In our childbirth class this weekend, our fantastic teacher, Kathy Killebrew, posed the question: what does postpartum mean to you? Of course all of us were thinking of the big D word: Depression. Because I’ve struggled on and off with the ole’ regular kind of depression for 15 years, I am a little scared that I might be dealing with the mommy version within the next few months. The flip side is that I also feel like because I’m very aware of this possibility I am more prepared take steps to treat it head on.
But I was surprised when our teacher said, “I know everyone here is thinking of depression, because that’s what our culture says postpartum is.” She went on to explain that while it’s important to be aware of depression symptoms , what postpartum actually is, is just a period of time – 6 weeks – after your baby is born. This is meant to be a time of hunkering down and feeding and bonding with your wee one. In other cultures, women look forward to postpartum for most of their lives because it is a time when they are waited on hand and foot while they have the space to connect and love on their lil nugget. Sounds good to moi!
I love this new take on postpartum. While it’s super important to have an open dialogue about potential depression and the challenges that come with a new baby – lack of sleep, feeling overwhelmed, hormones going cray cray – I have found that I’ve been inundated with these warnings, sometimes even bordering on threats it seems, while I have yet to hear anyone give me a truly clear understanding of what this time really like – and I’d like to know all of it! The good, the bad, and the funny!
Then, last week I received an email from my friend – actress and improvisor Katie Schorr, who just had an adorable lil guy named Sly:
She wrote this email from the front lines of postpartum when he was just 3 1/2 weeks old. I think this sums up all of the aspects of new motherhood so beautifully and makes me feel like I really have a sense of what’s coming. Even though… yes, I know, I know, I won’t REALLY know until I’m in it… This is the closest I’ve gotten and I wanted to share it with y’all:
We are three weeks + a few days in and I feel exhausted, in love, confounded, calm, terrified, and generally hazy. There aren’t any patterns, is what I’m finding with Sly, and looking for them only makes me crazy. He’s totally internal right now, absorbing stuff but mostly dealing with being a tiny human, and I’m realizing I can’t expect anything civilized from him. That said, he is fairly civilized, just gets inconsolable unless I feed him nonstop. The hardest part so far for me has been accepting how tethered to him I am. Breastfeeding came fairly easily to me, but it is really tiring and you do need to eat and drink a ton to keep your energy up while doing it. Eating for two is for real!! Also, he is starting to cluster feed and it feels like, how will I ever do anything ever, all I am is a leaky faucet of breast milk?! He just fed from 5pm – 7:40pm and only stopped because I had to take a breather. I’m not saying this is the universal experience – I have several friends whose kids just didn’t like to feed that much and it was totally normal and they were scared by it, but now, their kids are hearty and healthy. But if your baby is hungry like the wolf, please know that I had/might still be having that experience.
I feel like the Day 3 baby blues everyone talked about actually hit me in Week 3, which has just ended. It was abated by taking nice hot showers and eating a lot and drinking a lot and getting helpers to come over and relieve me so I could do those things or nap. Nap! 30 minute naps have been saving my life! I wake up feeling lighter, truly. I also feel like it is a delicate balance between having people come to help you and relieve you and also having time as a family of three, which is sacred because it is so cool and freaky and lovely. We overbooked in the beginning and are now pulling back a bit. As I write this, I could say a thousand things and I have only been a parent for the length of a single session of summer camp.
The Happiest Baby on the Block stuff has so far worked really well, except when it doesn’t (at 4 am).
The physical recovery after labor was really hard the first two weeks for me. Bleeding and soreness and feeling injured made me want to cry once a day. But now, I am feeling SO MUCH better. I felt really hopeless about my ability to recover at the beginning of last week and like I would never be able to have sex again and like I would never stop bleeding. And then, a couple days ago, I just started to feel a whooooooole lot better. Not sure how sex will work, but it doesn’t feel impossible anymore!
Have I said anything coherent? I have been going out this week with Sly in a woven wrap on me and it is so liberating. I walked a total of 8 blocks and got a pedicure and manicure (one handed nursing is idiotic but I did it and my nails are RED!) and ate French fries at a French cafe. Huge! It makes the nights of little sleep bearable because I am taking some small amount of care of myself and can stare at my nails at 3:30 am.
My last thing – ask for help before you think you need it. People want to help, but most need direct orders. Give them direct orders! Request gelato! Make someone hold the baby and take a hot shower. If someone gives you advice that makes you feel bad, tell them visiting hours are over and you need bonding time with your babe. Easier said than done, but the more direct I am with everyone, including myself, the better my days are.
New parenthood is a shitstorm of insanity and wonder. I am calm right now and feeling bright and in love with the men in my house. Three hours ago, I went and ate alone in the kitchen and cried while my family was in the other room, watching Sly swing.
Isn’t this awesome? I love it. It doesn’t sugarcoat the huge challenges but after reading it I’m not filled with a sense of dread – if anything I’m even more excited to meet this lil lady and go through this special time with her and Andy, Ruby and Ramona, figuring it out as a family. I think Ruby’s really going to be good at diaper changes…
Thanks for reading – and a huge thank you to Katie for expressing what no one else has been able to. Laimemoms/Laimedads ~ please leave your own thoughts/feelings about new parenthood in the comments!