At three months postpartum, I thought maybe it’s time to talk a little about how I am doing. When a new life begins, it is so natural for everyone’s attention to go to this tiny new person and the wonder of a new human being discovering the world – as it should! These small helpless creatures are so precious.
But so much about what the mother has just experienced, the physical trauma of childbirth, and the emotional rollercoaster of postpartum, goes undissected, as the mother learns how to be a mother amidst all this upheaval.
Becoming a mother has given me a profound new sense of love and respect for my own mom, and everyone I know that is a mother. It’s incredible to me what mothers do for their babies, and how much of it goes unseen, unspoken about.
While statistics vary wildly (likely because so much is unreported), some estimates indicate that more than half of women in the UK experience postnatal depression in the early weeks after birth, and perhaps 25 percent feel it longer term. I certainly felt it, and I think it’s something people need to talk about; the hormones coursing through our systems in the postnatal days are like no other, and are only compounded by this profound lifestyle and identity shift as well as the tangible challenges of learning to breastfeed and grappling with sleep deprivation.
In the first month, I remember thinking that I felt everything so strongly, the highs and the lows – every feeling was so intense. I would watch Elodie feed and think about her future, her whole life, the wonder of it all, and just feel so overcome by emotion. I still do. I want to give her everything in the world, every opportunity, and protect her from everything bad, and it hurts that I know I can’t do that. I love her so much that I don’t think love is even the right word; I think it’s something even more powerful.
But I would also become overcome with emotion in other ways. Embracing the ability to be constantly “interruptible” (something I read in the book What Mothers Do by Naomi Stadlen) has been a huge change. Mothers who exclusively breastfeed are never far from their children, constantly aware that they could be needed at any second, especially in those early weeks when babies have tiny tummies and no sense of a schedule. Elodie ate all the time in the early weeks, and even now eats every two to three hours or more often, and it’s not always predictable. I felt in the early days that all I did was feed her, and when they are that tiny, they don’t really acknowledge you and it’s so hard to read their needs. At times I felt frustrated, then embarrassed and guilty for feeling that way. It didn’t mean I didn’t love her; I just felt overwhelmed at times. She would have these epic crying fits and when you are in the middle of those, it feels like it will never end. When eventually they did end, I would emerge feeling shell shocked.
At times I felt like I didn’t deserve to be her mother, that I wasn’t good enough or she didn’t need me. I knew even at the time it was the postnatal hormones going amok, but it was very scary.
These days, beyond feeding, she still often wants to be held or played with or rocked to sleep, more so than other babies I know. She has been really alert and engaged since birth, and I’m grateful for that; I love that she is spirited and energetic and I can’t wait to see how she will be as she grows up. But let’s be honest, it can be challenging at times! Whenever I’m alone with her and I can put her down, I rush through whatever I am doing, both aware that I need to be able to drop everything in a second, but also guilty that my attention isn’t totally on her at all times. No matter where we are or what we are doing, even if Andy is there and I know she is fed and happy and safe, I perpetually have a sense of low-level stress. I suspect that will never really go away; it is this feeling that there is an extension of yourself out there.
I feel guilty about any sense of frustration that I ever feel, because I know she is just a tiny baby with very real needs. And my heart breaks for her when she is distressed, when she is so tired she can’t sleep and has to cry and doesn’t understand why. These times aren’t easy for her, and they’re not easy for her parents either.
But when I pick Elodie up, hold her and dance her around, I know just how lucky I am. We wanted Elodie for a long time, and I know lots of people who want children and aren’t able to have them, at least not yet. I feel guilty for ever trying to do anything but hold her. We grin and laugh at each other, and my heart melts. She coos at me and chatters and I feel on top of the world.
In the newborn days, it’s hard to understand what they need or how they feel, and I couldn’t calm her with just a cuddle. In fact, picking her up and hugging her back then sometimes made her cry harder. But now, three months in, it’s different. I can pick her up and hug her and she’ll bury her face in my neck and it’s the best feeling.
I watch her excitedly latch on for a meal, and drink to her heart’s content, and I watch her finish her meal with eyes closed and such a look of pleasure on her face. I hug her and kiss her, and I feel so content myself, so lucky to have her on my chest, my adorable precious baby. As a Type-A, borderline OCD type person who thrives on accomplishing things, who loves a clean house and a checked-off to-do list, I find it hard to sit back and relax. But I look into her big eyes, share a huge silly grin with her, and I know that is all that is so much more important. I know I am so lucky to be a mother, to be her mother. I get to spend these early days with her, and I’m keenly aware that if I was in the States, I’d already be back to work.
At the beginning, I also felt very sad that my mom can’t travel here, can’t be here to hold my baby, to give me advice, to reminisce about her own days with infants or to reassure me that everything will be okay. I still feel sad about that. I also feel sad that my dad will never meet her.
And there still is the perpetual fear that I am not good enough, that I will never be able to be the mother that Elodie deserves. That may never completely go away, but I am getting more sure of myself in this role.
And we have started to have some more predictability to our days. In the mornings, Elodie is at her best and can sit contentedly in her rocker with a toy long enough to watch me make breakfast and perhaps empty the dishwasher or do some laundry. She’ll often take a nap for half an hour or so in the morning, while I will write a few sentences or paragraphs here. She’s pretty happy to sit in the rocker in the bathroom and watch me have a shower, and to play on the floor with her gym or some toys while I get dressed or do some basic house cleaning, while I chatter and sing to her all the time. All of these are changes that started between months 2 and 3.
As the day goes on she wants to be held more and more, although I’ll get snippets of time in the afternoon where she might play with her gym or some toys for a few minutes here and there. Lately, I’ve been able to get her to sleep by about 9pm and I might stay up for an hour or two longer to read.
On the weekends, it is so amazing to have Andy here to watch him bond and play with her. He has different ways of soothing her and playing with her. I don’t understand how fathers (or other caregivers) feel but I know their bond is special and unique, in a different way than mothers but no less special.
Last weekend, I got a little overconfident and tried to go get my hair coloured at a nearby salon. The plan was that I would feed Elodie right before I went and leave her with Andy and a bottle (even though she still won’t take a bottle). Unfortunately she didn’t eat very much then.
I cried when Andy left to take her for a walk, and I had shortness of breath at the salon the whole time, knowing this would be the longest I’ve been away from her (still only 90 minutes). I brought my book and was looking forward to some “me” time, but I felt so weird and guilty and couldn’t enjoy it. And then Andy texted that she was inconsolably crying and needed to eat. My colour was nearly done so I asked the stylist to quickly wash it out, and I left the salon with wet hair and fed her on a nearby bench.
The rest of the day I felt so guilty and selfish about trying to do something frivolous for myself. I also felt sick thinking about the day when she actually will grow up and won’t need me. To think of her going off to school, going places without me, makes me panicky.
I want to soak up every second of these baby days while I can.
Life is lived in moments. The moments of her happiness, of watching her learn new tricks, of the three of us dancing in the kitchen while making dinner on a Sunday night, of playing on the floor on a Saturday morning, are what add up to our life.
I truly believe those moments are the meaning of life.