As I’ve mentioned before, my mother is Italian, and I come from a loving, high energy and very effusive family. No emotions on lockdown when I was growing up, (nothing has changed in that). Open expressions of love and feelings were never prohibited, and I’ll say with amusement that my energetically open, affectionate and readily communicative style of living was definitely something for my sweet husband to adjust to. But despite having grown up with such love and depth, I wasn’t prepared for the beyond intense, past all consuming feeling that is being a mom.
I don’t think anything, or anyone, can actually prepare you for the insanely, crazily beautiful, soul devouring, complete passions igniting, space vacuum roller coaster of love that is being a parent. You feel things you never imagined you could feel with an intensity you could not have imagined possible. You would jump in front of a speeding train for this tiny human, and every emotion in your body is woven tightly into their every breath.
I know things have gotten better in some ways, but in so many other ways I believe new mamas are left to hang dry in our culture post birth. I was blessed to have an incredible support system of husband and family and it was still the most grueling experience I’ve ever had. Everyone says your life changes the moment your baby hits your chest. That wave, that feeling of joyous uninhibited love didn’t happen as suddenly for me as I fought through postpartum depression for a while after my twins arrived. PPD is a tricky beast, I found myself experiencing this completely overwhelmingly intense soul consuming love for these two tiny beings while simultaneously feeling terrifyingly emotionally dulled and vacant. I remember waiting for the wave to hit me after they handed me my babies, but all I could think was, where did these things come from?!
My room was filled with people within an hour of my twins being born. Well meaning family but it was too much. Thank God for the nurse who kicked everyone out for me so I could rest and try to wrap my head around what had just happened. (Standby for my full twin birth story post next week) In hindsight, I’m giving myself permission with my next kid to not see anyone for a while after birth. My life at the time my twins were born was pretty high stress, I was teaching 7 days a week and looking back I realize that is partly why I wasn’t able to identify that my feelings of depression were more than environmentally triggered. I believe the trickiest part when fighting a mental battle is how easy it is to lay blame for the situation on anything physically present, especially yourself.
You fill out a zillion forms after your baby is born scanning for the ‘baby blues’, but I, as I imagine most new mothers do, had no intention of admitting anything other than my joy at being a new mom. I had nothing to be sad about right, I had two healthy new babies! And in no way shape or form did I want anyone to think I was anything but completely capable of being their mom. I had literally waited all my life for this moment, no way was I admitting that I was anything other than fine.
As I’ve mentioned before, due to our circumstances I went back to work at three weeks postpartum. It was horrible, and I could (and will) go off on the ridiculousness that is ‘maternity leave’ in this country. My poor husband didn’t even get a week off. My parents stayed with us after the twins were born and I can truthfully say I wouldn’t have made it through without them. I was so blessed to have a mom who wanted to be there and support me in my new journey.
But despite my circle of support, going back to work that early meant many more people around me and my babies, and it would have been overwhelming no matter what but adding PPD to the mix meant I went into hard core survival mode. My goal every day was to get through hour by hour until it was over. I was completely shut down emotionally, but still had no intention of that showing so I put on a face and faked it like I’ve never faked it before. I could feel the precious moments with my babies slipping by and that made it so much worse. Every day I felt I was losing my long awaited time with them as I paddled desperately through my exhaustion and mental fog, and every day I felt more like a failure and more heartbreak over my lost time.
It is shocking how overwhelming it is to be a new mom. Not only do you have these tiny humans literally relying on you to SURVIVE, everyone has an opinion on how you should be doing it. Every day was like getting a fire hose of emotion to the face.
I wrote in a previous post that sometimes as a mama you are forced to pour from an empty cup, and I don’t believe there is ever a time where that is more true than when you have a newborn. This tiny human needs you, and needs you 24/7. You’re going through recovery from LITERALLY making and bringing a new life into this world, and you absolutely must dedicate everything you are to someone else. I mean, it’s hard to have time to PEE let alone heal and recover. You are completely and utterly the sole source of life to this tiny new being. No matter how supportive your spouse is, and no matter how much supportive family you have, I truly believe you will never experience any pressure in your life that is more intense than being a mom. Nothing has ever made me feel so tiny. And I had the support of my loving husband, parents, and sisters. Not all women are so fortunate.
Add to this new mom pressure the social pressures and expectations of family friends and work and I believe it is a recipe that can quickly end in disaster. I was expected to be social, see people and have them see my babies. It was like pouring acid on my nerves but I strapped both my babies on me in wraps and a smile on my face and I slogged through. I love this article (mothering the mother, click to read it) from the birth without fear blog, it discusses the horrible lack of postpartum and bonding time that is allowed to mothers in our culture. As it says, in many cultures women are given 40 days to do NOTHING post birth but heal and bond with their baby. And think about it, can you really imagine any task more intense than MAKING AND GIVING LIFE? I remember reading in one of my mama groups of a mother in my area who stayed in bed for ten days post birth doing nothing but being with that baby. I was green as a crocodile in envy as I told my husband about this. And she wasn’t just being lazy and having a vacation. Heck no. She was adjusting to having birthed an entirely brand new human! Yet spending that time with your baby seems so excessive in our cultures eyes. I will never understand why we treat birth as a serious illness that needs massive medical intervention but the need for postpartum recovery time is so often slid under the rug and dismissed.
My twins will be a year old next week, my PPD has improved significantly, it does eventually fade. I still fight guilt and cry for my lost moments with my babies, and I know there are things I will do differently should we have another child. I yearn to see a culture where birth is treated as a natural process and postpartum recovery is held on a pedestal of tremendous importance. Imagine yourself in that scenario. I wonder if I could have avoided or at least short circuited the PPD I dealt with. What would it have changed for you mamas? I hope sharing my story can one day touch some mama, more than anything I feel new mamas need someone who understands. Who can say, I get what you’re going through, and it’s not fair. One day I hope our culture changes and women can truly be there for each other in support like this, I hope our expectations of new mamas can evolve to where we see being a new mama for the serious matter it is, and as a culture respect it. I believe the health of our future depends on it.