we don’t share the bad stuff! It makes sense. But it’s also detrimental to our mental health and I think we can all work harder to be honest while remaining positive, optimistic and supportive.
To give you a quick rundown: I was diagnosed with preeclampsia when I walked into Mass General Hospital to push my daughter out (fun surprise!). Having preeclampsia meant I had to deliver on magnesium, which rendered me practically useless. (Imagine being blackout drunk and feeling as though your body weighs about 2,000 pounds. That was my experience on magnesium.) My hips had separated and gotten so screwed up during pregnancy that I ended up having to do physical therapy in my recovery room, and also afterwards when I came home. I had no idea this wasn’t normal until a nurse told me that other moms are usually “doing better by now.” (I appreciated her honesty – she was looking out for me. She was wonderful.) I also ended up getting a catheter because I physically couldn’t walk to the bathroom four feet away, and that led to a UTI. Then, I had an allergic reaction to the UTI antibiotics so I felt like my body was on fire for about 48 hours. Three weeks after giving birth, I was back in the hospital with kidney stones and yet another UTI. I stayed in the hospital for a full week, minus 12 hours where I went back home but my fever spiked to 104.1. I had two surgeries to insert stents. Finally, after six full weeks of being in and out of the hospital, I popped a valium, walked into the shower, and pulled the stent out myself, as per the hospital’s instructions. (Yup. You read that right.)
I assure you, there have been FAR WORSE recoveries than mine. I am grateful that everything I dealt with was manageable and relatively non-threatening. But I also assure you: none of this was expected and I believe that at least the hip situation was relatively preventable. After my body had done the most miraculous thing for nine months, I had lost all confidence in my body and felt like I couldn’t trust it at all. It was six weeks of pure, fucking, physical and emotional hell. And all the while, I felt like a piece of shit for focusing more on myself than on my newborn baby.
But. We survived.
I’m grateful for my husband for stepping into fatherhood as quickly as I stepped into motherhood. Many men I know have been allowed a grace period to “ease” into fatherhood, and this was not my husband’s experience at all. He handled it with grace and warmth. I’m also wildly grateful for my mom and my in-laws who took many drives and train rides up from NJ/NYC to help us out in the first few weeks. And I’m grateful to my girl friends for allowing me to wallow in self pity for just enough time before it was necessary for me to put my big girl pants on and accept that this was the first half of my maternity leave.
The other thing I’m really grateful for — wait for it — is social media (I know. Normally I think it’s a dumpster fire, too. But hear me out!). In particular, it got me through my week-long hospital stay because it allowed me to connect with others when I was completely alone and at my lowest. At the time, I was co-hosting a morning radio show in Boston. I was used to sharing my life with everyone. But I eventually got to a point in my postpartum recovery where I decided I simply couldn’t not tell people about this. It felt like I was lying to our listeners — and that certainly doesn’t help any future moms, either. Once I shared my story on social media, I heard from so many women about how similar their experiences were, and how no one had told them, either, about the realities of postpartum recovery. Recognizing that I wasn’t alone, and that other women had experienced the same thing and were now thriving, was a huge encouragement. And it also put me on a mission to be as honest about my recovery as possible.
There are days where I think being a mother is the best job title I’ve ever had the pleasure of holding, and there are other days where I feel like no one should allow me to do this because I’m terrible at it. But I’m confident that every mom feels that way, and that each day (sometimes each hour or minute, even!) is an opportunity to refresh. I lost my job at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, and it’s been (mostly!) a blessing. I never would have had the opportunity to be side-by-side with my daughter in the way I am now. We are attached at the hip; I see literally every single thing that she does, and we’ve formed a truly inseparable relationship (for better or for worse, ha!). I see how smart and kind and curious she is, and how her vocabulary is skyrocketing on a daily basis. I love the moments during the day where we get to nurse and snuggle together (18 months and still going strong, which I’m incredibly proud of). Most importantly though, I think the thing I love best about motherhood is that this is my chance to do better. Each day, she is my driving force to do better when it comes to how I treat people, how I value myself and what I want to teach (and not teach) her. It’s truly the best gift I’ve ever been given.