To my daughters:
They say the pain of childbirth is the kind of pain you forget. I can vouch for that, and would add that the sentiment extends beyond the delivery room. Most of us don’t like to talk about it, but there’s often a pain — both physical and emotional — that bleeds into the days and weeks that follow, no matter how much your heart is bursting with love. With three successful deliveries under my belt, I’ve managed to forget about that pain each time until I find myself treading in it once again.
New baby euphoria is great if you experience it, and the relief of feeling an immediate bond to your newborn is downright overwhelming. But my experience of those first few days has shown that mixed in with the rainbows and butterflies is also a messy, hormonal whirlwind that makes new mothers doubt every fiber of their capability. In the days following each of your births — between the physical recovery, the stress of newborn care, and the hormones– I have always found myself thinking, WHAT HAVE I DONE? and WHOEVER THOUGHT I WAS CAPABLE OF HANDLING THIS MUST HAVE BEEN DRUNK.
You’re both only in diapers now, but one day you will grow up. One day, you might decide to have your own children, and if so, I hope I can be there to support you in any way I can. I’m writing this so that I don’t forget, as much for myself as for you, how hard those first few postpartum days can be. I want to be clear that this is not about postpartum depression; if you ever worry that’s the demon you’re facing, I hope you will be brave enough to ask for the help you need, help that far surpasses anything I’m able to offer. I also want to add that if your future includes a Dutch maternity nurse or luxury postpartum center, I am SO JEALOUS.
But should you ever find yourself simply taken aback by your own grimy thoughts after your babies are born, or are struck by what feels like a shameful pain plaguing your exhilarated maternal heart, I hope you will take a deep breath and consider the following:
Your immediate doubts and fears do not define you or your ability to mother.
At some point after the thrilling rush of first holding your newborn, maybe after the visitors have left and you’ve been awake for 30-some odd hours, alarms may start going off in your gut, telling you that you’ve created an insurmountable set of circumstances for yourself and your family. You can thank your raging hormones for the sudden onslaught of mixed emotions, but know that although your fears and anxieties may be totally valid, they aren’t painting you a full picture in that early moment of motherhood.
All at once, you may feel guilt wondering how your other children will react, feel hopeless over whether you will ever want to have sex with your husband again (or whether he will ever be able to un-see the delivery room carnage and oblige), feel an aching for your former life of freedom with its cocktails and impractical shoes. You may feel anxiety rising because the universe has dropped this helpless newborn, with its giant head attached by a neck that may as well be a strip of damp Kleenex, in YOUR care. Imagine for a moment I’m writing in a whispered tone when I say, you may even begin to question your decision to have this baby at all because it all seems SO DIFFICULT right now. I’m no medical expert, but I believe these feelings are part of what is commonly referred to as the “baby blues” and they are more common than you think, affecting up to 80 percent of new mothers.
Lean in to read this next part: Your hormones are lying to you. Unhealthy as it sounds, I hope you can shove those salty bastards down deep, where you keep your middle school insecurities and fantasies about sitcom dads. Because they don’t yet know the joy this child will bring into your life, the way looking into her eyes when you’re feeding her will make the chaos around you melt away, the way you will feel when you first recognize yourself in her expressions. They don’t yet know that one day you won’t have to worry about walking around with someone else’s poop on your clothes, that the stretch marks and circles under your eyes will fade, or that your regular jeans will be waiting for you when the time comes.
Within a few days or weeks, you will see for yourself that you are more than capable to care for this tiny person you’ve created, and that you’re as much a part of the sparkle in her eye as she is in yours. Talk to someone about how you’re feeling, and try to separate these hormone-driven fears from the reality you’re creating by surviving — and thriving — one day at a time. There will be hard days, and your life has undoubtedly changed. But you will fall into a rhythm, you will fall in love, and believe me when I say — YOU GOT THIS.