The First 7 Days of New Mamahood As Represented by Characters From Orange is the New Black

 

Recently, a friend who had a baby last week reached out to me with some concerns that I recognized all too well from my own postpartum experiences. It got me thinking about how some key facts about the first week postpartum hadn’t made it onto my radar before I had Eleanor, and how much of a relief it was to read articles like this and this and realize that I was totally normal and not alone. I thought it might be fun to write my own guide to those first whirlwind days postpartum through the internet-friendly lens of one of my favorite T.V. shows. I want to note that this isn’t meant to reflect every woman’s postpartum experience because, of course, every experience is different. This is just a common timeline that I think a lot of folks can relate to in part, if not in whole, and it was how mine went both times.

So with that, OITNB, tell us what it’s like after you shoot a human out of your insides!

 

Day 1: Sister Ingalls – euphoric, peaceful, delighted

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You are over the moon. Blissed out. Holy shit you made a human and look how perfect he/she is! You are pretty sure you understand the cosmic alignment of the entire universe in this inter-dimensional moment of clarity, and even though this tiny creature looks more like a rain forest dwelling amphibian than your great aunt Ruth, you are certain you’ve never felt love like this before. You have found your center, and everything else feels trivial in its shadow. Bring all the world’s leaders to your delivery room—you’re certain you can orchestrate world peace with the divine feminine wisdom emanating from your placenta.

Why is this happening?

Labor and delivery release a flood of feel-good hormones—namely oxytocin, endorphins, and adrenaline—to act as natural painkillers and to aid the bonding process with your baby. It’s natural to feel elated, even euphoric, after going through something you’ve been thinking about, dreaming about, and probably during the last month, begging every religion’s god for.

Day 2: Morello – dangerously optimistic, still delighted, a bit loopy

This is going to be fine! You don’t understand what all this fuss is about life with a newborn. Your little angel slept for six straight hours last night and has dozed through practically all of the visits from enthusiastic family members passing through your hospital room like it’s a revolving door, waking only to gently nurse or yawn adorably. And everyone is so nice, and so excited, and so helpful! You feel like the prettiest belle at the ball even though you’re wearing mesh underwear and a maxi pad larger than your nugget’s newborn diapers. You eat your favorite meal and binge watch a Netflix show and daydream about the perfect parental life that’s about to unfold before you.

Why is this happening?

On day 2, you’re still riding the adrenaline high of this profoundly new and exciting experience, and the steady stream of well-wishers entering your room keeps your energy up and distracts you from the more unpleasant aspects of delivery recovery and new motherhood, like sore boobs, postpartum bleeding, and of course, everyone’s favorite—fatigue. Also, it’s common for a baby’s first sleep after delivery to be longer than her subsequent ones, because believe it or not birth is tiring for her too!

Day 3: suzanne – in denial, manic, grip on reality shaky

 

This is going to be fine. It’s fine! Right?? Your baby hasn’t slept for more than 2 hours at a time since that first stretch and the nursing that felt so gentle yesterday is a tad bit excruciating from your nipples being sore and your boobs starting to engorge with milk, but you know…it’s still fine! You’ve got loads of energy and your partner has been so helpful during the occasional twenty minute window where your bundle of joy tolerates being separated from your tit. They sent you home from the hospital this morning and that’s fine too because you’re totally ready to be solely responsible for keeping a human alive despite zero previous experience and mounting sleep deprivation. You think you’ll nickname your baby Dandelion. You may even wear her in that new baby sling you got at your shower and go pick some dandelions to stave off the existential dread that is definitely not clawing at the corners of your brain because everything’s fine, fine, fine!

Why is this happening?

At some point those fantastic feel-good hormones have to start leveling out, usually around the time that you’re going home from the hospital or birthing center. The relief of settling into your “new normal” routine and being in your own space again can keep you optimistic, but it also brings about the reality check that you are now actually in charge of a baby.

