Being able to grow an embryo into a human still strikes me as something that is pure magic. The whole process leading to birth is nothing short of a miracle. But with great this great power of creation that women carry comes great responsibility. This responsibility hit me hard after I birthed my first son four years ago. After breaking my tailbone and hemorrhaging during a posterior delivery, and becoming anemic and hypoglycemic, my postpartum journey felt like an uphill battle from the start.
From a baseline of utter depletion, I forged ahead as many of us do into the rough and sometimes unforgiving first weeks of motherhood. I continued to deplete myself with what seemed like endless acts of giving.
My early days as a new mom were riddled with challenges. Breastfeeding challenges, for one, caused my baby undue starvation, and myself a terrible infection and resulting illness. Troubled sleep spiraled completely out of control, resulting in my development of chronic insomnia, heart palpitations, and nighttime anxiety.
The rawness, earthiness and utter imperfection of the postpartum journey must be experienced, with all its unique blessings and challenges.
Because of its high stakes and high demands, it’s okay to simultaneously love it, cradle it, bemoan it, and despise it.
I found myself in a place where I would continually wish and un-wish it. The postpartum period is a complex creature, no different from ourselves. It has beautiful and ugly parts. It is scattered with rain clouds and it reveals the most reverent of rainbows.
After weeks of relentless hardships, I found myself trying to keep score, always judging every little thing, trying to label every day and every moment with my baby as good or bad, — happy or unhappy. I accompanied that label with insufferable amounts of justification, i.e. “I only cried all day because I haven’t slept in 3 days.”
Anything to dismiss the glaring possibility that I might be suffering from postpartum depression.
I later realized, if we measure early parenthood only by the dichotomy of the sharply contrasting happy and unhappy moments it produces, it will certainly leave us wanting. Anxiety can lead a person to keeping score, and it’s akin to breathlessly treading water. You keep labeling and justifying because you think that if you let your thoughts stop moving, you might sink. By never turning off, you are only further depleting your energies and exhausting yourself,instead of just relaxing and letting go. If we let ourselves, we can float through postpartum with greater ease and better health.
Unfortunately, as a culture we’ve completely forgotten how to do that. A simple start, and I’m talking to you here, perfectionists, in learning to to float instead of sink is to stop trying to force the hand of the postpartum “happiness-meter” in the direction of happiness only because that’s unrealistic. If the hand we’re stuck on is only happy all the time, it would mean that the gauge is broken.
In motherhood, just as in life, you really have to be open to receiving ALL of it: the ups and the downs of it, the ins and the outs of it.
There is just no way around it. We have to go through the full range of maddening, depressing, earth-shattering, and alternately intensely beautiful, joyous, and celebratory moments. Exhibiting (and perhaps more importantly, allowing) a full range of emotions is a healthy practice. If you can do this, it’s actually a good sign. It’s okay to admit that this intricate dance of early motherhood is an incredibly humbling and scary thing.
There is also such an intricate interdependence of mother and child at play during this time. Two hearts beat as one, in happiness as well as in distress. It is simultaneously the most beautiful and the most frightening thing you will ever experience. Nobody can adequately prepare you for the hurt you’ll feel when your baby is upset and the healing that will need to take place in both of you. You will dry the tears, mend the scars, address the shadows, your child’s and your own.
The postpartum period manifests wounds in all sorts of creative ways: physical, emotional and spiritual. You must be ready and willing to address all areas of your life if you are to have a smooth ride in relationship to the changes that happen to your space, your hormones, your health, your relationships, your whole world, during this time. Physically, you will need to recover from birth. Emotionally, you will need to recover from giving up your freedom. You will also need to accept tons of help which you may not be comfortable with receive to your liking. Spiritually, you will need to learn to love and accept your shadows and learn how to parent despite them.
The real secret to ensuring that you have the healthiest possible postpartum experience in all of the aforementioned areas lies in your commitment to self-care and self-love.
Allow yourself to act as a queen after giving birth. Demand to be revered, respected and treated like the creator that you are. It is totally your birthright to be surrounded by beautiful help and abundance at this pivotal time in your life as a woman. It is a fragile, delicate time. Ask to be waited on hand and foot. It is not wrong to do so. In fact, it is the only way the postpartum period will feel right. Do this, and everything will align so that you can be in better health and happiness to care for and bond with your baby.
Natalie Telyatnikov is the Founder of @BetterPostpartum. Her mission is simple: make moms’ lives after birth better, by making postpartum education as mainstream as childbirth education. If you are pregnant or postpartum, visit BetterPostpartum.com
Edited by Kelly Riechers DiCristina