As the “fourth trimester” comes to its end I realize that also one of the most challenging years of my life is completing itself.
So first of all what is the fourth trimester? Well the theory of the fourth trimester is that the first three months of a baby’s life is actually the last three of his/her first year of life (from conception).
We are all familiar with the three trimesters of pregnancy, but the fourth suggests that pregnancy does not end when the baby is birthed. It suggests instead that there is one more trimester of transition and adjustment for both baby and mother.
During the first three trimesters the baby grows inside the womb getting its nutrients from the mother through the umbilical cord. After the baby is birthed he/she continues to grow outside of the womb with its nutrients still being supplied by the mother through the breast-milk. The mother herself becomes like a womb during this fourth trimester protecting and caring for this delicate being now outside of her body but still fragile to the elements.
So the four trimesters (three month segments) add up to twelve months, creating one year from the baby’s conception. This year also encompasses great change and challenges for the mother, and often for the family around her.
I already discussed the first three trimesters in my last blog: the first trimester dealing with physical discomfort, the second trimester dealing with emotional discomfort, and the third trimester dealing with acceptance of this life altering experience and preparing for the new baby. The fourth trimester has in many ways been the easiest of the year, although not without it’s discomforts and challenges as well.
After sleeping for sixteen hours and waking up only for my doctors appointment I suspected Miles was going to arrive early. I did not anticipate the emergency check-in to the hospital from that appointment, nor the c-section decision I made due to severe preeclampsia/toxemia. I quote the doctor “The baby is fine, but you are not.” The longer I tried to put off a cesarean the higher the risk for the baby and myself.
I am only disappointed that I cannot share the natural birth experience I was hoping for. However I was surprisingly relieved with the c-section experience which was quick, easy and painless. The drugged recovery from the preeclampsia/toxemia was not as easy and we spent a week in the hospital while my vitals returned to normal.
When we finally returned home I was able to relax and was grateful for the company and help that came our way. It was comforting and surprisingly joyful, that second week was blissful.
However it did not take long for me to burn out during this recovery time. Soon the repeated company became overwhelming and the challenges of breastfeeding were draining me. I was forcing myself to clean and organize almost obsessively because I could not think straight or relax with chaos around me. Despite having an amazing new born who slept and fed on his own structure and routine I could not sleep and had little appetite.
I had daily bouts of extreme sadness, frustration and anger that worried me and those around me. It took over two months for those feelings to subside, and only now as the third month comes to an end do I feel more like myself and have made a happy adjustment into motherhood.
The Stigma Of Postpartum Depression
Postpartum depression is a serious ailment that plagues many women after childbirth. I was considered a high risk for this and through-out the fourth trimester fought with myself over the stigma of this mental health disorder.
Despite the concern of the nurses in the hospital, my own family doctor and a psychologist who was eager to medicate me after I was done breastfeeding, I was fortunate enough to have a counselor who empowered me by reminding me of the high stress pregnancy I had endured. She was able to help me put life in perspective and I left her office feeling proud of my accomplishments. I felt stronger and able to face any challenges that may lie ahead.
There is a lot of mis-information in the world about postpartum depression. When I read pamphlets, brochures and books they all emphasize that if the “baby blues” last more then two weeks then consult with your doctor about postpartum depression.
Every quiz or test I did on this disorder bombarded me with an overwhelming response that I was in fact at risk and likely had it postpartum depression. I wonder if I brainwashed myself into it, or if the negative influence from the nurses and doctors did.
All I know is for five out of seven days in the week I felt overwhelmed, emotional and even irrational. I did not feel like myself and I worried that I never would. However the other two days of the week gave me a window where I could see clearly and feel good, and that made me realize I wasn’t as crazy as I thought.
If it were not for that counselor I easily could have been influenced down a different road of confusion. I may have continued a downward spiral of negativity. I will be forever grateful to have made it through the fourth trimester unmedicated and able to care for my baby with great love.
Yoga And The Fourth Trimester
Isn’t this supposed to be a yoga blog? Yes, and yoga has been such a blessing in so many ways since I had little Miles.
For three days after his birth I was hooked up to an I.V. and unable to get in and out of bed. I only held Miles to feed him and the rest of his time was spent with his dad, in his bed beside me, or with the nurses. Visitors were not allowed and only a few people snuck in to hold him.
During those three days there wasn’t much I could do but breathe. No t.v., unable to read, barely able to comprehend what people said to me and barely able to talk myself forced me to turn inwards.
Perhaps the deep breathing started my fast recovery, and on the fourth day when they unhooked me from the machinery and I slowly regained mobility I was eager to sit tall, breathe deeper and stretch gently.
Although walking was extremely difficult I was able to sit in a chair and do leg lifts, arm stretches, neck circles and shoulder rolls. These small movements with deep breathing changed how I felt. Instead of feeling lethargic, stuck, useless and hopeless, I started to feel energy again. I felt hopeful for my return home and a healthy recovery with my baby boy.
When I did get home it didn’t take long for me to roll out my mysore mat and start a gentle yoga practice again. I was so happy to be able to just lie on my back and breathe. Being able to return to yoga after nine months of discomfort was like going home after a long, miserable vacation. So comforting.
After four weeks I was confident enough in my healing and recovery that I did my first class outside of my own personal practice. It felt so good to be stretching my body in new directions again.
I was devastated when the next day I awoke with extreme uterine pains that continued on and off for 24 hours. I learned the importance of patience here, and was reminded how delicate the body can be. It took me another week to return to my own yoga practice, and at the eight week point I started teaching again.
Teaching yoga has been a blessing. In some ways it seemed too soon, especially when so many women take a full year of maternity, but now I see the timing could not have been better.
Yoga gave me a strong body that allowed me to bounce back physically to care for my baby. It has given me the gift of awareness and continues to teach me to be patient with myself and others.
I understand more then ever the power of this study and practice: prenatal and postnatal.