PostpartumPosted: February 9, 2011 Filed under: Great Expectations 8 Comments
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?
I remember being really confused when you first told me this, because I thought you were doing such a great job!
I’d say mine was about like yours, except that I would guess I probably did have postpartum depression. I was too stubborn to go to a doctor about it though, so the 4am crying with the baby was also at 9am and 3pm and… You get the picture. I think lack of sleep drives a lot of the emotions to the surface. But it did get better. It just took a while for me to find myself and fit little bits of me in around such a demanding little bundle.
I felt similarly when H was born, although perhaps slightly less intensely so. I was expecting to feel excited and happy to be a parent. Instead, I felt continually exhausted and angry. I didn’t like him or even think he was cute for the first several weeks. I tell prospective parents about this, just because I wish someone had told me how hard it might be to have a child. It would have saved me a lot of guilt.
And things did get easier! It just took time, and because I hadn’t expected it to be so hard at first, I didn’t know I should expect it to ever get easier. This just made everything harder.
I also tell prospective parents that it’s ok to let a baby scream. There were many times I felt so angry at and overwhelmed by my baby children that I needed to pit them in their crib and let them cry, because if I continued holding them I might have thrown them out the window or done something else similarly abusive. Sometimes, abandoning a baby for a few minutes is the healthiest thing for everyone. I wish someone had told me that before I had kids, so that I wasn’t angry and guilty at the same time so often as a new parent.
I would like to say, “ditto,” to so many of the feelings you have.
I remember reading a few people’s new blog posts about their babies in those first few months and crying, because I wasn’t loving every single minute of every day and night with my new baby. I sure loved her, but I definitely had moments where I thought (and still think, occasionally), “Really…is a shower such a selfish thing to want?” I didn’t even wear jeans two days in a row until she was like, 8 weeks old. Closer to like, 3-4 months I started feeling more comfortable in my new mom skin, and the balance between being overwhelmed and happy started to shift more towards being happy, but it was a real adjustment for me, and hearing about other people going through the same thing is nice.
It kind of reminds me of what happens when we talk to people about being moms. I do love to hear about people who love their kids and who really like motherhood, because that’s how it should be, and it’s nice to hear people who are happy with their lives. Some people that I talk to who are trying to be “real” seem to only focus though on the bad things too. It’s nicest for me to hear about people who don’t live in either extreme. People who have hard days, but who still love their children, and are generally happy with their life and their current lot in it. People who you don’t feel like you have to justify your feelings, experiences, or children to.
Thanks for keepin’ it real…
…and now I’ll go and try to rejoin the current decade.
None of my babies slept. I was sleep-deprived for ages. Letting baby scream may be okay for them, but that noise is detrimental to my sanity. Even today, I get really on edge when I have to listen to babies crying. By now you know that they get more bearable after the first year. But being a mother is never a float-down-the-lazy-river job, regardless of the child’s age. You just keep taking steps forward and accept that perfect it not only impossible, it’s not necessary.
Thanks, everyone. I appreciate your thoughts and I really do think it’s good to open a dialogue about things that are hard for us. For most of the past few years I’ve felt like I was the only person in the world with a messy house or who didn’t get dressed or leave the house for weeks (months?) after having a baby. We have such a strong tendency to keep the untidy parts of our lives to ourselves that it’s almost surprising to learn that other people have the same untidiness.
One thing I didn’t touch on in my post but I thought of since I wrote it is the disconnect between a birth story – usually quite an Experience – and the postpartum period. I’d read enough birth stories that I was ok with not feeling an instant bond with the Bwun (and in fact I didn’t feel that). But most birth stories still express feelings of awe, empowerment, joy…those are a lot easier in the first few hours and a lot harder during 4am why-is-he-cryings. I’ve yet to read much in the way of “Giving birth was an Experience, but being a new mom was Misery.” I suppose in my own way I was trying to fill that void.
I love this post – mainly because I know this is exactly how I’m going to feel once I have a little one!
I’m re-posting to all the other preggos I know.
[…] long ago, the wonderful Roni blogged openly about the troubles of being a new mother. I’ve had some time to think about what she said […]