Friday, September 5, 2014

Why I Found Postpartum to be Empowering


It doesn't role off the tongue. It kind of sticks there until you spit it out. Or at least that's how it felt until I learned more.

Postpartum is the time after having a baby. It's usually a prolonged time of infertility, your body's natural way of spacing children. However, the length of this "time of infertility" is entirely unknown. How fun is that?! (That was sarcasm.) The length of infertility depends on a few factors:

1) Baby feeding - If you formula feed, your cycles will probably return very quickly, but if you exclusively breastfeed (no bottles, pumping, pacifiers, or schedule) it could be over a year before you see a cycle. And there are many more options that fall in-between. Also, adding solid food to the mix speeds up the return of fertility.

 2) Baby sleep patterns - When a baby wakes up frequently at night, it sends a signal to the mom's body that it's not a good time to have another baby because this one still requires a lot of attention. However, when babies start sleeping through the night a woman's body begins to normalize and cycles may return even if they are frequently nursing during the day.

My postpartum blessing, almost 14 months old now!

 3) Genetics - Both of the above factors may be trumped though by genetics. Some women's bodies prepare for babies faster than others.

For example, I did a high version of mixed breastfeeding. What that means is we tried to get Cordie to take a bottle three times (and she HATED it EVERY time) and no pacifiers (again, not from lack of sincere coaxing on our part). She was also on a bit of a schedule since I work from home and needed it. Combine that with Cordie waking one or more times (usually more) at night consistently, and I didn't see my first cycle until she was 10.5 months old, the week after she started sleeping through the night.

I was really excited about our use of NFP when I started reading about how birth control chemicals can be passed from mother to baby through breast milk. I was not a fan of that idea at all! But I still felt like I was kind of alone in the whole process of figuring out what the heck my body was doing postpartum. It was a lot to process--new baby, changed body. So we decided to contact an instructor to help us out. I highly encourage this! And not just postpartum, but anytime you are confused about what your body is doing when it comes to charting. Find someone to ask questions of and to confide in. (I can be that person if any of you reading need that :)

Having a husband who constantly builds you up helps postpartum, too!

We actually made the postpartum time an opportunity to learn the Creighton Method. The instructor was wonderful and met with us as often as we needed. I learned so much, and while I still choose to practice the sympto-thermal method, I feel like I have even more knowledge about my body because of my Creighton instruction. My instructor helped me establish my BIP, or basic infertility pattern, so we didn't have to abstain for months or weeks on end. Too often I hear of couples who abstain for such long periods of time because of unknowns, but that doesn't have to be the case at all. Knowledge is power. Find someone who is willing to work with you so NFP doesn't become a burden.

Cousins just two months apart.

After a few weeks of charting I immediately noticed a pattern. I could actually see my body attempting to regulate, then deciding it wasn't time, trying again, and once again deciding it still wasn't a good time for another baby because the current one still needed me quite a bit. I actually found postpartum to be empowering, which is odd because I think a lot of women can hit rock bottom self-esteem-wise postpartum. But for me, seeing how my body was working to give me time to heal and properly care for my daughter was beautiful and incredible. How amazingly did God design us?!

Finally, I learned to trust myself and God a bit more. I think our society has gotten it into our heads that we can't rely on our own observations and interpretations to accurately deduce our fertility without the help of chemicals or physical barriers. We've let fertility become this mystery when in fact it's very specific and a true science. It's my body. I've lived in it for a while now, so I think I can listen to it well enough to learn what it's doing. Postpartum isn't the easiest time for any woman, practicing NFP or not, but it doesn't have to be scary, surprising, or highly sacrificial. Learn about your body, work with an instructor if you need to, and finally trust yourself and be honest.