What It Was Really Like To Recover After Childbirth with Whitney Port
To say that childbirth changes your life may very well be the understatement of the century, if not history. Moms, you know what I’m talking about. There’s literally nothing on earth and no person in existence that can prepare you for the mental, emotional and physical changes that take place after giving birth. Even now, well over a year after having my baby, I can’t say that I’ve “recovered” because honestly, it just doesn’t feel like the right word. My journey hasn’t been about salvaging or returning to a previous life. It’s been about re-emerging as a new me: myself, as a mother.
For all intents and purposes, I consider myself a planner — not an obsessive one, but a planner nonetheless. I love to-do lists. I used to carry a day planner everywhere I went. I’m the type of person who likes to be prepared for things and to know what I’m getting myself into. But on the precipice of such a momentous event — materializing a HUMAN BEING out of my body — I knew that I needed to go in with a certain level of trust and flexibility. For this reason, I consciously decided not to have a birth plan.
I had spoken to so many mothers who had planned every detail, and when things didn’t go as expected, they felt a great sense of fear or failure. I couldn’t stomach setting myself up for that kind of disappointment. Plus, the I-know-more-than-my-OB-GYN attitude was really unappealing to me, so I skipped the books and opinions and decided to trust the people I had chosen to take care of me. My doctor. My husband. And my family. I placed my wellbeing in their hands and willfully released control.
Hours into labor, I was given the choice to either keep pushing or have an episiotomy. With my newfound go-with-the-flow approach, I told my doctor to snip away because I was beyond ready to have that baby. Just to clarify: that was me agreeing to have someone cut part of my “vagina” to get this kid out. That’s no small commitment. But low and behold, with a scissor and one more push, our son Sonny was born.
Cut to coming home from the hospital. Here I am, a new mom and so profoundly unprepared for how that would feel. This precious newborn relied on me for everything — for survival, literally — and the weight of that responsibility felt impossible to carry. Looking back, I’m not sure if I was struggling from postpartum depression or some other form of the baby blues, but it took a long time to escape the post-pregnancy blur. I remember feeling more overwhelmed than I’d ever felt in my life — like a truck had hit me. I barely ventured outside for three full months after my pregnancy, and even then, it was only once a week for a baby class. The act of being out and about with this fragile little baby was petrifying, so I shut out the real world and stayed in the safety bubble of my home. Right or wrong, good or bad, it was what I needed to protect myself at that time.
I remember scrolling through Instagram, comparing myself to other moms who just *poof* went back to their regular lives in a matter of weeks. In hindsight, I wish I’d taken a break from social media altogether and not compared my journey to those of other women. Maybe that would have helped me feel less insecure or ashamed — worrying that me and motherhood weren’t a natural fit. It wasn’t easy, but I’ve come to terms with the idea that every woman becomes a mom in her own way and in her own time. That said, I’m still searching for a mantra that will control my instinct to compare myself to others, so if any of you out there have one, I’d love to hear it.
When I was pregnant, I couldn’t really exercise due to insane nausea and the exhaustion that came with it. I also ate whatever I wanted because if food could bring me any level of comfort or relief, I was all in — and probably going back for seconds. As a result, I gained more weight than I would have liked, and admittedly, I felt very body-conscious throughout my pregnancy. After having Sonny though, my perspective grew up. Getting my body back became less about losing weight and more about being healthy and feeling confident. I eat healthier now, I finally have the energy to work out, and overall, I’m just more forgiving of myself. I have new wrinkles and marks on my body. Cool. After what felt like the fight of my life with breastfeeding, my boobs are a weird shape now and my nipples aren’t as cute. Not as cool, but fine. My stomach has extra skin that will probably never go away. Hey Whit, you grew a person in there!
Self-acceptance was the one the hardest things for me to learn after my pregnancy, and also the most freeing. At points, I wondered if I would struggle with motherhood forever, but like so many new moms reassured me: everything is just a phase. Today, I can say that I’ve finally settled into who I’ve become. My mind doesn’t think the same way anymore. My heart doesn’t feel the same way anymore. My body doesn’t look the same way anymore — and so be it to all.
Had I known what things would be like after having a baby, maybe I would have made a bigger place in my life for an objective, supportive voice — someone experienced and empathetic to talk to and help get me through those dark first months of infancy. Maybe I would have trusted myself more, leaned on my mom and sisters more, or sought validation in a more proactive way. There’s no way of knowing for sure, but what I do know is that time creates perspective and that being gentle with yourself is one of the most important things a new mom can do.
After all, recovering from childbirth isn’t just healing from a major physical trauma. It’s going through complete and total chaos, and then coming out the other side with an entirely new sense of self. Becoming a mom is an experience beyond anything I could have imagined — it’s beautiful, terrifying, badass, confusing, exhilarating, outrageous, hilarious, heart wrenching and ridiculously adorable all at once. And if you ask me, that’s something well worth getting a snip in the hoo-ha for.
This post originally ran on Refinery 29.