The Thoughtful Friend: Postpartum
My dear friend Beth recently captured the torrent of emotions that arrive, in tow, with a new baby. I'm sharing it here as part of the Thoughtful Friend series in the hopes that it can shed some light on the loneliness, confusion, and existential mini-crises that come along with being a new parent, and the need for support and community throughout. This post originally appeared on Love as Big as Your Head.
It's 5:40 pm.
Every day since Melby was born, around this time, when the sun starts to dip, so does my heart. I get despondent. I get desperate and teary-eyed.
Nic, if he's home, is usually puttering outdoors at this point in the day, nesting in his own way, by imagining so many beautiful hedges and patios for our backyard. He's laying out pieces of cardboard he's cut to mimic the size of some pavers he found, planning the possible edges of a small sitting area for his newborn family. I watch him through our cracked and dirty windows, wishing I felt something different than I do.
At some juncture, he'll come inside and find me clutching the baby, my eyes brimming with tears.
When he asks me what's wrong, I never know.
I feel lonely, is all I can muster.
It's a loneliness that's not cured by company or physical touch or reassurance. It sits deep in my belly. It makes me ask, what's the meaning of life?
I feel ashamed for thinking something so terribly basic and cliche. I feel ashamed for feeling anything other than abject joy at this amazing person's arrival. But it's all that runs through my head.
Why am I here? What's the point of living? Am i just a mom now? What does it mean to be a mom? What makes me valuable? What ever made me valuable before? Am I enough? What is enough? Will I always feel this way? What's the point? What about tomorrow? When is it enough? Will it ever be enough? What does it feel like to be complete? Am I an awful person for having a baby and still feeling this way? Will she feel it? Will I infect her?
My mind turns to both what is termed "the baby blues" and postpartum anxiety/ depression. Many people warned me about it. It's more common than you think. It's okay to ask for help.
I don't have a problem admitting I need help sometimes. Not with big things like that. I have a hard time asking someone to bring over some tacos because I'm hungry or to drive me to the airport, but when it comes to addressing my mental health, I think I'm pretty responsive to my own needs.
But this doesn't feel like that.
I don't know if that's true obviously. I've had zero babies before. I don't know what the aftermath feels like. Maybe this is postpartum something to a tee.
But this, this feels old. It feels ancient. It feels like something that's been buried in my bones since I was a child. It feels like something I've spent a lifetime trying to distract myself from.
I have always worked hard. I graduated college in 3 years and worked nearly full time concurrently. I have always had many jobs, long hours. I've kept myself impossibly busy for a very long time. Being busy has kept me just distracted enough to skate across the surface of these deeply rooted questions of meaning and self-worth.
And then Melby arrived. My beautiful, soft, screeching, cuddly, tender blowout of a girl. I love her. Don't think for a single second that any of these words compromise that total love for her.
But with her came a cavern. A huge, empty expanse.
I asked for it. I asked for the stillness, the time and space to figure each other out, to not rush, to be tender, to care for her, solely. I asked for the long yawn-- the breathing in. I knew we needed this.
And I would choose it again. I know it's the right thing.
But it's terrifying in ways I didn't quite anticipate. In ways I can't quite comprehend yet.
There are no more distractions.
I mean, there are a million. There are, on average, 13 diapers per day, at least two loads of laundry, four plus hours of active breastfeeding plus however many more of her wandering eyes and time spent latching, one to several naps together, so many consolations of tears, the vacuuming up of cat hair and general managing the house, some paltry amount of time of walking and/ or yoga I can muster per day, visiting with friends, and then all the food-- food that takes up eternity in preparation, cleaning, and thought for my ravenous body.
It is plenty of distractions. But at the same time, there are none. It's just me and this girl. There are no deadlines, there's no schedule, there are no demands, no necessities, no assessments, no boss, no paycheck. I have stripped my life bare of all the constructs-- all the rushing about that once made me feel important and valuable. It made me feel like I belonged to something, that I was essential.
Now it is eerily still.
I'm left with myself. My real, whole self. Not the self trying to impress or please someone, not the self trying to do it right, not the self trying to keep up.
It's just Beth.
Who am I?
I think that's the lonely feeling.
I'm just not sure who I am. I'm not sure why I am. I'm not sure why anything.
Those are the tears. The sun begins to set. I realize a day has almost passed and I don't know what it all means.
It feels very silly in comparison with all that's happening in the world. Big, real, devastating, atrocious things are happening every day.
But my life has become so small, so insular. It is my couch and the breastfeeding pillow and that small sweet face. It's so small I can't see out right now. I am sorry for that. I feel guilty for that.
But I can see enough to know I'm lost.
I figure my footing starts here. In this admission. That I am lonely because I don't know myself. That I'm lonely because I've spent a lifetime trying to avoid myself. That, for the first time, someone else's life is on the line too, and suddenly it feels urgent that I get my shit together.
I have never in my life felt so raw.
I feel like a newborn myself.
Melby and I are just getting started. Maybe we can grow together, my girl. Maybe in taking care of you, I will also learn to take care of myself.
I don't know. Tomorrow is a new day. We'll sit in this for now. We'll feel it. We'll begin the process of figuring it out.
Tomorrow is a new day. We'll get there together.