Day 4: Piper Season 1 – meltdown mode, energy crash, overwhelmed

What is happening? What terrible life choices have led you here, and why are your clothes so filthy? WHO ARE YOU AND WHAT EVEN IS A BABY? You are ready to admit [tearfully, while inhaling chocolate and snorting coffee grinds] that you are in over your head, and that you are woefully unprepared for the strange new world in which you find yourself. The baby that slept so blissfully swaddled in his bassinet in the hospital now shrieks like a banshee if he isn't lying directly on your chest, and those feelings of cosmic bliss you had post-birth have nose-dived into inexplicable bouts of sadness and dread. And just to round out this whole experience, every one of your second-wave home visitors makes sure to remind you of just how much worse it's going to get--"Say goodbye to sleeping in!" " Oh man, just wait until they start teething!" You could swear that some of them are wearing orange jumpsuits, but it could just be another sleep-deprived hallucination...

Why is this happening?

As your hormones plummet and your fatigue increases, eventually you will “hit a wall” that feels like the most intense energy crash and mood swing of your life. Even with the best support system, new parenthood is overwhelming, and coming out of the post-birth brain fog will temporarily amplify that feeling.

Day 5: Daya – anxious, obsessing, feelings of guilt or uncertainty

Lay the baby down. Check the baby's breathing. Make a sandwich. Check the baby's breathing. Stare intently at the baby on the monitor. Check the baby's breathing. Contemplate taking a shower but then dismiss the idea because who will check the baby's breathing during the 10 minutes you're luxuriating in that glittery Lush bath bomb like a flagrant hedonist?? Over the past twelve hours you’ve become a connoisseur of parenting message boards and find a little solace in the thousands of other moms who have convinced themselves that their baby isn’t latching properly, has whooping cough, and won’t go to college because they aren’t getting enough tummy time. You are deeply concerned that maybe you’re going to suck at this forever, and there seems to be no one IRL you can confess this to because everyone is still expecting you to be over-caffeinated and over-joyed at the miracle of infanthood.

Why is this happening?

For many new moms, heightened anxiety goes hand in hand with the “baby blues” that occur after that energy crash. You don’t feel “right,” so something must be wrong, and never before in your life have you been more scared of something being wrong. By this time, much of the initial family visits and well-wishes have tapered off, and there’s a lot more time alone with your own brain. Given the other factors in play, that can mean a lot more time to obsess over anxious thoughts.

Day 6: Piper Season 4 – game face, starting to shake meltdown mode and make a plan

Day 3 broke you, but Day 6 is the comeback. At some point, someone you love noticed you pouring powdered creamer in the baby bottle and formula in your coffee and ordered you away for a nap and a trip to Starbucks by yourself, luxuries you had begun to forget existed. During that time you realize: you are strong. You are a warrior! Pussy power and galaxy print vaginas and such. You can win at this thing called motherhood, and you will destroy anyone who gets in your way. Partner bring you the wrong flavor yogurt while you’re stuck cluster feeding? Destroyed. Mom friends passive-aggressively judging you via social media comments? Destroyed. UPS worker who rang that doorbell during your baby’s nap? Destroyed with fire.

Why is this happening?

After a day or two of heightened anxiety and/or baby blues, you’ll probably realize that something’s got to give. Your hormones are still shifting, but the crash is over and you are beginning to think more rationally.

Day 7: Sophia – assertive, no filter, self-confidence

You have gone through some major transforming shit this week, mama. You’ve birthed a human, questioned every facet of your capabilities as a caregiver, faced your own mortality and caught a glimpse of your place in the cosmos, and gotten goddamn good at swaddling. You are scratching at the surface of this new identity, and you start sifting everything through the sieve motherhood—keeping what serves you and ditching the rest. You force yourself to ask for help. You advocate for yours and your baby’s needs, and if you’ve managed to snag 3 straight hours of sleep you might be able to do it without every word dripping with sarcasm. You’re a long, long way from having things figured out, but you’re starting to think you won’t suck at this forever and that’s major victory #1. Who knows, tomorrow you may even wash your hair!

Why is this happening?

Truth be told, this usually doesn’t happen until much later in your postpartum journey, but hopefully the seeds are being sown by day 7. You’ve weathered the more dramatic hormone shifts and are past the most physically painful parts of delivery recovery – the uterine cramping and engorgement from breastfeeding. You are adjusting to the new normal and finding your voice and space as a parent.

On days 1, 7, 15, and all the days beyond, just remember: you got this, mama. And Litchfield’s ladies got your back.