Are You Post-Postpartum? Let's Stop Feeling Bad About It

by Leigh Anderson
Originally Published: 

Recently, as I pulled on a maternity T-shirt, I thought, “It’s OK, you’re still postpartum.” And then I realized, uh, I’m two years post-postpartum. I weaned my second child a year ago. Things really should have gone back to normal by now. I’m not postpartum, I’m post-postpartum.

A lot of ladies, judging by my Facebook feed, are having trouble adjusting to the post-postpartum period. “Things Really Should Have Gone Back To Normal By Now” could be our anthem, a plaintive, moody lament sung by someone like Joni Mitchell.

Let me ask you, post-postpartum ladies: Do you wake up at 5 or 6 a.m. with your heart thudding as your mind leaps to your to-do list? Do you think, the moment your eyes pop open, “I really should have made the lunches last night”? Do you struggle to stuff your toddler in the car seat while checking your work bag and trying to remember if you yourself ate breakfast?

These kind of questions are the hallmark of the post-postpartum mother. What bums me out the most about the post-postpartum period, both for me and on behalf of my fellow mothers, is the self-recrimination that comes along with it. When you’re late to day care, when you have to stop at the drugstore before work for a toothbrush and toothpaste because you forgot to brush your teeth, when dinner is a can of soup and toast, you think to yourself, “Shouldn’t I be better at this by now?”

Um, no. You shouldn’t be better at this by now. The post-postpartum period is really, really hard. A lot of us haven’t managed to “get it together” enough to lose the last of the baby weight, to streamline the morning routine into Germanic efficiency, to have a homemade meal every night.

The post-postpartum period, which by my definition starts when your last baby is 6 months old, has unique challenges, just as the pregnancy and newborn stage did. We generally don’t recognize these struggles in the same way we recognize how difficult morning sickness or breastfeeding is, for example.

One such struggle in the post-postpartum period (perhaps the worst one, in fact) is the persistent, grinding fatigue that comes with raising small kids who perhaps still aren’t sleeping through the night. You can’t complain about it anymore, because people don’t really understand why a 2- or 3-year-old is still waking up, but there you have it. You’re fucking tired. Add in a second or third baby, and you’re exhausted to a bone-deep level that only years of sleep deprivation can produce.

And even when you’re past that, there are still challenges. My friend’s mother-in-law has been hinting she’d like to pass the baton for Thanksgiving hosting this year, and my friend is politely demurring. “I just can’t deal,” she said. “I have a 2½-year-old and a 4-year-old and no time off. I can’t plan. I can’t cook. I can’t manage the cleanup. And I’m embarrassed to say no. Shouldn’t I be ready for this by now?”

Nope. Because she’s post-postpartum. It’s a rough time. It’s totally our prerogative to say no to hosting 20-plus person events, to get “wash-and-wear” haircuts, to skid into work 10 minutes late every day.

When you’re pregnant and have a newborn, people give you a certain amount of leeway. You can skip events, complain of late nights and early mornings, take on a lighter workload or not work at all. But at a certain point people start to think, “She should be up to that,” for whatever that may be. And sometimes we’re just not.

When does the post-postpartum stage end? I don’t know—I’m not there yet. Maybe when all of one’s kids are in school? But somehow, judging from friends who have older kids, I doubt it. It’s totally possible the post-postpartum stage might run right into the empty nest stage.

So settle in and try to cut yourself some slack. After all, you’re in a delicate condition. And hey, look—someday we won’t be post-postpartum anymore. Someday we’ll have only ourselves to get out the door in the morning. I’m not looking forward to that, either, frankly. I love my little guys, even if they do think it’s funny to trip me when I’m trying to get to work. I love my post-postpartum period. I hope it lasts forever.

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