I still vividly remember the boundless daze in which I spent countless hours in those first weeks after giving birth to you. The minutes merged into hours, and the days into nights. I remember the house being quiet and the two of us being the only ones awake… barely awake, ready to fall asleep between latching you on (hopefully on the correct side) and the next feeding. Sleeping on a makeshift thin red mattress on the living room floor, to make sure you wouldn’t fall: too exhausted to put you back in the bassinet and too drained to get up for your next crying calls for closeness and mother’s warmth. We both needed sleep and closeness and that is what we got: we did it our way.
I remember it like it was yesterday. Feeling so out of control and unnerved because your helpful (and also exhausted) daddy took you from my arms to try and console you, because what I was doing wasn’t working. My mama bear came out that night and it was not pretty. How dare he take you away from me, insinuating that I didn’t know how to mother you?
I can still feel the anxiety I felt when you would cry hysterically pulling yourself away from my sore cracked nipples: what was I not doing right? Why didn’t you want to drink my milk? Why weren’t you gaining enough weight? I remember the 30-minute car rides to and from the hospital to meet with the lactation consultant who suddenly shared her tricks to help me understand you better, to get a sense of when you were really done eating and when you were just being sleepy and lazy. She put you on that scale before and after a feeding and showed me that indeed you had swallowed a few ounces of liquid gold… it had worked!
I remember the trick my mother showed me to get you to fall asleep by gently and rhythmically swiping our finger tips over your eyelids while “shooshing” you and humming sweetly.
I also remember the rush of panic and confusion I felt when the pediatrician asked me how I was feeling. Was I supposed to be honest? Could I be honest? What would have happened had I told her that I was crying my eyes out at least once every day and that life with this new tiny person had actually been really really really hard… would she have reported me to DCF or a psychiatrist? Would she have taken you away from me? I told her everything was fabulous…
Here’s something else I remember. I remember something someone told me and I latched onto it for dear life. It was my light at the end of the tunnel. “It gets better after the first six weeks, ” she said.
By the time that mark rolled around, I was still waking up every two hours to feed you, but I was handling it much better. It didn’t weigh on me. It was just my new normal and both my body and mind had found a way to naturally cope with it. I had finally become the butterfly after spending time in that grey slimy chrysalis.
I was walking more easily. My scar was healing. My mastitis had cleared. I discovered we both loved pouch slings and I could have my arms and hands back again, while you slept dreamily against my reassuring heartbeat. You suddenly decided it was ok to wait for me in the bouncy seat right outside the shower curtain, while I took a minute to regenerate under the warm and sound-muting shower. You started smiling at me too… or maybe it was gas, like everyone else thought, but I was pretty happy with thinking that you were smiling because you knew we had made it out of that whirlwind of emotional rollercoasters and the boundless, shapeless time warp.
It was mostly smiles, giggles, and raspberries from that point on… until you became a precious chatter box!
Fast forward eight years. I now have a Master’s in Maternal and Child Health and I am a doctoral candidate in Maternal and Child Health doing research about low-intervention, high-value, family-centered maternity care models. I’m a birth geek: yes, I am! As a practicing doula I incorporate evidence-based information about perinatal mood disorders, breastfeeding, and the early postpartum period into my services and support to families. I also use birth art and Birthing from Within concepts and sensibilities to equip parents with a diverse toolbox as they approach this complex and exciting time.
During my prenatal sessions with parents, I teach them about the “Laborynth”. We don’t just talk about the twisty and unpredictable journey taken from the time labor begins to the magic moment in which parents get to meet their child for the first time. We also talk about the journey back, and how twisty, topsy-turvy, raw, and hard it can be to get out from that Laborynth. We prepare with realistic expectations and with decision-making and coping skills that can come in handy when we are faced with yet another decision-making opportunity and challenge as new parents… just like we did when preparing for birth.
Birth is unpredictable. So is the early postpartum period. Falling in love may not be as easy. Breastfeeding may not come naturally. Recovering from the exhaustion of birth while getting used to a new sleep rhythm may take some time. Negotiating new family and relationship dynamics may not be easy. Adjusting to new identities and roles can be a confusing and emotional process. Throw in some hormones and you have a very potent cocktail! Listen to your instinct: do you need help? Ask for it! Even if it is the baby blues, the right kind of help can attenuate the symptoms and make you feel a lot more supported!
But trust me: it does get better. For many it takes anywhere from two to six weeks, and if it doesn’t… it’s ok too. It may be time to reach out and not chalk it up simply to the baby blues. It may be time to give yourself the gift of more support, if you haven’t already, from professionals and peers who can share tips, strategies, support, and referrals for appropriate care. Close your eyes for a few seconds, feel the ground beneath you, breathe, trust that you’ll get through it and believe that you don’t have to go at it alone. In fact, you shouldn’t: it’s time to gather your tribe!