At my postpartum check-up, the nurse chatted with me about my postpartum feelings. She set down the blood pressure cuff and said, “I know why postpartum is so hard.” She smiled and I read pride on her face as if she had solved the puzzle.

“Sleep deprivation. That’s what makes it so hard.”

I almost laughed. I thought, listen lady, the postpartum period is like a 500-piece puzzle. Sleep deprivation is only one of the pieces. It may be a super important corner piece, but it isn’t the only issue.

The thing is—there’s no adequate definition or description for the postpartum period because we all have a different postpartum puzzle we have to put together to feel whole again. 

Here’s my attempt to define my postpartum period.

It’s pain and blood and joy and the crash of hormones.

It’s an ache that consumes you, but you can’t define. It’s holding a baby and thinking, I love you so much, before swinging to despair five minutes later.

It’s waking in the night, cradling a pillow, panicked about the baby. It’s a strange attachment that both strangles and liberates and the confusion that exists between. It’s the euphoria of baby snuggles and an inexplicable sadness that smacks out of nowhere.

RELATED: No One Warned Me About These Postpartum Emotions

It’s the beauty of firsts–first smiles, first words, first steps, first foods, first mistakes. It’s the rhythmic sounds of baby rockers, pumps, baby gulps. It’s living your life in 2-3 hour increments and the burnout this brings.

It’s failure and shame and fear. It’s crying in the shower and the deep, deep fog of sleep deprivation.

It’s breastfeeding, bottle feeding, never-ending feeding. It’s an endless loop of diapers and milk and, “Shhh, it’s OK. Don’t cry, baby.”

It’s brushing your teeth at noon, forgetting to eat, trying to chug water. It’s feeding dogs, feeding children, tending house, tending to everyone but yourself.

It’s scars and a new, softer body. It’s swollen skin, swollen breasts, swollen stomachs. It’s so much blood. It’s the cracking open of skin and hearts and emotions. It’s a rawness that is beautiful, painful, and vulnerable.

It’s looking in the mirror and seeing the dark eye circles and extra weight and skin. It’s not recognizing who is looking back and wondering how permanent she will be. Do you love her? Can you love her? Will your partner love her?

It’s trying to tell your partner how you feel, trying to define who you’ve become, knowing they can never fully understand. It’s knowing it’s not their fault. It’s watching your partner live life far less affected than you and swallowing resentment.

It’s the longing for the freedom of days that weren’t restricted by feedings and pumping and never-ending questions: Can I eat that food if I’m nursing? Is exercising too hard going to lower my milk supply?

It’s wishing you could get into your car and go anywhere and do anything.

It’s reminiscing about pre-baby days and reminding yourself how much fun you used to be, how you had been someone else before, someone who had friends and a life. It’s missing your friends so deeply you could weep but knowing and hoping this time is fleeting.

It’s missing sports and exercise and day drinking and the person you were before babies. It’s resenting others and your partner for their freedom, for their unaffected, beautiful bodies.

It’s longing for the time when your body was only yours, when your day didn’t revolve around producing food and caring for another human. It’s wishing you could get drunk on the beach and buzz with life and lust.

It’s wanting freedom and then feeling a deep sense of longing once you have it.

It’s anger, rage, resentment, shame, disappointment, and so much guilt. It’s knowing you wanted this, you chose this, and wishing for the briefest moments that you hadn’t and then feeling guilty for those thoughts.

It’s never fully detaching from your children, the extensions of you, even if you want to.

It’s never being able to stop mothering, even when you’re away.

RELATED: Admire the Baby, But Don’t Forget to Nurture the Mother

It’s the understanding that not all are awarded the privilege of bearing life, that others would give anything to be in your shoes. It’s repeating the mantra in your head for yourself and for those who cannot do what you’ve done, for those who cannot bring life: I am grateful. I love this messy life.

It’s knowing the babies that grew within you will always be a part of you, regardless of distance or age. It’s knowing the weight of what you will carry will fluctuate from 7 pounds and 13.5 ounces to the immeasurable weight of love, and grief, and pain, and loss that accompanies living and dying.

It’s loving your baby so much you think you might explode. It’s not loving yourself at all, forgetting how to.

Eventually, it’s appreciation for your newer body, the one that brought life.

It’s time and pain and joy and discovery and unwavering love. It’s accepting how painful it is to love this deeply.

It’s allowing yourself to feel proud and broken and irrevocably different. It’s acknowledging that you birthed another human, you—the bringer of life.

It’s knowing you’d do it again all over, every time knowing you will come close to breaking, that you can never go back, that you will be changed forever.

Originally published on the author’s blog