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Mom Talk: When Postpartum Doesn’t Go As Planned

Written by Rebecca Migirov

Today’s Mom Talk is a brutally honest account of one new mother’s first few weeks postpartum. Rebecca Migirov had always been a striver and a planner, and she meticulously planned for the birth of her son with plenty of well-researched spreadsheets and checklists. Yet, when her son arrived, healthy and happy, the 26-year-old startup CEO and founder of Kala found herself woefully unprepared for the challenges that followed. The emotional and physical changes left her reeling, and battling a “dark cloud” that many new moms struggle with but rarely talk openly about. Read her honest account below. 

I had a fairly uncomplicated pregnancy and labor, punctuated by the standard afflictions: morning sickness, none of my pants fitting, and a fourteen-hour, epidural-induced haze before my son was finally born on a sunny Friday afternoon last October. It was everything after that I was brutally unprepared for.

I had planned for my son’s birth meticulously. I had shared Google spreadsheets to compare the merits of different strollers and bookmarked articles on which organic diapers and diaper cream are best for avoiding rashes (spoiler alert: none of them, we switched to Pampers and A&D a week in). The nursery, a space-themed room with plenty of storage and a selection of books like Quantum Physics for Babies, was ready and organized, waiting for its occupant. My husband and I had dozens of parenting books and laid out our rules for the next 18 years of our son’s life. I had painstakingly outlined every item of my maternity leave, which, as a workaholic and startup founder, was the hardest part of my planning. My company, Kala, which creates eco-friendly and inclusive intimates, launched our first line ten days before my son was born.

After waddling my way through most of 2018 and Kala’s launch, I’d finally, mercifully, made it to The Day and had given birth and survived with a healthy little boy to show for it. That’s when reality set in: raising a baby is nothing like books and all of our expectations and plans had to be wholly reexamined on the fly. My anxiety latched on stronger than it ever had before.

The first two weeks were the hardest. My son was the perfect newborn—sleepy blue eyes and tiny hands and the biggest appetite in history. I watched him sleep like a sentinel, terrified that if I looked away he’d stop breathing. I cried what felt like constantly and, barely having begun my journey as a mother, already felt like I’d failed. It was like a dark cloud had taken up residence in our apartment.

His diapers and rash cream didn’t work, with constant blowouts and redness. My milk production couldn’t keep up with his needs. We’d get into vicious cycles, taking turns crying while he tried to latch. Finally, I decided to try expressing milk instead of nursing. Looking back, I remember sitting on an ice pack at 3 a.m., while my son and husband slept in the other room, breast pump attached via the ugliest bra you’ve ever seen, crying over a rerun of SNL, wondering how I was ever going to survive. We hired a baby nurse to work with us when he was only two weeks old and, finally, I was able to get some sleep. Here was a professional, who knew how to take care of my son much better than I did. Still, the dark cloud hung over my head.

We began supplementing with formula and he thrived. We instituted a bedtime routine that helped him relax. He got his vaccines and I felt comfortable taking him out. We started solids. When he was 6 months old, we moved him to his nursery from the bassinet in our room he’d slept in since we brought him home. We sleep trained. I jumped back into work as soon as I felt like I could stand again, desperate for time out of my apartment and in clothes that weren’t stained with spit-up and poop. My first external meetings took place four weeks after I’d given birth, our first major post-launch event only a few days later.

I took these struggles, those nights spent pumping with the aforementioned ugliest bra, which felt like barbed wire and left marks on my skin, to further Kala’s development of our maternity line. Our mission was to create good-for-you pieces, from organic cottons and naturally antibacterial treatments, that new moms would truly use and feel good wearing in those early, hazy newborn days and beyond. We set out to create the opposite experience of my own.

On the surface, things got better. But I’m still healing. Eight months later, I still get sudden radiating pain a few times a week, though less frequently than in those early days. I still go into my son’s room a minimum of 3 times a night and put my hand on his belly to feel him breathe. I still feel mostly overwhelmed, juggling new motherhood and an early stage startup, my Irish twins. I still feel mom-guilt and founder-guilt and having-fulltime-childcare-guilt. Most of my pre-baby clothes don’t fit. Sometimes I hide in the bathroom for a few minutes of quiet, alone time while my husband and son play.

My son will be 8 months old in only a few days. He crawls like he’s got somewhere to be and is ready to run before he can walk. He makes everyone around him laugh and whenever we do, he smiles the biggest toothless grin he can muster. A big fan of leafy greens and sweet potatoes, he loves to eat. And explore. And take baths and kick in the water. And climb on anything we’ll let him near. And when he’s done doing all that, he loves to chew on a book and snuggle to sleep.

The dark cloud isn’t so bad most days, though it still follows me around. I’ve learned strategies for healing: therapy, exercise, practicing self-care when I can find the time. I try to remember that motherhood is one of my roles, my most important one, but still a part of me, not all of me. Sometimes when I talk to other women, I find we’ve all forgotten that we’re still human outside of our roles caretaking others, even our children.

Motherhood is the hardest journey I’ve ever embarked on, but whenever I look at my funny little guy, that toothless grin so bright, and think of the person he’ll grow up to be, I know I’d do it all again a million times over. Dark cloud be damned.

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