I was recently at lunch with a group of moms when the topic of postpartum recovery came up. While we all had very different stories leading up to the deliveries of our babies, we could all agree on one thing: We were all completely, utterly unprepared for the physical, mental, and emotional realities of the postpartum period.

One mom reported that she had no idea how long she’d bleed after giving birth. Another said she had no idea she’d bleed at all after delivering via C-section. Another added that she had no idea she may experience constipation after delivery. Another said she’d never heard about the baby blues, and had no idea she may feel unshakable sadness after meeting her baby. Another said she was completely unprepared for the horrible, lingering vaginal pain, while another still said she never knew she’d have to spend additional time in the hospital after delivering via C-section.

The bottom line? None of us were given all the information. None of us were made aware of the realities of physical recovery, or the emotional fallout of that wild hormonal shift that takes place after delivery. 

There are so many elements to the path to parenthood that we’re expected to just figure out as we go.

So many things are not common knowledge. Take, for example, the fact that no one really seems to know how pregnancy week calculations work until they’re early on in their own pregnancies, or how people don’t know the framework of how procedures like IUI or IVF truly unfold until they’re actually in the doctor’s office. 

But when it comes to the postpartum recovery, this is especially problematic — because when we’re in the thick of postpartum recovery, we’re not just focusing on letting our bodies heal, we’re also learning the ropes of new motherhood. 

During my own pregnancy, my team of doctors constantly commented on how prepared I was for the whole experience — how well-versed I was on the rules of pregnancy, on the way the process unfolds. This isn’t surprising; I was working as a journalist covering prenatal health at the time, so thinking about pregnancy was, quite literally, my job, in addition to something I was experiencing in real time personally. 

But even I was completely thrown by the postpartum period. I had no clue how painful or disorienting or exhausting it would be. I had no idea that I’d feel more emotionally fragile than I’ve ever felt in my life, or that there were so many terrifying things that could happen after giving birth. 

For a while I wondered if I wasn’t made aware of all these realities because everyone around me assumed I had all the answers. Now, after speaking with so many fellow moms about the postpartum experience, I see the reality: None of us are prepared. None of us are provided with even a basic understanding of what happens physiologically and psychologically. 

We should have some answers — whether that means our medical providers giving us a rundown of what to expect in the aftermath of delivery, or more readily available information sources that we can access. It’s interesting: Before we give birth, we’re advised to get educated on birthing, breastfeeding, and CPR — we’re told to do the things that’ll prepare us for catering for our babies, which is so important. But it’s also important that we learn how to care for ourselves before we’re thrust into this wild, disorienting world of new motherhood — because trying to figure out how to care for a child, all while being completely unprepared and uncared for ourselves, is just plain unhealthy.

On top of that, postpartum care in the United States is not nearly where it ought to be.

Mothers typically go in for a checkup six weeks after delivering, at which time they’re often cleared to resume normal activity. That insinuates that you’re “back to normal” at that six-week mark — but, as anyone who has ever been there will tell you, you’re still very much adjusting to your new normal, both within and outside of your body at that point in time. And of course, that screening is just not enough to fully answer a new mom’s questions or give her the information she truly needs.

There’s simply not enough postpartum support for new moms, from either a medical and social standpoint.

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Of course, no two deliveries or postpartum experiences are the same, and as a result, some level of unpredictability will always exist. But the total lack of baseline information women receive — about their bodies in general and about the postpartum period — is leaving them in a cycle of isolation, shame, pain, and confusion. 

How many new mothers wonder if they’re broken because the physical pain and emotional fallout they experience is so different from the single narrative we’re fed about welcoming a new baby? I know I did. And I know I’m not alone, even though I felt as though I was in that period.

So what do we do about this? We own the conversation. We take it into our own hands. Even simple things, like having those conversations about postpartum over lunch, or sharing your story on social media, can go a long way in breaking through the wall between women and the information that would serve them. It’s about normalizing the range of experiences and realities of postpartum — and because no one is equipping us with that information, we need to take this role on ourselves.


Zara Hanawalt is a freelance journalist and mom of twins. She's written for outlets like Parents, MarieClaire, Elle, Cosmopolitan, Motherly, and many others. In her (admittedly limited!) free time, she enjoys cooking, reading, trying new restaurants, and traveling with her family.