When I first created this site I didn't know if I would ever talk about my difficult journey postpartum. It's always much easier to tell other peoples stories than it is to tell your own. And while I have talked a little about my ups and downs postpartum on Instagram and in blog posts, I've never told this part of the story. Mostly because it's really personal and also because my family sometimes reads this stuff and I'm about to get real intimate with yall. (I'm bout to talk s.e.x.) So if you're my mom or dad or brother you should probably stop reading now. Seriously.
Tonight is the eve of my first baby's eighth birthday. Eight. Eight years ago my life flipped upside down and right side up in all the best ways. Eight years ago I learned what it meant to love. Eight years ago I started a journey that would lead me to start this blog and share these stories and connect women around the globe through our triumphs and our struggles and our unwavering, unbreakable bond that we share in motherhood. This is my story.
For as long as I can remember I’ve always wanted to be a mother. I think I stopped playing with dolls when I was like, 13. So when I got pregnant at 20 I wasn’t scared. Sure I was young, and sure I didn’t have my shit together (I'm 28 now and still waiting for that shit to get itself together) But taking care of a tiny life, becoming a mom, that was exciting.
I remember after Peyton was born my husband kept saying ‘Im supposed to be looking for signs of postpartum depression’ like aversions from the baby or maybe not ever wanting to let her leave my side. I was fine. I loved her, and being her mom felt every bit as natural as I had always expected. I didn’t care when other people held her or fed her. I didn’t freak out when I had to go back to school full time when she was only two months old. There were no compulsive thoughts or feelings of inadequacy. I was fine.
But I wasn't fine. Not completely.
Reading the birth boards I was on there was always that woman, the one who couldn't wait the 6 weeks to have sex. Are you actually crazy? Sex was so far from my mind it was in like, Pluto. Like, back when Pluto was a planet, far away. Far. Far away. I tore terribly with my first. I ripped upwards and every day tasks such as peeing, were torturous. I literally had to fill up the tub and sit in it every time I went pee for the first two weeks postpartum. So yeah, no sex for me please and thank you.
And that’s normal right? I mean I wasn’t even technically allowed to have sex for 6 weeks anyway, and most of the other women on the boards all thought those 2 weekers were crazy too. So I’m still normal.
And then 6 weeks came and I reluctantly had to tell my husband that I was ‘good to go.’ He was thrilled, me, not so much. We tried. It hurt. Like a mother fucker (no pun intended). Awful. And that was normal too, right? I was still healing from a bad tear, I had still just given birth (to a 9 lb baby might I add) It would probably take some time. But how long? Every time it hurt and even worse than it hurting was the fact that I still didn’t want to do it. The thought of being touched made me cringe. Every night we would climb in bed and I would pray that he would just go to sleep. And when he stared kissing me, I would cry. I would silently cry while we attempted to have sex. I say attempted because every position still hurt. I was broken.
So here I am, in pain, with zero sexual desires, and all I could do was feel awful for my husband. I loved him, I was so very attracted to him, I wanted to want to have sex with him. I just couldn’t. I constantly said ‘it's’ not you, it’s me’ and I’m not sure he believed me because how shitty does it feel when your partner feels repulsed by the thought of being intimate with you? It must feel really really shitty.
I thought it may have been because of my postpartum body. I was fat and jiggly. I had stretch marks. My boobs were massive and much much lower than they once were. I was unhappy with how I felt and looked. And as much as he would assure me that I was beautiful, I didn’t believe it. So that must have been it.
But it had to be something more than that because not only did I not want to be touched, I didn’t want to touch him. I didn't know what to do. I was so scared that it would never go away. That I would never want to be intimate with my partner ever again.
This wasn't just a lack of interest in sex. It wasn't because I was wiped out at the end of the day from parenting and being a full time student and would rather sleep. The thought of being touched made me cry. The fear that he would try something would debilitate me. Going to bed was the worst part of my day. And then it just got to the point where he wouldn't even try anymore. And I was thankful. I was thankful that my partner didn't want to have sex with me. That he gave up on me. These are not normal feelings. This was not normal.
After about 9 months I graduated and moved home. I began to take care of myself. I started exercising and eating non poor college kid (with a kid) food. I started feeling like myself again. I took long walks with my daughter, I went out with friends, I got into a really great place both physically and mentally. And somewhere along that road, it all went away. I can’t remember if it was a gradual thing or if all of a sudden one day I was like ‘maybe we should have sex?’ and it was all just fine. All I know is that I was finally ok. And that was the best feeling ever.
When I got pregnant with our second I was terrified that it would happen again. I couldn't go through that. We were in such a good place and we were happy and I loved him and I never wanted to feel like that ever again. Thankfully it never came back with either of my next two pregnancies.
I learned to love my body in all of its stages. I learned to appreciate motherhood and what it’s done to me. I joined The Fourth Trimester Bodies Project to help encourage other women to love themselves and their bodies. I've tried to maintain a healthy balance of eating crap and eating carrots, and binge watching netflix and going for runs. I spend most of my time with my kids but I make time for myself. I found my dream job and in between the drama of life I'm mostly really very happy. Taking care of you is the most important thing you can do. Because if you're tired, or unhappy, or broken, then what use are you going to be to those who depend on you? And that's what this whole thing taught me.
