The post-partum stage after our first child was born was...completely overwhelming for me.
After labor and delivery, I remember feeling like I had just done the hardest thing I had ever done in my life, both physically and emotionally. But there was no respite afterwards. Right away, I was handed this infant that was needy and unfamiliar. And I had to jump right into caring for her, which I had no idea how to do. I was the mom, so I was supposed to be the knowledgeable one, the one who naturally just knew how to care for her, and yet I felt completely unprepared and unsure of how or what to do for my baby.
And I felt overwhelmed by the weight of this new responsibility on my shoulders. And it felt like I was the one who was ultimately responsible for her, all the time. Night and day, day and night. There was no way to take a break from this burden of responsibility resting on me. I had gone from doing whatever I wanted to do most of the time to being responsible for another human being 24-7. It felt heavy.
I also was overwhelmed by the flood of emotions that I exeprienced. Overall, I felt very raw and fragile. Very vulnerable. Th only way I can describe it was that it was almost like having this baby had turned me into something 'new' as well. I felt like I also had become something that was soft, vulnerable, and fragile. And I felt that I, in my new role as a mother, had to be shielded and protected because I was still too new, too vulnerable.
I cried all the time. I cried as I laid in the hospital bed, not able to sleep because every move that the baby made had me worried that she was about to scream, ready to nurse again. I cried as I remembered the trauma of labor. All the way home from the hospital, I cried. And when we got home and I stood in our living room, surveying the remains of our through-the-night-laboring-session, I cried. I felt guilty and defensive about not knowing what to do with my baby, ashamed of not being consumed with this all-encompassing 'mother love' that's 'supposed' to happen as soon as you see your baby, and I was just plain tired and overwhelmed.
Everything felt new. It was like I was on this HUGE learning curve, and I had to learn it all really, really fast. When we drove away from the hospital, I didn't know how I would survive this new parenting thing if I didn't have nurses and staff bringing me medicine, making us meals, giving us support with the baby, cleaning up the bathroom for us... Nursing broke my life into two hour segments for as far as I could see into the future, and it was such an incredibly physical and intense new relationship, which neither I nor the new baby knew how to do very well.
And I was exhausted. Completely exhausted like I had never been before. There really are not words to describe the level of exhuastion I felt at being awake at all hours of the night, night after night. And I was the only one who could satisfy the baby's hunger. And yet, even as tired as I was, there was a time at the beginning when I couldn't sleep. Every time I closed my eyes, I'd have this weird, buzzy feeling. I think my hormones were plummeting to compensate for a baby no longer being inside of my body. It felt terrible.
In the middle of all the emotions and newness, though, the one thing that helped me the most was talking about it.
I remember one day, about a week after Ava was born, I had an emotional meltdown on the nursery floor, and my husband and I were forced to take the time to talk out what I was feeling. It was a turning point for me to start saying all the things that I was feeling, re-visit all the conclusions I had made about my labor experience, and explain how much my world had changed once our baby came into our lives.
For anyone out there wading through the postpartum stage, remember: it really is just a stage. It will end eventually. And women's bodies all react to the hormonal shifts and life changes differently. Some women might glory in having an infant to care for, while others might suffer much more severely. And others, like me, might just be trying to make it through. Here are a couple of suggestions to help you out along the way:
- Try to talk out what you're feeling as much as you can with a trusted support person. Don't talk to someone who will say hurtful things to you. Find someone who is safe and who can listen long enough to sort through the things you say and help you see what's really true about you and your situation. Try to say the things that feel the scariest inside. If you worry about not being a good enough mom, if you're scared about not bonding, if you feel like hurting your child, whatever feels like the scariest things that you wouldn't want to reveal, make sure you say them out loud to someone. Say, "I'm feeling this..." Even if it's incredibly vulnerable, get it out.
- Consider counseling. Especially if you don't have someone you can trust to talk to about these things. Counseling is not just for people in crisis! It's for people who are going through big transitions and need some support. And becoming a mom certainly is a big transition!
- Talk to your doctor about how you're feeling. There is no shame in what you're going through. Your body is reacting to a hormonal shift. How your body decides to respond is not your fault! You did not do something wrong; you should not try to hide! Talk to your doctor. If you're experiencing something more difficult, like postpartum depression or anxiety, your doctor might want you to take a medication for a period of time. That's great! Happily receive that support as a way to help your hormones stabilize and make this new mom stage more pleasant for you and your baby.
- I had a stack of verses that I wrote out on index cards for labor, but I never touched them. After the baby was born, though, I used them all the time. I stuck them in the pocket of the recliner where I nursed my baby and I'd pull them out and read them while I nursed. It was really helpful to take a few minutes to remind myself of truth as I went through the overwhelming moments of caring for my baby.
- Music was another thing that was super helpful to me. I made a playlist of songs that talked about holding on to God through hard things...and they were very encouraging to me when I felt like I couldn't do this 'mother thing.'
- Take a break. Even if you feel like you alone can feed or care for your baby, find a way to take a break every few days. Go for a walk, sit outside and journal, read a book, run out to Starbucks...try to leave your baby with your partner or a trusted friend for a little respite every so often.
Remember...it's only a stage. It's definitely an overwhelming stage for many. It was for me. But it's only a stage.