Not Being My Own Advocate Put My Health At Risk Postpartum

Amid a society that underestimates the significance of motherhood, this mom recognizes the value of self-advocacy throughout her postpartum journey.
how to advocate for yourself postpartum

Sitting in my modest New York apartment, I cradled my newborn son in my arms. The gentle creak of our brand-new rocking chair lulled us into a much-needed slumber. But suddenly, a sharp pop echoed from the kitchen, followed by the lively chatter of my parents who came to came to stay with us in celebration of the arrival of their first grandchild. 

In their jubilation, they decided to uncork a bottle of champagne. “Newborn babies and booze, a perfect pairing,” dripping with sarcasm. I hadn’t had a decent night’s sleep in 48 hours, my breasts felt like bricks on my chest, an ice pack was perched between my legs and my entire world had turned topsy-turvy. Yet, here my family was toasting with champagne and cocktails in the other room, leaving me feeling unmistakably excluded. 

My own celebratory thoughts, miles away from alcohol, were centered on the unique joy of having just given birth to my baby. During childbirth, I experienced a handful of tears—mine were considered labial lacerations instead of the more common perineal laceration. Although I knew it was common for tears to occur, I was not prepared for the healing process, which I found to be a lot more painful than I’d expected.

My bathroom visits were a very tough part of my postpartum experience—a familiar struggle for many women. Filling up a peri bottle with warm water, securing a fresh adult diaper and preparing the tucks wipes was my postpartum ritual. On this particular bathroom visit, I gently sprayed the warm water onto my lady parts while I was urinating, and an intense burning sensation seared through me and took my breath away. 

I assured myself it must be normal. I mentioned the burning sensation to my mom, but she had two C-sections, so she assured me it was probably normal too. I told myself that I’d bring it up at my next checkup.

The next day, we ordered takeout Thai food; probably not the best choice for my first post-birth meal at home, but decision-making was not my strong suit at that moment. Everyone was gathered in the kitchen, eagerly unpacking paper bags and uncovering containers of noodles. 

I warmed up some bone broth I had purchased before the baby arrived. I sipped it from a mug, accompanied by a side of stool softener pills, determined to ease the dreaded first postpartum bowel movement. As I sat in the living room with my baby in my arms, sipping bone broth, I couldn’t help but feel different, like an outsider.

The following day, my parents suggested we take a walk. Their advice was well-intentioned; after all, movement aids in a swifter recovery, or so they said. Despite my doubts, I found myself unable to articulate my reservations effectively. Before venturing out, I reluctantly went through my postpartum bathroom routine once more, only to find that the burning sensation had escalated. 

I wanted to enjoy the walk, but I couldn’t really move my legs up and down very well and I was moving like a cross-country skier. A few minutes into the walk, the friction intensified to the point where it overwhelmed the Tylenol I had been diligently taking. I decided to cut the walk short and head back home. By the time I reached my apartment, I was almost in tears from the pain and pressure I felt below.

These are just a few of the times I was too scared to advocate for myself and my health in my earliest days of postpartum. 

While Instagram might paint a pretty picture of becoming a mother, the first few weeks are a whirlwind of visitors, tears and sleepless nights. There was an internal struggle to revert to my ‘old self’—me before the baby arrived—but it was a battle I couldn’t win. In the midst of this struggle, my postpartum bathroom visits remained excruciating, and the burning sensation showed no signs of abating. 

It was clear; it was time to see a doctor.

When the doctor examined me, her reaction was a gasp of surprise. Not a sound I was hoping to hear in a situation where my legs were spread open. It turns out that none of my stitches had held, and all those little tears I had endured were now open wounds. The solution? Cauterization without any numbing agents. The cause of this was probably due to “not resting during the days after the birth.”


As I braced for the burning sensation, a nurse offered support. The doctor, with the quintessential silver tray containing silver nitrate sticks, proceeded to cauterize the open wounds, causing more tears to flow than even childbirth had provoked.

It’s a pain I can still feel—but one that motivated me to become my greatest advocate. 

I should have communicated my feelings of isolation when my apartment felt like a noisy bar. 

Instead of yielding to pressure to take walks, I should have prioritized precious bonding time with my baby in the safety of my bed. 

Rather than settling for microwaved broth, I should have asked for nourishing food. 

I should have reached out to the doctor about my pain immediately. But I couldn’t.

My husband and I had extensively prepared for him to be my advocate during childbirth. I had shared my desires and plans with him, emphasizing that if I ever found myself unable to advocate for what I wanted, it was his responsibility to step in—and he did just that. 

However, it seemed that this advocacy role ended once our baby was born. 

The assumption was that I would instantly return to my old, strong-willed self. But I wasn’t the same. I couldn’t make sound decisions for myself, and, while my family acted as though everything was normal, nothing was normal for me.

In hindsight, I wish that we planned out our postpartum as diligently as we planned for the birth.  

It’s not my husband’s fault and I don’t blame my parents—we are all products of a society that undervalues the maternal experience. 

This undervaluation is evident in the lack of proper hospital care, the insufficient postpartum care, the absence of government support for mothers beyond unpaid FMLA, the scarcity and affordability issues of childcare, the absence of family-friendly policies and the resistance against flexible work arrangements.

As a new mother, receiving the support you truly need is not always readily laid out for you. Rather, you must assertively champion your own requirements.

I recommend picking up a copy of “The First Forty Days: The Essential Art of Nourishing the New Mother” authored by Heng Ou in collaboration with Amely Greeven and Marisa Belger

This book is not just a resource for the postpartum phase; it’s an invaluable guide that can aid you in setting the groundwork for a healthier, more balanced postpartum experience. It is never too early to start planning.

My advice for how postpartum moms can be their own best advocates: 

  1. Visualize yourself in the postpartum period and begin establishing the necessary boundaries to shape this pivotal chapter of your life with the understanding that you may need to be flexible.  

2. Take the time to research common postpartum challenges, such as tears and postpartum depression, to differentiate what is ordinary from issues that may need immediate attention. 

3. Establish a support system with whom you can openly communicate your emotions, even the most disquieting ones. Whether it be your life partner, a close friend, a therapist, or a medical professional, remember that you are never alone. Although they may not possess the power to fix your problem, having a channel for expression is crucial for your healing process.

4. Understand that seeking assistance is not only acceptable but essential. In fact, there will come a time when you must seek help; get used to that feeling now.

5. Do not hesitate to be candid and forthright about both your physical and emotional well-being in your interactions with your doctors. While your journey might seem unique, remember that many others have shared similar experiences. Therefore, do not hesitate to express even the most unsettling of concerns; they are more relatable than you might imagine.

6. Remember that you, too, require nurturing amidst nurturing your newborn demands. Prioritize self-care, recognizing that a well-nurtured caregiver equates to a well-nurtured child. Embrace the concept of restoration, as opposed to mere rest, although sleep is undoubtedly beneficial. Don’t forget to fill up your own cup.

7. Above all, never lose sight of the fact that advocating for yourself is not a sign of vulnerability but rather a testament to your strength.

I wish you days upon days of profound bonding with your precious little one. Keep an open heart and enjoy this incredible journey – it’s a testament to the miracle of motherhood!

Explore more compelling essays and narratives within The Mother Chapter’s collection


  • Kayla David

    Kayla David, an HR professional by day and a creative dabbler by night. She is the mother of two living angels and finds her inspiration in a multitude of artistic pursuits. From crafting melodies on her ukulele to sewing her kids' Halloween costumes, her heart lies in all forms of art. Her writing is driven by the passion for sharing her stories with others, creating a sense of community through shared experiences and vulnerability.

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