This post is inspired by an article by Jody Peltason called “Before I Forget: What Nobody Remembers About New Motherhood,” which the beautiful
Mal sent me a few days ago. The timing was perfect for me, and I’d really like to add my own thoughts.
This post is about my first two weeks as a mother. I don’t think every new mother’s experience matches mine, but I think the things I went through
are common enough that it’s strange we don’t talk about it more. Maybe it’s just practical–could anyone possibly share in words what those first few weeks feel like? How heavy our new responsibilities (mixed with sleep deprivation) can feel? It may be impossible to describe, but I’m going to try.
I’ve heard it said numerous times, first about pregnancy, and then about the newborn stage, that mothers’ brains drop a curtain over the difficult times. All those anxious, terrifying, nauseating moments get camouflaged behind a hazy image of your squishy newborn gazing up at you, their perfect eyelashes fanning out over their cheeks. I think that’s a good thing. It allows us to look back on one of the most important times of our lives with happy memories. It allows us to get our courage up to have sex again, get pregnant again, have more babies. But in my experience, that curtain can make a woman in the throes of new motherhood feel all kinds of lonely.
The author of the article above shared an experience she had going to the drugstore with her newborn. She was exhausted and stressed by the ordeal of getting her baby out of the house. An older woman came up to her and pointing to the baby said, “Aren’t you just on cloud nine?” This prompted a feeling of disbelief. Of guilt. What was she supposed to be feeling?
Five days after my son was born a neighbor called to ask how she could help out. It was 8 AM and I had just had one of the most profoundly anxious nights of my life. Over the past few days I’d only slept for a few stints of about 45 minutes a piece, and that was only because I’d forced myself to stop my crazy Internet searches that were going on at all hours of the night. The neighbor congratulated me on my baby, then said “Aren’t you just in heaven?”
There was a horrible pause.
Was I supposed to feel like I was in heaven? I was bleeding, I was engorged, I was swollen. I still hadn’t figured out how to breastfeed my son, and my anxiety was so bad that I’d woken up shaking and hyperventilating on multiple occasions.
If I’d been honest with my neighbor I would have said something like “Sam is the most incredible thing that has ever happened to me, and I’ve never been so miserable in my life.” It’s amazing that those two statements can both be perfectly true and exist in the same sentence. Instead, I mumbled something about how wonderful my baby was. And he is.
It’s just that my body had just undergone the most dramatic shift of its life at the exact moment that I was handed the most important role of my life. It’s just that my mind had started had started inundating me with horrible images of accidents that could hurt Sam–falling down the stairs holding him, bumping his head on the dresser, and others that scared me so much I’ve decided not to record them. It’s just that nothing had ever scared me more than being responsible for my perfect little boy.
So, in heaven?
But it did get better. All the support around me helped. Figuring out a way that I can get several hours of uninterrupted sleep every night helped. And time helped–just a few weeks later and I feel completely different. Five weeks after giving birth, motherhood is feeling (dare I say it?) fun.
One day those early experiences will be a tiny speck in my life’s rearview mirror, and all I’ll remember about that time period is that first sacred moment when the doctor laid Sam on my chest, and the way his head smelled, and the way David cried when he first saw him. But I wanted to make sure I remembered this part too. Because motherhood encompasses all shades–the yellows and golds of contentment, the reds and orange of anxiety, and even the gray, jaggedy-edges of depression. It may not have been what I was expecting, but what ever is?