What is the fourth trimester?

Imagine spending your entire existence inside a warm, comfortable bed where food came to you and you were safe and secure. And then being ripped from that into a huge expanse of varying temperatures where you have to ask for food and there are different colours and lights and so much going on. Being born is intense. Just like going from being a pregnant woman to being a full time carer for a tiny creature that can’t do anything for itself is intense. The fourth trimester is an extension from womb to room and the period when you and your babe figure shit out together.

As soon as your child exits your body, your pregnancy hormones evacuate and leave a plateau. The adrenaline wears off and you can be left feeling quite strange while everything balances out and finds its place in a world where you aren’t carrying a baby within you. This lull usually kicks in around day 3 and lasts until day 10 and is commonly called the ‘baby blues’ anything longer and they advise you keep an eye out for postnatal depression. My lull lasted almost 2 weeks, although it felt like it went on for much longer. What helped me accept the changes that I couldn’t understand was the idea of the fourth trimester.

When you are pregnant and you feel sick, tired, uninterested or moody you put it down to the changes in your body automatically. People make excuses for you when you can’t keep your eyes open at 4pm and are generally understanding when you can’t stand to eat anything. It should be exactly the same with the first three months while you stabilise. I was always able to care for my son and protect him but the deep love developed day by day and smacked me in the face around his 5th week of life. By week 7 we were in a groove and I felt like I had handled the worst of the hormonal shift and I adored my infant child more each day. I panicked though when I didn’t feel that initial rush of affection and I read some great forums that made me feel more normal where some women admitted it took up to 6 months to feel a true bond with their child. Just like every pregnancy is different, every first time parent experience is different and you should never feel inadequate as much as your head fights you to feel so.

The fourth trimester is a time of adjustment. A time to take your time getting to know each other, finding out which cries mean what and what noises or sounds make him/her smile. Its a learning curve, one so steep that wobbles are expected and happen to everyone, regardless of what Instagram tries to convince you of. Remember those moments in pregnancy when you felt anxious about being a good parent? or you worried about raising a decent human being? or you panicked about being able to cope? Once the baby is here, it is even worse. This is not a scare tactic at all, its the honest truth. Once you can hold, cuddle and smell your baby, these fears manifest at an alarming rate. Blown up by hormonal shifts and strange new emotions that are creeping into your heart and mind.

Having said that, and I speak from personal experience, if your instincts tell you that your child is at risk or is not safe for any reason whatever anyone says – trust your gut. A parent’s instincts are not wrong 99% of the time and are you really going to risk your baby’s safety on 1%?

This time for me was the hardest. It was harder than pregnancy (which I didn’t enjoy) and it was much harder than my 30+ hour labour and giving birth. I found the first 6 weeks the most challenging period (so far). I didn’t identify as my son’s mother and although I wanted him to be fed, warm, cuddled and clean and did everything he needed, I wasn’t emotionally connecting with him and I felt all wrong. Looking back, I can’t believe it took so long to click with him and I feel guilty for not feeling this unbelievable love from his first breath. The worst part was people telling me how I should be feeling, comments like “isn’t this just the most special time” and “you must adore him so much” and “enjoy every second, it goes so quick”, I would smile and nod and will them away so I could go back to figuring out how to feel how I was supposed to feel. At the end of the day, I was exhausted and my life had changed in an instant and I so wish I had had some more people tell me that it takes time and not to rush it and that I was doing amazingly well.

Alicia Keswani wrote the article “The 4th trimester struggle is real” – it was this article that helped me feel normal in my struggle. It was a complete stranger’s experience that made me stop beating myself up and to shift my expectations of motherhood in the first three months.

From my own experience with the fourth trimester, when people around me start having babies, I will make sure to do sufficient cooing over the baby but spending more time asking the mama if she is okay and I will not put society’s expectations on her when she is tired and adjusting. Even if you had a flawless fourth trimester, read up on some other women’s experience so that you can offer the right support instead of unknowingly setting expectations that that new mama then uses as a structure for her own guilt and anxiety.

A baby is a wonderful thing but it is also an explosion in a couple’s life which can sometimes be a little tough. This doesn’t make you a bad parent. This doesn’t make you incapable. This makes you human.

Great support book on the fourth trimester here!

© Images are not the property of The Sanity Fairy

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