Lessons in Humility (Part 5: The Recovery)

Labour’s hard. There’s a reason it’s called “labour” and not “leisure”. But after that you’re sore for a while and then that’s it, you just get on with the business of looking after a baby. Right?


(Don’t read this if you are easily grossed out, by the way, or if you and I aren’t that close and you’d rather keep seeing me as someone reasonably clean and well-groomed rather than too…human.)

For some reason the physical recovery after birth is something that doesn’t seem to get a whole lot of attention – you talk lots about being pregnant, and giving birth, and having a baby, but it can be hard to fathom that your body still has a lot of work to do to heal and recover. This is why when we hear of women like the Yahoo! CEO going back to work within days of giving birth, we wince. And wonder how much panadol she’ll need. We might vaguely mention to people the recovery was ‘worse’ than giving birth, but we are all so keen to forget it as soon as it’s over that we tend not to go into details, leaving the women who come after us to discover it all their own, just like we did.

The soreness and fatigue I’d felt in my hips and thighs towards the end of my pregnancy did not leave. I waddled for what felt like weeks. When Emma was 5 days old we went to the shops for two hours to buy groceries and a few baby things we’d decided we needed. After that two hours I needed four on the couch to recover. I’d heard a couple of times that labour was the equivalent of a marathon, and that’s how I felt.

Panadol was required to perform basic bodily functions. Enough said.

I’d been warned I’d get a bit sweaty. This warning from a dear friend who would never hold back on telling me anything I wanted to know no matter how gross, still did not warn me enough. I didn’t realise I’d be waking up in a pool of sweat and milk for weeks on end, washing the sheets every day on top of all that baby-related laundry. I googled it to make sure it was a thing, and I wasn’t weird (it is, and I wasn’t). It was a relief when it was finally over.

The same friend warned me to buy plenty of the biggest pads I could, and that I’d need two at a time. She was right.

But then by the time Emma was about six weeks old, I was feeling pretty good. The sore hips, panadol and night sweats were a distant memory. I was walking most days, I’d been to a couple of body balance classes. So I decided to try a body attack class. Just low impact, I told myself. I lasted until the third song, at which point I faked an asthma attack and left. All I could hear was the physio’s voice from mum’s group: Ladies, if your boobs hurt or you feel like you’re going to wet yourself, that’s your body telling you it’s not ready.

My body, it was not ready.

Emma is now eight months old and a few weeks ago I ran a 10km fun run in 1 hour 2 minutes, and felt great. I’ve lost the baby weight, although what I didn’t realise was I’d lose it in weird places – my pre-baby jeans are too big but I don’t think I’ll ever wear my pre-baby sports bras again. My face is back to normal but my stomach will never be. That’s ok, I don’t feel the need for a body that looks or feels like it used to – I’ve had a baby, and my body shows it, and that’s a good thing because your body should tell the story of your life. But it’s feeling as back to ‘normal’ as it probably ever will, which is nice. It can do most things I ask of it.

(Except star jumps. Enough said.)

I’m lucky to have recovered as quickly and as well as I did, especially when you hear stories of women needing to be re-stitched, or still requiring physio months after the fact. And yet. I can’t believe how long the recovery took. How long it took to not feel sore, to start feeling a little bit normal, then a lot normal. Having gone through that process now makes the gossip magazines’ obsession with celebrities’ post-baby bodies all the more grotesque. These women have gone through the equivalent of a marathon (for which it is impossible to train, unlike a real marathon), or if they had a c-section, actual major surgery. They’re sore. And tired. Their bodies hurt, in all sorts of places you would never expect.

Here is a photo of a woman before and after the Barkley marathon, courtesy of Geoffrey Baker:

Photo: Geoffrey Baker, License: N/A

Yep, that’s about what it was like – except you get a baby, which is better than a marathon in which you get nothing, so you might look a little better, like this:



And yet here is a photo of what those super human celebrities look like after they’ve had a baby:

I don’t even know how much panadol you need to look like that.

Yes, recovering from birth was a humbling experience. In the same way I thought I was going to rock at being pregnant, and was surprised at how very human – rather than empowering – the whole experience was, I was taken aback by how long it took before I didn’t feel like I’d ‘just’ given birth. Now when I see a tired woman at the shops walking funny with a small baby in the pram, or a woman of child-bearing age who can do everything in body attack except the star jumps, I feel their pain.

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