I don’t have an official name for what I went though. I don’t know if it was postpartum depression, or anxiety. I don't know if I was touched out or if it was sexual aversion disorder (Whos initials are SAD... how appropriate) I never talked to anyone about it and I never got help. I can tell you that it’s not something that just happens after you have a baby. It’s not something that you should ignore and hope it goes away. So if you are going through this, reach out and get help because no one should ever have to just ride that out on their own. Postpartum is hard. It’s really hard. It’s normal to be tired and to be sad sometimes. It’s normal to take time to get back to how you felt before. But it’s not normal to be miserable. In any aspects. Never be afraid to speak up and reach out because I can guarantee that there is some else out there who has felt what you're feeling. Don't postpartum alone.
My name is Ashley and I'm the face behind the blog. I'm an almost 30 (esh, still haven't come to terms with that) mom of three living outside Washington DC.
I went to school for fashion design, but after having a baby my senior year, my high fashion dreams took a hiatus and that's OK! Because it lead me to where I am today, and that is a mother and a Doula (for the amazing team at Doulas of Capitol Hill). And that lead me to create this space that has become so important to me!
I speak sarcasm fluently, drink coffee through an IV, and I have a deep and possibly borderline obsessive love towards all things Harry Potter and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I truly believe that kids should spend their time being kids and adults should spend more time learning from them. I never take anything too seriously and I try to live life with my cup half full (of wine) My playlist is a perfect mix of 90's pop and Taylor Swift and I'm imaginary best friends with Blake Lively (girl get at me). In my free time (of which I have SO much) I can be found grammin over at @thepeanutgallery
Julia was one of my Doula clients. Right from our first consult I felt like we clicked. She's sweet and laid back and working with her and her husband was a treat. Her birth, for the most part, went really well. It was fast, and smooth, and she got the vaginal birth she had hoped for. But just because someone has an easy pregnancy and birth, doesn't mean that the postpartum period will continue that smooth transition. I was a little surprised when I had her email sitting in my inbox. I had NO idea that her past few weeks had been this hard. After briefly lecturing her about not reaching out to me in her time of need (you guys that's what I'm here for!!) I thanked her for opening up and sharing her story because for real, postpartum is hard
As a first time mom-to- be I was so looking forward to the early postpartum days with my newborn. I had dreams of sleepy days filled with cuddles, smiles, cute outfits, and quiet strolls through the neighborhood. Perhaps we would even wear flower crowns. And I would drink lemonade. Looking back, I think my expectations were a bit too high. But I certainly did not expect what has happened during this time to happen. I absolutely love my daughter and think she is the most perfect being; but damn, this has been the fourth trimester from hell.
Sure, I had read about the fourth trimester and how tough it can be on various blogs from veteran moms. But I feel like the details were a bit minimal. I didn’t understand just how tough it can really be. So here is my story, which is actually not complete as I am still in the throes of it all. But I wanted to shed a light on the not so sunny side of motherhood because in all honestly, I’ve found it to be a completely raw, vulnerable, visceral experience and I know there are women out there who must feel the same.
Right from the start of my labor, things did not go according to plan. I had hoped to labor at home for a bit, to see if I could handle it naturally. But when my water broke at 3am with an overdue baby’s meconium along with it, we decided (with the guidance of our doctor) that it was safer to get to the hospital ASAP. Not to mention my contractions felt as though they went from 0 to 60 mph in just 45 minutes. I quickly hit 5cm dilated and started writhing on the hospital bed like I was possessed by a demon, so I made the best decision for myself to get that epidural! I thought I was in for the long haul of labor, being a first time mom, and I just really wasn’t into the idea of being in all that pain for an extended period of time. But the little one decided she had waited long enough and boom, 30 minutes after being told I was 5cm, I was 10cm and ready to push. The passionate, persistent, and particular Elodie was born an hour and a half later.
While I was blessed with a relatively straightforward and fast delivery, my recovery was somewhat traumatic. No amount of prenatal classes could prepare me for the difficulty that was learning to breastfeed for the first time while aching from a third degree tear on very, very little sleep. During my pregnancy, my nipples suddenly morphed “flat” so a lactation consultant gave me a nipple shield to use. Little did I know that the nipple shield would cause Elodie to only intake foremilk, never stimulating a true let down for the prized hindmilk. For the first two weeks I thought she’d been getting her fill, however, her pediatrician informed me otherwise when she hadn’t gotten back to her birth weight.
Freaking out, I quickly weaned us both from the nipple shield and endured the hell that is sore, cracked nipples and milk blisters. A couple weeks without the nipple shield and Elodie started to gain some weight. However, I just felt like something was still off; I still wasn’t feeling the “let down” and breastfeeding was still incredibly painful. I did some research on the handy Google machine and discovered Elodie had a slight lip tie that was potentially hindering her ability to latch correctly. Within a week we had confirmed this with our pediatrician (um, hello, why didn’t you see this before?) and an oral surgeon. The oral surgeon took care of it same day with a super cool high tech laser and Elodie didn’t even shed a tear.
