I love my baby. But I was unprepared for how childbirth would change my body.
I thought I was pretty well prepared for the birth of my son. I had loads of friends with kids, I was an aunt, I’d attended a prenatal course, read (bits) of the many books recommended to me. And yet I discovered afterward that I was completely unprepared for the physical changes my body went through in pregnancy and the recovery that would follow. Obviously giving birth is one of the most extreme things your body can ever go through. So why was the aftermath also such a shock?
(Click link at top to read this op ed piece on nytimes.com)
As a new mother, I had a knack for giving the impression that I didn’t need help.
My village lives on the other side of the globe, so it was borne out of necessity, but I wonder if it was more than that. As new (or not so new) mothers, I wonder if we feel as though we’re letting ourselves down if we show that we’re vulnerable. Are we falling short if we admit that we simply can’t do this alone?
That we have one hairy leg because our survival strategies have devolved into shaving one leg one day, and the other the next. And we forgot the second leg…for a week. That we eat breakfast for dinner on a semi-regular basis. And that if one more well-meaning person tells us (as if we’ve forgotten) that we really need to take care of ourselves, we’ll scream.
Because, before becoming mothers we were used to feeling productive. To meeting deadlines. To getting the job done and feeling like a valued team member.
But motherhood shatters that reality. And although it’s bittersweet, thank goodness it does. It softens us. Slows us down. Stops the treadmill of a results driven society, forcing us to reassess what we truly value in this one short life of ours. As parents, we need to redefine success in the context of a journey, with a destination we will never see.
I often see or hear of women pushing themselves to return to normal as quickly as possible after birth. In a hurry to get their life and body back they jump into a myriad of activities at warp speed, often just days after giving birth. Riding on the birth and baby high, pumped full of adrenaline yet restless from the last few weeks of pregnancy, particularly if they felt like a watched pot, these women fill their schedule, attack their house, and find new projects determined to not be slowed down, impatiently trying to control and master this new version of normal. These women are often viewed with admiration and awe and the media highlights celebrities that are back to their prepregnant weight by 6 weeks or were spotted out jogging at 3 weeks or were back on the set of their TV show at 10 days. This is held up as the epitome of a strong woman, give birth, bounce back, conquer world. After all, women in China squat in a rice field, push their baby out and throw them on their back then return to work, right? It’s as though we’ve forgotten to celebrate. We’ve forgotten how important it is to rest after a hard work and enjoy the fruit of our labors. We’ve forgotten that while pregnancy and childbirth may not be an illness our bodies still need to recover from the taxing physical and emotional demands of the endeavor. Pregnancy, labor and childbirth may be a normal part of life but it is anything but easy. The change a woman’s body goes through are massive to say nothing of the emotional journey as well. Ignoring this reality can have serious consequences for our bodies, our emotional health, our breastfeeding relationship with our baby, our mothering, and our families. Do not underestimate the potential for damage if we neglect our postpartum healing. (click link above to read a fantastic blog about postpartum recovery)
More about Postpartum Recovery in the Postpartum section.
“I did a ridiculous amount of reading when I was pregnant. I read natural parenting books and baby scheduling books and how to make your baby happy with no crying and eating is good for everyone led by the spirit of “your baby, yourself” books. If there was a book to read, rest assured, I gave it a go.
I thought I knew everything I’d need to know.
How much of that information did I actually use? Some. A little. The best bits of this, a quick trick from that, but no single book was spot-on accurate, and nothing was anywhere near as easy as all my reading had led me to believe. Fable was just herself, and apparently, she hadn’t been reading the same stuff I’d been bingeing on. All that reading was mostly a waste of time.*
These are the words I wish I’d read instead, before jumping headlong into the mommyhood with my books and my charts and my ideals and my high horses. They’re flawed, and they aren’t all pretty, but they’re hard-won and honest and as true as I can get ’em.”