No one told me about postpartum.
And when they did, their shared recollections were semi-hazy and greatest hits-esque. They made the after-the-baby-is-born era sound somewhat idyllic, if they remembered it at all. So, as I was wont to do, I put their stories together, composite-style, into a fantasy that included bursting into blissful tears, buoyed by clouds and surrounded by cherub angels gushing how the lil’ one’s lips were his father’s and his deep contemplative gaze mine.
Cue record scratching sound.
Not for the first time there were other parts, beyond the fantasy, that I hadn’t considered. I had used, as usual, the I’ll-rise-to-that-occasion-when-I-get-there approach to the post-child-bearing journey, so all my DVD-watching and focus went toward the birth experience itself, and how best to prepare myself for that (as though I really could prepare for a Human. Being. Coming. Out. Of. My. Body.).
Perhaps there was a method to my huge oversight, a necessary judiciousness exercised for the sake of not being overwhelmed during the big lead-up to this new role. So I found myself lying there, stunned, humbled, overcome, reducedthe final push serving as a portal that hurtled me, irrevocably into this new uncharted territory and state that I had yet to wrap my Oxytocin-riddled brain around.
I quickly came to see that life, hormones and the stunning wrecking ball that is a new family member don’t really wait for Mom to wrap her head around much before they serve the new mind-boggling circumstance up. Biological and spiritual imperatives have their way of bowling over first, and asking questions later, if they ever circle back to ask ‘em at all. There were no kid gloves here, pardon the pun. I had to buck up.
Something greater than me had to take over. My go-to survival strategy of headiness combined with tomboyish charm and physicality was not going to serve me in this new postpartum terrain, because, well, these qualities had been kidnapped by my hormones. I was in the perineum-pain’d and hormonally swampy trenches with an instant family, a blank slate. No handbook. No helmet. Seemingly no mercy.
This wasn’t the first time I was invited to get out of my head and into the direct experience of something. But ever the kicker and screamer, my strategies do not go down without a fight. It only took me nine months to see that fighting for the semblance of familiarity I had in my old life was futility itself. (Note: The fighting did not give credence to the idea that this new life was infinitely better! My single days had run their course! Here I was, being offered a life I had always dreamed of! :))
And so continued my ongoing journey of surrender, in the form of a sweet angel baby who required that I look alive, even if I didn’t feel it. As the days went on, I could see that the less I fought what just WAS, the more I could breathe. This was no small task for my ego: This ruthless perfect storm of first-year-of-marriage, alpha career woman balancing attachment parenting approach and life’s vocation, hormonal mayhem, friendship compatibilities waning, wavering and clarifying, priorities fighting, workaholism recovering, schedule obliterating, sleep-depriving, depression-slippery-slope-off-staving, stranger in my body and its parts, boundary setting, geographical, philosophical and lifestyle quandaries abounding, among many others. This was no small feat begged by these new small feet.
I remain baffled at how little I was prepared for what was to come. It was all I could do not to cry out for the kind of mothering that I was intending to offer my lil’ one. Someone who could swoop in and just DO THIS FOR ME while they pet my trembling head, while I whimpered in the corner. I remember crying out on a walk up the street, startling a dog. This dog was not easily startled. But no, this motherhood business was my call to rise to. And mine alone. And there was no doula alive that could have reached in and taught me what I have learned through experience. There was no midwife who could show me how to grow up, warp-speed from complicated contemplative maiden to accountable matriarch. These things required months of growth and calibrating! And here I naively thought that I would arrive as a MOM at the same time as my lil’ boy arrived as a SON. The latter waaay preceded the former. But necessity precedes form sometimes.
My humility and reduction-to-knees has now found me wanting to kiss the feet of all mothers who have gone before me. I will never be so blithe and casual around the topic of motherhood again! (So sorry, Mom.) Since last December, I’ve borne holes through to the soul of any new mother who will indulge it, with a look that says: “Yes,I am with you.” All this to say that I now look at mommas, whether their birth happened at home, hospital, field, tub, taxicab…anywhere, with or without an epidural, exactly or couldn’t-be-farther-from-their ideal picture of birth, and I bow.
Life literally and figuratively moved through me that morning of Dec. 25. Yet another example of life’s unsentimental and ruthless way of shaking me awake to the direct experience of being human. My suffering commensurate to my desire to hold on and control something stunningly out of my control.
See, I thought postpartum would be all about the birth of my baby. I had no idea the person I’d always dreamed of becoming was being born at the exact same time.
Does it seem impossible to really prepare for the changes that happen when you become a parent?
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