But I sure shed a few tears the next day when all of a sudden I was engorged, again! I thought going through engorgement after my milk first came in was enough – but no! Now that Elodie’s latch had improved, apparently it was time for round two. The good news being that this engorgement also came with a letdown and Elodie started to gain substantial weight. The bad news? I developed a stubborn clogged duct in my left breast that just wouldn’t go away.
I tried everything to clear this sucker! Massage, vibration, combing, hot compresses, warm compresses, cold compresses, nursing upside down, pumping upside down – you name it, I did it. I also called my OB looking for guidance when the duct persisted after a week. I was feeling very fatigued and achy and the area around the duct had become quite red and painful. It was pretty obvious to me that mastitis was on the way if it had not already arrived. But the OB’s nurse wouldn’t budge with an antibiotic prescription until I had a fever.
So, being a newbie to breastfeeding I decided to listen to the professionals and tried to wait it out. But another week passed and while I still had no fever, the duct and lump in my breast had gotten worse. And by worse I mean, really bad. Tones of bright red and purple were taking over the left side of the breast and were starting to creep up towards my chest. The skin was so stretched over the lump it was starting to crack and peel.
At the same time this was all going on, Elodie had started to show symptoms of GER (gastroesophageal reflux). She was frequently choking on my surprisingly forceful letdown which seemed to encourage excessive spit-ups and gas, re-swallowing, fussiness at the breast, and colicky behavior. All of a sudden, getting her to sleep had become impossible and she would scream for hours on end. This was quite a low point for my husband and me. Elodie was a hot mess and although I was 6 weeks postpartum, the clogged duct had become so painful I was a hot mess myself. I decided to take matters into my own hands called a breast specialist. Unfortunately they wouldn’t see me until the following week. My husband decided that was not good enough and sent me to urgent care on a Thursday night.
I was seen by a doctor who immediately diagnosed me with mastitis (still no fever, mind you) and then she told me it was on its way to abscessing. So with that lovely information, she sent me on my way with antibiotics and orders to follow-up in 48 hours if conditions had not improved.
ell, of course, conditions did not improve and I wound up in the ER Saturday night trying to get the quickly progressing abscess under control (no fever, y’all). I got an IV drip of a stronger antibiotic and the doctor stabbed my breast with a needle in hopes to drain some of the abscess. Ah, but no luck, nothing came out until the day before my appointment with the breast specialist while I was in the shower - and let me tell you, it is pretty disturbing to see puss suddenly come out of a hole in your breast made by a needle while you are trying to relax in a nice hot shower. This newfound drainage surged every time I fed Elodie or pumped, so you can imagine how much of a pain in the ass it was.
By the time I was getting an ultrasound before my appointment, I was pretty over the whole ordeal. I just wanted someone to fix my breast. To make matters worse, the ultrasound technician called in some random doctor to assess me. He then decided to try to squeeze my breast to get additional puss out. He apparently got a lot out. And while in the long run this turned out to be a good thing, it hurt more than anything I’ve ever experienced. Seriously. And I just had a baby.
But, I finally, FINALLY, saw the breast specialist that afternoon. She attempted to drain it with another needle in another hole, did not have much luck, and sent me on my way to finish my antibiotics and “hang in there”. The next day instead of puss, blood was coming out of the needle holes and I just wanted to curl up into a ball in my bed, but wait, there is a very uncomfortable newborn to tend to!
We got Elodie on the generic of Zantac and started using gas drops. The gas drops definitely did not help and the Zantac seemed to only help a bit. But as time went on her colic symptoms got worse and worse. By week 8 the poor girl seemed to scream 90% of the time. I’d take 5,000 pictures and videos during her short periods of contentment so that I could look back and remind myself of the sweet girl she truly is.
One night a little over a week ago she was literally spitting up every meal, screaming at the breast, and broke out in a bad rash on her chest and cheeks. I was so close to taking her to the ER (new mom alert) but I settled for a call to our peds nurse who said it was just her acid reflux really acting up. So her doctor upped her meds and I decided to take a break from dairy to see if that will help. So far, it seems like it is working. We’ve had a couple great sleeping nights in a row and her rash is beginning to fade. We head back to the doctor tomorrow for her two month check-up.
Two months! All of this has happened in two months. The fourth trimester is not even over but at this point I really feel like I can handle whatever is to come. You truly haven’t lived until you have a baby purple crying in your face feeding from a bleeding breast. By the way, the abscess is still fading away slowly (I got the clogged duct on February 23 rd for reference). It will be amazing when it finally disappears and I so long for the day.
Everyone tells me “it’ll get better” and I know it will. But sometimes it is truly necessary to vent and grieve for the experience you thought you’d have. Now I can move forward and laugh about what we’ve gone through and let me tell you, when I look at little Elodie and see her smile back at me with her blue eyes sparkling, I know I’d do it all over again in a heartbeat.
Julia is a proud INTJ, data analyst, lover of food & wine, video game fanatic, barre & yoga enthusiast, Francophile, and the mother of a very spirited babe named Elodie. They are currently residing in Northern Virginia.