Guest Post by Jennifer Batchelor
"Just a few more weeks, and then it’ll all be over.” This was my refrain by the end of my first pregnancy. I was one of the fortunate ones with no serious complications, but I sure wasn’t a “look at how she glows!” person, either. My son had set up camp on my sciatic nerve for weeks, my feet were painfully swollen, and my knees and hips ached all the time. Anytime I laid down seemed to be the baby’s cue to start up a rigorous calisthenics program in my uterus, and solid, uninterrupted sleep was only a memory.
Silly me, thinking it would all be better soon.
Not that I was completely naïve. I was prepared for difficulty, but I expected it to all be centered around the baby—I knew to anticipate sleepless nights, but I underestimated the number of nights it would be my fears, and not a hungry baby, keeping me awake.
I was ready for crying jags, but I didn’t account for the number of tears I’d shed in the shower, in the nursing chair, and while pacing the floor at 2 a.m., a burning ache in my arms from swaying an infant for hours.
I was nervous about taking care of someone so tiny, wholly dependent on me for survival, but I didn’t expect to wake up at 4 a.m., in a panic because the baby slept five hours instead of his usual three and rush to his bedside to watch his tiny chest rise and fall reassuringly.
I knew it would take time to “get my body back,” but I didn’t know that my body would never truly be my own ever again.
In short, I thought the biggest adjustment to becoming a mother would be the baby part of the equation. I didn’t expect it to be myself. And yet I remember walking around during those early weeks in a daze that was more than sleep deprivation, wondering who this new woman inside this unfamiliar body was. The fear and the anxiety and the guilt were overwhelming, and, at the time, I worried I’d always feel that way—like I’d been handed more than I could carry, even though my son only weighed five pounds.
At one of my prenatal visits during the second trimester, I asked my doctor about the severe, sharp pains I sometimes had in my hips.
“It’s your body adjusting to carrying more than it’s used to,” she told me and promised the pain would lessen with time.
And I remember crying to my mom one morning after a particularly sleepless night three weeks after my son was born, asking when this would all stop feeling so hard.
“You’re in the fourth trimester, Jennifer,” she said softly. “Give yourself time to adjust.”
That five pound baby I paced the floors with is a middle schooler now, and while I can’t say that fear, guilt, and worry have ever faded completely (we all remember middle school, right?), I’ve learned how to carry them so they don’t feel so heavy. And now, when I have friends welcoming home new babies and finding their lives upended in both unexpected and expected ways, I offer them the same words my mom gave me: this is the fourth trimester; allow yourself the grace to adjust.
Of course, I also offer them coffee porch drop offs and baked goods; takeout delivered or a load of laundry picked up; to sit with the baby while they take a long, hot shower or a much-needed nap. I gift them an eBook to read on their Kindle app while they scroll their phones during midnight feedings or a trip to the spa for a pedicure. Because while our pregnant bodies were good at demanding what they needed to grow a healthy baby, a mother is often quite good at ignoring what she needs—and we can’t adjust to what we won’t pay attention to.
For all we learn about taking care of our new babies in the fourth trimester, it’s just as important to learn to take care of ourselves—and to allow others to take care of us, too. There is grace for the becoming of a mother; it’s just waiting for us to find it. Even at 2 a.m.