Image Source: UnSplash / Dev Benjamin
Postpartum. What a tricky, tricky time.
I am in the thick of it.
My daughter is 4 weeks old. In just a few days, I'll be taking her "1 month" photo, and the thought of it is mind-blowing, heartbreaking, and victorious all at once. I've kept this tiny human alive for an entire month. If that's not worth a victory lap, I don't know what is.
Being an "older" mom, most of my friends have already done this crazy kid thing. I have had some amazing advice from so many of my mom friends that has truly helped me, but even with all of the advice, I don't think I was really Prepared for this whole postpartum thing. I don't think anyone truly can be, and I don't think this is a reality that hits until, like me, you are in the thick of it.
Nothing could have prepared me for the moment she and I locked eyes.
From the moment they laid my daughter on my chest, my world changed. I knew I loved her more than anything, but that "heart bursting" kind of Love my friends had described seemed to escape me a bit. Again, let me say: I love her more than I have ever loved anything, and I felt that. It just didn't feel like I had expected it to.
"Sadly, these moments of fear and doubt are hushed, taboo, and only talked about privately . . . but they are normal."
It didn't feel like fireworks and exploding cartoon hearts and everything I had imagined. It was a love that was wrapped in exhaustion, fear, worry, beauty, and prayer. With it there was also an inexplicable darkness - a mourning of a lifestyle I knew I'd never live again. And with that darkness came a fear: Was this postpartum depression? Was I already a terrible mother? Was this feeling at all normal? (For the record, so many mom friends private messaged/texted/called me in the days after Scarlett's birth to let me know they had experienced some sort of "baby blues" moment, should I want or need to talk. I loved them for reaching out. It reassured me that yes, my feelings were valid and normal. Sadly, these moments of fear and doubt are hushed, taboo, only talked about privately . . . but they are normal.)
Nothing could have prepared me for the emotions that hit when it became obvious that her father would be her comfort and I would be her struggle.
She and I immediately had issues with breastfeeding, which meant that most of the time she was in my arms we were both frustrated and clueless and running out of patience with each other. I was her food source, and that wasn't going well. Her father was her escape from the frustration, her peace. I have loved watching their bond grow, and it melts my heart to see the love they share. But to be honest, those first few days their bond made me a bit jealous, a bit resentful, and a bit worried that she would never find that kind of solace in my arms.
Nothing could have prepared me for the guilt and the stress and the decisions and the letdown.
After getting home and continuing with feeding struggles, we found out that our girl was losing weight rather than gaining it. For days we (I) fed her every two hours from the breast. The feeding issues continued, and the frustration I shared with this tiny human that I carried for nine months only escalated. I will never forget the night that I broke down and dug out the samples of formula we had been given. I made a bottle with tears in my eyes while she screamed from the other room, handed it to her father, laid on the couch beside them, and bawled.
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I had never felt failure like that in my life. While we work on our issues, Scarlett is getting both formula and breast milk. With this comes new guilt and worry. Is it the right formula? Am I doing enough to try to up my production? Is it all my fault? Is she getting enough? It's endless, and at the end of the day, it's pointless. My daughter is being fed. How isn't nearly as important as I try to make it be simply because it wasn't how I planned it.
Nothing could have prepared me for feeling like I'll never be me again.
I still never seem to have the time to brush my teeth, much less shower. Shaving and brushing my hair have become luxuries. Each glance in the mirror is a reminder that my body has done something amazing - but that reflection also shows stretch marks and sagging skin and weight in places it hasn't been before, and if I were to say this doesn't bother me, I'd be lying.
I have nothing to wear, stuck oddly between maternity clothes being too big and my old clothes being too small. So when the time comes for us to actually leave the house, I'm thrown into a struggle of finding clothes and trying to muster the energy to fix my hair and put on makeup. Truth is, I generally don't even mess with the hair and makeup. It doesn't seem to matter when I know within minutes I'll be covered in spit-up and looking for anything I can tie my hair with to get it out of the way.
Nothing could have prepared me for the new dimension to my relationship.
It's a double-edged sword, this parenthood thing: on the one hand, watching him become a father has been the most amazing experience. I love the way he loves her - I love his willingness to change the dirtiest of diapers, to handle late-night fits, to let her sleep curled up in his arms, even if it means he gets no sleep himself. Hearing him call her all of the adorable nicknames he has for her melts me. I fell in love with him 10 times over when, after a few days home with us, he went back to work with tears in his eyes. It's created a bond within us that did not exist before, and it's beautiful.
On the other hand, we haven't gone to bed at the same time in over a month, much less in the same bed. He feels like a stranger at times, someone I share this house with and pass in the hall as we trade off feeding and sleeping shifts. Our time together is no longer about us, and we no longer have the luxury of being a fun, carefree couple. I selfishly worry constantly about how he views me now with my stretched skin, dirty hair, dirty clothes, and dark circles under my eyes. This worry is not validated by anything other than my own vanity, yet no amount of reassurance from him (or from my own voice of reason) can make me feel better.
Things are different now. I am different. He is different. We are different. And although it's a change I wouldn't trade for the world, it's a difference all the same. And differences - especially those brought into relationships - are scary.
"I'm trying to embrace the chaos and to soak it all in because I know I will miss it when it's gone."
I've been reassured this all goes away, and I know deep down this is true. I've been told the doubts and fears fade into new ones, the guilt transfers into another handful of issues, the clothes eventually fit again - or they don't, and you get new clothes. Time for myself will slowly come back, and until then I'll learn how to manage with what I've got. Sadly, there will be a day when she doesn't need or want to be held 24/7, and eventually he and I will make this our new normal and not even remember a time before our daughter. I'm so lucky to be sharing this parenting gig with an amazing man, and I'm so lucky to have a huge support system of friends and family nearby. Our daughter is so loved and cared for, and I'm forever grateful for it all.
I believe that this new world and all of its beautiful messiness will become our new normal. I'm trying to embrace the chaos and to soak it all in because I know I will miss it when it's gone. I'm doing my best to love every ugly, scary, emotional, amazing, sweet, and magnificent moment . . . but if we're being honest, it's sometimes hard to when you just feel so damn unprepared.
And if I had to give any advice to a soon-to-be mother, you know what I'd tell her?
I'd tell her to breathe, to scream, to laugh, to cry - and to talk openly about it all. And most of all, I'd tell her to quit worrying about being prepared for this new life, because she won't be until she is in the thick of it.