I’m writing this in solitude. Nobody’s home, just me. The quiet is surreal. My husband has taken our boy (can’t say ‘the baby’ anymore, he’s too big!) out to pick up some groceries, and specifically ordered me not to do any dish washing or chores. I’ve got a rotten cold, so I took a dangerously hot bath. I adore painfully hot baths.
I realized something as I slipped into the steaming water–I wasn’t feeling concern. This seems small, but in the timeline of a postpartum woman, I think it is huge.
Every journey is different, and perhaps some will read this and roll their eyes. “She’s talking about this again?”, or the basest point: “Get over it.”
It’s okay. If this is you, it’s just not your type of journey, and really that is wonderful. I wish my postpartum experience hadn’t been so fraught, but it was, and I think it is important now for me to shine a light on that and also provide reassurance to anyone going through (or about to enter into) the thick of it.
How it was: I couldn’t leave my baby. Not with others, not for a moment, not for a date or a shower or a pee. When I did, it felt dreadful. I hated it and wanted my old life back. I felt guilty all the time, felt like taking ten minutes to shower was selfish and somehow hurting the baby. I rushed, all the time spewing out crazed apologies. “Ssh, it’s okay, it’s okay, Mama will be so fast, so so fast…”
How it is: The guilt is gone. We go shopping, and leave Felix with his grandparents. Felix goes on happy excursions with Dada, while Mama takes an hour or two to bathe and breathe and process emotions. Felix is fine, he is not damaged or worrying about me. I am fine, I am not damaged or worrying excessively about him.
How it was: I was so tired, so tired, so incredibly tired. Never before had I experienced that type of jaw-clenching anxiety, that deep an exhaustion. I worried so much that when I was given time to sleep, I often couldn’t. In the first few weeks, I had these odd sort of shocks–hallucinations, almost. I’d wake from a sleep, and immediately panic about the baby’s whereabouts. My addled brain focused on shapes and shadows–how did the baby get on the mantel? The baby’s at the edge of the bed! This irrational behavior wasn’t something I could control or even share. I clearly remember nursing Felix on the couch, and looking up at a shadow above our window. A wave of panic hit me: the baby was strung up in the curtains! No, he was in my arms.
How it is: Seventeen months in, and I am calm and comfortable with Felix exploring his little world. He tinkers with toys in his room while I scrub dishes. He chats to himself, we bounce around the apartment and are safe and comfortable in our space. That heart-squeezing anxiety doesn’t exist anymore. I don’t dread sundown, I certainly don’t hallucinate. I am tired, yes, but I dream and sleep and cuddle and relax. New mother, you will again, too.
Seventeen months postpartum, and I am still marveling in the happy moments. I am still amazed and blissed out when things feel calm and normal and good. Perhaps there is no point where one is fully ‘recovered’. Maybe mothers are always “postpartum”. We cope and we grow, but I deeply feel that we are living in a world that grossly underestimates and devalues what is happening after the wrapping paper is thrown away, showers are bestowed and nurseries are decorated. Something very raw and real is occurring, something that doesn’t fit into the rules and requirements of modern American life. Never feel shame about how your journey transpires, you’re charting waters that define what it really is to be human. It’s sometimes ugly and daunting, but if you read this and relate, I hope you can focus on how it is for me now. Your dawn will come.