I wrote this "essay" about 5 weeks after Ryan was born. I had had a typical post partum period, but I was shocked by how hard it was. My husband and I also felt alone in our feelings of how hard it was. I decided that I didn't want the women in my life to feel alone like that when they have a newborn. So, I wrote this as something I will save and share with women I care about as they have their first born children.
“Amazing, wonderful, awesome, special…”
These are all words used by others to describe the first days after a child is born. After just experiencing that time period first hand, I can say that this time is indeed “special” but not in the way one would think.
These first days are about survival. They are about sleep deprivation, out of control emotions, diaper changes, tears (not just the baby’s), feedings, and repeat, repeat, repeat. They are about recovery. Your body is recovering from a major stress, in my case, from a c-section. I couldn’t move the way I wanted to. I was sore. I had just had major surgery and yet I was going through the most stressful life event I have ever experienced. It was painful, in more ways than one.
These days are also about immense love, selflessness, giving, and devotion. But this “bright side” of things is not always easily seen. While you immediately love your baby (or at least most do, although I know some don’t feel an immediate bond, and this is not abnormal) you are also immediately overwhelmed by the immense change that has just occurred in your life. While you prepare and anticipate this baby’s birth for 9 months (and usually for many months more before you’re even pregnant) you have no idea to what extent your life is about to change. And I say this as a mother who wanted a child desperately, who prepared for his arrival with the support of a caring, loving husband, and who truly thought we were fully ready and prepared for the change that was about to occur in our lives. We had no idea!
I am a woman who has, for as long as I can remember, felt that I was put on this earth to be a mom. I have always loved children. I knew I wanted to be a mom since I was 8 years old and my first “little cousin” was born and I got to spend time with her. While I love my job, and am immensely proud of my career and the work I do, I have always felt that my true calling was to be a mother.
Imagine my surprise when Ryan was born and it was hard! Really, really hard! I thought I would just fall into motherhood naturally. That it would be all “sunshine and rainbows” like many people lead you to believe. And while much of it was “natural”—I was lucky that breastfeeding went well for me (though it doesn’t for everyone), I have always felt comfortable holding babies and changing diapers, and I was able to calm Ryan without too much trouble—I was still overwhelmed. I didn’t have a minute to myself or alone with my husband. I had cherished the time that Matt and I had with each other before Ryan was born. We are a very connected couple who would rather spend time with each other than with anyone else. Suddenly all the time we had with each other was invaded by a hungry, crying, needy little person. I did not anticipate how much this would impact me.
And then, there is the emotional roller coaster a newly post partum mom is on. I have always been an emotional person. Sad movies make me cry. Emotional news stories make me cry. Thinking about the wonderful people I have in my life and how lucky I am to have them makes me cry. So, I am a crier. But I don’t cry all the time. In the days after Ryan was born I CRIED ALL THE TIME. I felt like I didn’t have control over my own person. I didn’t know what would trigger my tears; I just knew that something would trigger them. I cried at least twice every day. One day Matt and I went out to a local hotdog place. It was one of our first outings with Ryan. I stayed in the car with Ryan while Matt went in to get my Hotdog. He came out with a hotdog with mustard and ketchup. I wanted mustard and relish. This made me, you guessed it, cry. I cried over a hotdog! Fortunately I was immediately able to also laugh about it. But this just demonstrates how fragile my emotional state was.
As a Social Worker I am well educated about the “baby blues.” I know what it is, I educate women about it, I tell them what to expect. But I never thought I would experience it. I mean, after all, I was meant to be a mom! People who are meant to be mothers don’t get blue when their dream comes true. Well, I was blue. Fortunately, as a well educated mental health professional I was able to remind myself (and my worried husband) that what I was experiencing was normal. But it still shocked me, and made me feel like a bad mother.
Women don’t often openly talk about how difficult these early days of babyhood are. We are reared in a world that talks about how “amazing, wonderful, awesome, and special” this time is. We’re supposed to “cherish” and “enjoy” every moment. So, here goes, I will say it: There is not much to cherish or enjoy about the first few weeks of babyhood. As I said at the beginning, this time is about survival. It is about getting through, one day at a time. It is about leaning on the people in your life who offer help and support. It is about leaning on your spouse in a way you never have before. It is about letting him support you in any way he is willing. I am blessed to have an amazing husband. Without him, I couldn’t have done it. This time is about calling your mom and crying and crying because you know she won’t pass judgment on you no matter what. It is about reaching out to other women who will openly talk about how hard this time period is. I was lucky to have two very special cousins in my life who were willing to share their own stories of survival. This was more helpful than I could have ever imagined. They made me feel normal. They reminded me that I am indeed still a good mother. They let me know it was ok, that I would survive, that it would get better!
And it does get better! For me 3 ½ weeks was when I finally felt like myself again from an emotional and physical stand point. By 4 weeks Ryan was beginning to smile and he was starting to sleep more consistently at night. In many ways, I am lucky that I felt “better” so quickly. If you don’t feel things improving as quickly, do not despair, because it WILL GET BETTER! Your baby will smile, your baby will eventually sleep more, and consequently you too will eventually sleep more too. You will be able to get out of the house; you will have time with your husband again (if you make it a priority). You will one day feel like yourself again.
Having a baby will rock your world. It will overwhelm you. You will at times wonder if having a child was the right thing to do. You will swear that this baby is going to be an only child. But then, one day, he will smile at you. He will coo. He will indicate that he knows you’re his mommy. And then, all the pain, the tears, the life changes will be worth it. You will know that this little person has indeed changed your life in ways you couldn’t predict, but that he has also enriched it, made it more full, and given you a better understanding of the word love. You will know he is meant to be a part of your life and that you are meant to be a mom. It will continue to be hard, but it will also be amazing, wonderful, awesome, and special.