Little Bing-Bong is ten days old today. We've been home for eight of those, adjusting to life as a new family of five—mostly this means adjusting to being the mother of a newborn again. I was inspired by this post on one of my favorite blogs, Reading My Tea Leaves, to share with you what this postpartum period looks and feels like for me.
In that post, Erin Boyle writes:
On lifestyle blogs that delve into the realm of parenthood, the most we often get is a note that the writer has taken some time off to enjoy baby snuggles. For my part, when I’ve mentioned that I’ve just given birth and might be slow to respond to emails, I’ve often been met with a response along the lines of, “so glad you get to enjoy that time with your new baby.” Or, “treasure every moment.” Or, “relish this precious time.” These are all things I’m doing and the notes from friends and perfect strangers along these lines are lovely and warm and very much appreciated. And yet, I think we all deserve a nuanced understanding—and recognition—of what welcoming a baby into the world looks like. We deserve to reframe the postpartum period of rest and recovery as being an essential part of welcoming a new baby and not an optional or luxurious one.
And later she says:
Without a doubt, for me welcoming a baby into the world is a moment of great, indescribable joy. It’s also a moment of terrific tenderness. There’s discomfort. There are hormonal swings. There are hunger pangs and heart pangs and bouts of feeling overwhelmed just as much as bouts of feeling euphoric.
All of which I have to say an unmitigated "YES!" to.
We are—I am—in awe of this little baby. The coos, the grunts, the fuzz covering her shoulders, her unbelievably tiny wrists, elbows, knees; her eyes, which have been slow to awaken, beginning to fixate on me; the surprising heft of her tiny body as she lies on my chest, sound asleep, pinning me to the couch. Having a newborn awakens a compassion in me I had heretofore thought myself incapable of. Taking care of her (and the two that preceded her) is a sacred duty, my sacred duty, the holiest thing I have ever done.
It is also, of course, the most difficult thing I have ever done. While of course I try to treasure every moment and relish this time, that can be hard when running on four hours of interrupted sleep; when with every footstep and every rollover in bed, pain radiates in my back; when the boys, hungry for my attention, take their frustrations out on each other. When my breasts ache from a surfeit of milk; when the baby takes nearly 15 minutes to latch on to one of my nipples, both of us growing more irritated with every attempt; when I am alone and sobbing in the bedroom from shifting hormones and co-parenting tensions.
The post-partum period is no joke. It is unimaginably beautiful, and it is unimaginably difficult. There is physical pain—uterine cramping, engorged breasts, sore nipples, the general aches of having delivered a baby, and for me, the remnants of a pinched nerve that render me barely mobile; there is emotional pain and difficulty—roller-coaster hormones, feelings of overwhelm and inadequacy, an aching to spend more time with my boys, and conflict with my husband. This is an intense period, and the few moments of calm take on an almost sublime feel in their transience. Most of the other moments are some admixture of joy, exhaustion, physical discomfort, wonder, frustration, and when I'm lucky, clear-headed competence. This is a period of endless giving for a mother, of endless emptying of herself into her baby and her older children; and while I do maintain that this is my sacred duty and I do it gladly, that doesn't mean that it's also not really, really hard.
Other than the sleeplessness, one of the hardest things for me is coping with how much I miss my older children while I'm pinned under the weight of a nursing newborn. It can be hard to watch them building on the rug or running around outside while I'm sitting on the couch for the nth time, nursing the baby, or holding her while she sleeps. We do what we can together, which means reading lots of books on the couch, but mostly right now I am an observer to their comings and goings. There is no question that they miss me, too, though I reassure them that this time when the baby needs me so much is temporary, and as she grows I will have more time with them. But even to me that's little solace when I watch them playing, experimenting, and having fun, and don't feel that I can participate. (This is as much due to my pinched nerve, which seems to be recovering slowly, as it is to being with the baby all the time.)
And then there's this, too: even if you do treasure every moment and relish this precious time, even if you bring awareness and mindfulness into the everyday tasks of diapering, wiping, feeding, singing to sleep, this time passes. Even if you stop worrying about everything else and gaze into her eyes for every moment that she holds them open, these moments will disappear. Even if you do your best to cherish and remember every smile, every flutter, every scent, every coo, they will all slip from you. One day you will realize that your "baby" weighs thirty pounds, and talks, and builds amazing Lego structures, and will not eat broccoli, and though s/he likes to hold your elbows at bedtime, you will know that this small child is not quite the same cooing newborn you brought home from the hospital a few years ago, and you will be shocked that that was already a few years ago, and you will wonder what happened to all the moments that you savored because you thought that savoring them meant you would have them forever, but what you have now is a weepy nostalgia and a thirty-pound walking, talking, reasoning, ice-cream-loving contrarian dictator whose every joke, jump, and dance move you try to relish and savor, realizing of course that this model will soon be supplanted by the forty-pound version who's becoming more cunning and clever and strong every day, and at some point you have to give up on the holding on and savoring because there's something about them, these babes, that's always just out of your knowing, and just out of your grasp, and although all of it somehow came from you, all of it is beyond you and more than you.
Photos by me and James.
You're such a wonderful mom, friend. I remember so well (as well I should - it was only 2 years ago, after all!) the deluge of tears and exhaustion and pain and and post partum depression that I experienced after Luke (our third) was born. It was wonderful and beautiful and sacred and so unbelievably difficult. Please know that I'm thinking about you and praying for you across the ocean as you "dig in" with your precious family during this "fourth trimester." You're a GOOD mom.
Thank you, Kristen. It's funny, even though I do remember, at least intellectually, how challenging the first weeks are, it's something of a shock experiencing them again and going through all the same emotions, experiences, and arguments. Now that I'm able to put this experience out there via the blog, it's so nice to read all these comments from other moms who have been there. Thanks for sharing your experience.
