When a baby is born, a mother is not always born too
The fourth trimester is vitally important for the hefty transition to motherhood
Geraldine Walsh with her children Allegra and Devin. Photograph: Donall Farmer
Parenthood will change you. It’s almost an affliction that rewires the internal mechanisms of your body and brain. Like a sometimes-instant switch, automatically flicked, when your baby takes their first breath.
Except, it’s not always the case when a baby is born that a mother is born. Producing a newfound life does not necessarily mean we automatically download the parenting gene and move with a maternal grace like mother nature intended. This change is an odd meandering of trials, most of which blindside us, which is why the fourth trimester is so important.
There are three trimesters, you numpty, I hear you say. Well no, there are actually four, with this last, mildly unknown, trimester being the one with vast and furious changes for both baby and mother. The fourth trimester lasts from birth until your baby turns three months old and is one we fail to recognise as being vitally important for this hefty transition to motherhood.
In truth, I was clutching for the metaphorical rail and hoping I wouldn’t fall or fail
I have two children. Both births were complicated resulting in a difficult recovery and unexpected challenges. Each time I came home holding a beautiful bundle of blankets with a breathing, human face sleepily peeking its way through. To look at me, a new mother swelling with pride and exhaustion and burying a physical pain, you would have thought I had read the parenting manual the hospital seemed to discharge me with as I appeared to have a level of control hovering about me.
In truth, I was clutching for the metaphorical rail and hoping I wouldn’t fall or fail. Those first three months were to be a change of epic proportions in my small world as I wore a body I didn’t recognise, heard thoughts which surely were not mine, and was introduced to a whole new way of life which put my needs further down the list than I needed.
The fourth trimester meant recovering and understanding more than the physical labour of birth and focusing on the emotional labour which is the ebb and flow of a new maternal life.
In the fourth trimester your baby is loving your body, which is why they are forever wanting to be nestled in the crook of your arm
New-borns, as gentle and small as they are, become the largest, most mixed up Rubik cube you will ever try to solve - while also trying to crack the mystery that is this new you. The changes are vast, sometimes unwelcome, but somehow, we incorporate these fluctuations, be it by acceptance or by necessity. The fourth trimester will see to that as those first three months are full of revolutions.
Firstly, your body, which has been alien to you for the best part of nine months, will not magically “bounce back”. Mostly because, bouncing is the last thing on your mind after birthing an entire human by whatever means necessary.
You are sore. Your tummy no longer resembles the shape you were used to. Your breasts develop a life and orbit of their own and can no longer be considered yours as your baby latches on and claims ownership. You will look in the mirror and see a new, possibly temporary, body which is perfectly fine.
This fourth trimester is not about regaining your old body. There is plenty of time for that if needs be. It’s about getting to know and love the new one, with all its lumps and bumps, scars and marks, and appreciating how incredible that body is.
Meanwhile, your baby is loving your body, more than you are during these first few months, which is why they are forever wanting to be nestled in the crook of your arm. For your baby, the fourth trimester is your cue to recreate the comfort and rhythm of the womb.
Transitioning from the womb to the world is much harder for baby than our jump into parenthood
When you consider they have spent their entire life so far, growing inside you, their need for the warmth, smell and sound of your body is vital to their development. Transitioning from the womb to the world is much harder for baby than our jump into parenthood. Your baby’s cries are an attempt to find comfort in this new, ever changing, over stimulating world, and your body is their safety.
Our bodies need rest. Our babies need comfort. The fact these two instances coincide makes for a rational argument to stay sitting under your baby for at least the first few weeks, but that argument comes with pitfalls as any new mother knows. The feasibility of sitting and smelling your new-borns head, as wonderful as it sounds, discounts how some new mothers do not have the support we all need. With a low uptake of paternity leave and the abstract village no longer existing, Mum may find her recovery time intermingled with the busy rhythm of life with a newborn.
As such, the fourth trimester is a time to pay attention to the state of a new mother’s mind. This transition is explosive. Our hearts and minds are full to the brim with love, fear, excitement, apprehension and the confusion of baby blues or evolving postnatal depression. There is an incessant overwhelm with new motherhood, which any rational mind would be remiss to comprehend.
The fourth trimester is a trying season that relinquishes everything you ever thought you knew about being Mum
A new mother needs understanding and support in making this transition from the freedom of what could be considered a self-centred life to selfless living. We are expected to fluidly adjust our routines, our lives, and our mindset while knowing how to feed, clothe and comfort a baby.
It seems we must give up everything as life with baby takes over. In reality, it simply takes time to adjust. Eventually, we regain that part of ourselves we thought we were losing. It takes a mental effort, but we are never fully transformed when motherhood is added to our list of qualifications.
The fourth trimester is a trying season that relinquishes everything you ever thought you knew about being Mum. We merge our past mechanisms with the new cogs and gears of motherhood and eventually the fourth trimester blends into simply being life.