I want to talk about the postpartum experience, because I believe – and Habermas agrees – that only through open, meaningful conversation can we understand each other and improve our lives (or society as a whole).
Postpartum depression is being taken seriously. But what I have to say isn’t necessarily about depression. Rather, it’s about what I experienced when I first became a mother. I assume each of us experiences this change uniquely but I also think it may be worthwhile to address some general feelings on the subject. Remember when I posted pictures of my very messy house? (It’s still fairly messy, but getting better, in case you’re wondering.) Almost every response I heard was, “My house looked like that when I was at your stage” or “My house looks like that right now.” It helps us in no small way to realize that we are not alone in being imperfect. So when we talk about becoming mothers, I expect that it’s healthy to acknowledge that the experience in its entirety is not filled with moments of glowing bliss.
I anticipated the possibility of having postpartum depression. I was forewarned that I might not always like my children. What I wasn’t prepared for was that every aspect of my life would change, profoundly and suddenly.
When I was pregnant with Evan – and here I’m assuming that this is a fairly typical experience – I got lots of attention, especially since it was my first pregnancy. Everyone wanted to know how I was feeling physically and emotionally, if I was ready to have a baby, what names I liked. There was general concern about my health and general celebration about the upcoming bundle of joy. And for a week or two after Evan was born, friends and relatives were very solicitous.
Then my mom left. Then Jarom went back to work. Then it was just Evan and me. Then there were 2am feedings, 3am diaper changes, 4am why-is-he-cryings. These were all followed and often accompanied by feeling overwhelmed. My complete focus was now on taking care of a new baby, and I had no idea how difficult it would be to almost disregard any thought of myself. I suppose I didn’t know that I’d need to disregard myself. But there Evan and I were, both of us crying in the middle of the night for reasons we couldn’t explain.
Evan wasn’t a difficult baby. He was easy. By three months he was sleeping through the night, on his own, in another room. He usually woke up once or twice to eat but never wanted to just be awake at night. Gradually, things got easier, and I slowly learned how to take care of both Evan and myself (and Jarom, although for his part he had to fend for himself a lot during those first few months). In the early days and weeks, though, it was so hard for me to adjust to motherhood. I won’t go so far as to say I hated it, but I was miserable. I was exhausted. I felt incapable. I felt selfish for wanting to give Evan to someone else for a few hours. I felt guilty for feeling selfish. I felt like a bad mother. I felt like choosing to be a mother was a terrible, stupid decision. I felt like the rest of my life would be spent being miserable.
Fortunately, I was wrong – but I didn’t know that then. And that’s what made motherhood so difficult for me at first. It was bleak and stressful and definitely not filled with moments of glowing bliss. I still don’t think I’d classify this as postpartum depression, even though everything seemed hopeless, mainly because my main thought then was that I was clearly not cut out to be a mother. I had this illusion that a good mother, someone who was “destined” for motherhood, would be calm and peaceful during those 2am feedings and 3am diaper changes, and she’d know exactly why her baby was crying at 4am. She’d never think to herself, “It would be so great if I could take a shower today.” In fact, in my mind, this woman would have parenting so under control that there never was a day when she went without showering or when she stayed in her pajamas all day.
Guys, that is an illusion. It is NOT reality. Aside from the late nights, my biggest challenge was learning how to be ME as a mom instead of trying to be this ideal (unrealistic) mom. I think that’s part of why my postpartum period was so much easier with June – I had already gotten comfortable with what kind of mother I am, and I could step back from stressful situations just enough to see that my lack of sleep was the driving force behind my frustration. It didn’t mean I was unfit to be a mother.
How typical is my experience? I don’t know, because I think our inclination is to say we’re absolutely delighted to have a new baby. But if we put on a good face, we teach the soon-to-be mothers that they ought to be delighted too, which is likely to lead to an experience like mine.
So be honest. How did you adjust to motherhood? Was it emotionally challenging as well as physically draining? What do you think new moms should expect?