You write about this time very well. What a conundrum to savor but then not clearly remember it all. That doesn't seem like the deal I made. If I am present then I am doing as all those well intentioned people told me to do. I hope my and your blog help us each get back to those moments when we miss them in the future.
Your blog has always been so thoughtful—I'm sure you'll be able to look back on it forever to remember not just the moments, but what you were thinking and feeling as they happened.
I'm so glad to be able to follow how you are doing and feeling here. I'm thinking of you and all of you settling and finding a new rythm. Athough I'm only a year and a half away from having had my newborn, I feel your last sentiment acutely.
Thanks, Sophia. I'm sorry I haven't been in better touch, but I think you understand. By the way, the gorgeous arrangements with yellow tulips and white ranunculus are from you and Eva et al. =)
Ahhhh, this made me cry so much.
I identify with a lot of this. When Milan fell asleep his cheek upon mine during those last weeks before Julia came, I remember thinking every evening how all of that would change. I was sad that those intense and close times with him would be interrupted in some way - which is of course what happened. With a new baby a new family is born, and during those first weeks, or rather months, roles are renegotiated, new routines have to be found (bedtime - horror!) and all relationships feel new. I missed Milan so much I cried. It took me maybe a couple of months to morn, accept and finally enjoy a new way of being with him. In some ways I still miss him a tiny bit. I also remember the emotional roller coaster all too well - crying in the kitchen over how happy I felt during one minute, and crying in the bedroom over an argument during the next. But all of that *does* settle in the end, just as you write. And when it does, one starts forgetting it allover again, although the memories can be brought to surface by reading texts like yours.
Beautiful pictures! And I have changed my mind, she definitely does look like James 🙂
Oh, and btw, I also lost a lot of blood during my first delivery, they considered blood transfusion but decided against it (I was on the borderline). Have you started taking iron? That may help a tiny bit to regain some strength. And for the sleep deprivation, I hear you - that has always been the most difficult part for me (and which we had a bad case of with M)!
This is such a beautiful reflection, Lotta. I also found it quite difficult, and prematurely nostalgic, when I was putting the boys to sleep before the baby came, knowing that it wouldn't quite be the same after she arrived. And you are so insightful when you say that a new family is born with the birth of a new baby; I'd always thought that a new baby was simply an addition to the family, but the dynamics shift so much that it really is like creating a new family altogether, isn't it?
I didn't realize (or had forgotten) that you'd lost so much blood with your first delivery! I ended up getting an iron drip while we were at the hospital so that I could skip having to take iron pills, thank goodness. 😉
I enjoyed reading this and learning more about how you are doing. Personally, I wanted to murder people when they told me to savor these moments or enjoy these moments. I would be fine to skip these moments entirely and give birth to a 3 month old. We had a rough beginning: a difficult labor, 8 days in the NICU, and our daughter had colic. And I hated the first three months. I cried pretty much the whole way through. Side note: No one tells you to enjoy the luxurious period of time after gallbladder surgery. I think it's so strange that people think that time after birthing is luxury. They must have had a different experience than me or I just can't relate to their experience. I hadn't slept for 48 hours and then didn't sleep for more than two hours consecutively for another 6 months. And the sleep I got was plagued with nightmares of phantom crying and fear I was going to miss something and she might be in pain. Because she had colic, she cried all the time and I couldn't figure out how to soothe her and didn't know that she had colic, but just thought that I was a completely inept mother and my child did not like me. I couldn't sit down, I was deathly afraid to poop and was constipated anyway, it took me a while to be able to walk comfortably, I was squirting milk everywhere and yet still had a supply issue. When I wasn't nursing (every 45 min), I was pumping. I could not find clothes that fit me and the few I had I couldn't keep clean for more than 10 minutes. And just in case it wasn't clear - there is a reason sleep deprivation is the #1 method of torture. I would have paid my daughter a million dollars to sleep. I would have told anyone anything for 10 minutes of rest. I felt completely out of control of my body, my emotions, my life, and didn't know if I was ever going to sleep again. I kept finding myself thinking, "women are AMAZING. How have so many gone through this and I haven't heard them complaining more?" And when I saw pregnant women, I thought, "oh my, you have no idea what's about to happen to you. Strap in." I'm imagining it is a bit easier with a second child, but perhaps I'm delusional.
When she started sleeping and I started to become human again is when I fell deep in love. Oh my, to use your word, it's a "shattering" love - a fierce love. My daughter brings me incredible joy and I miss her terribly even when she goes to sleep. I look at pictures and watch videos. I'm obsessed. I feel like I could die from the love I feel for her. I have never loved in this way before and I would do anything for her. And I want another. Desperately. I haven't forgotten how difficult the beginning is, but despite the PAIN of the beginning, it would be worth experiencing it a million times over to have my baby girl. That said, I still refuse to "savor" that part. And a big F-you to anyone who suggests that I do. 🙂
KP, this is funny and touching ("no one tells you to enjoy the luxurious period of time after gallbladder surgery"!). I knew you had a rough time with her early on, but I didn't realize it was this rough, or that she had colic. I'm so sorry! It really sounds like you didn't have much reason to savor anything those first few months. I hope that when your second comes around, it's easier on you in the early months and you can have at least a few moments when you feel relaxed and in love with your baby, that way you have come to feel for your little girl now. It's funny how we feel as mothers, right? I mean, how horrendously difficult some things can be, and we swear we'll never go through them again—and then we do. It's not that we forget the pain, the sleeplessness, etc.; it's that those things diminish in importance compared to the awe and wonder and love we come feel for our babies.
This is so sweet and thoughtfully written, I really appreciate your vulnerability. Your growing family is just precious!