By the time I go to bed at night, every night, I am tired both physically and emotionally, overwhelmed with the work of parenting a newborn and guilt ridden at the thought that I’m no longer fulfilling the role of wife and homemaker as well as I once did or as I feel I now should be able to again.
Our lovely Mabel Quinn is two weeks old today. I’ve been holding myself to this strangely high standard of recovery and return to normalcy. Intellectually I can acknowledge that, at two weeks postpartum, I’ve barely recovered from the c-section and shouldn’t yet have any expectation of proficiency as a new parent or the full return to my role as wife as it was prior to birth. Emotionally, however, I feel I’m letting my husband and new daughter down by not being better at this yet. I’ve convinced myself that I should be able to keep the house clean, have dinner ready, get some exercise every day and keep myself looking good, all while parenting our new daughter perfectly.
My excessively high standard for recovery and proficiency doesn’t take into consideration, of course, most of my new reality. Mabel, for all her breathtaking loveliness, is what you might call a “high needs baby”; she doesn’t fuss or cry very often, but she also doesn’t want to be put down. She’s going through a growth spurt that has her nursing about once an hour and, even when her doting daddy is home, only Mommy’s arms seem to do the trick. Seems I didn’t factor a third personality into what I envisioned during my pregnancy as the Great Postpartum Return to Self.
Of course, that isn’t all I forgot to take into consideration when making plans to “get my Self back” after pregnancy. I didn’t know well enough to acknowledge that the “Self” I thought I was returning to was no longer going to exist after Mabel came. There is no Me to go back to, there is only the Me that I am becoming. This, of all things, is something I have experience with – redemption, reinvention. I need to remind myself of the process, to remember to be kinder to me as I transition into yet another facet of Self.
I acquainted myself with some of the ins and outs of postpartum depression during my pregnancy. It’s not that I necessarily expected to have some trouble after giving birth, but as a person prone to depression and anxiety, I thought it was important to be educated. I think it would be fair to say that, instead of assuming everything would be fine once our little one arrived, I gave myself permission to not be fine if that was, in fact, what ended up happening.
I check in with myself from time to time, consider some of the difficulties I might have had that day and try to evaluate them rationally. I’m prepared to call a doctor should I need to, but every time I assess where I’m at I realize just how okay I am.
The evening hours are hard, it’s true. My arms are tired from baby loving – frankly, so are my boobs – and I’m worn down. Jason is home and I watch him fending for himself, for the both of us, in the kitchen and I feel some guilt. I look around the house and wish it were cleaner or neater, or that I was.
Yet, something incredible happens every night once we are in bed. My sweet two week old daughter snuggles up against my side to nurse happily as she drifts off to sleep. I smile at her and watch her contentment for as long as my eyes stay open and then I, too, drift off to sleep. We awaken a few times throughout the night – to shift position, to burp, to comfort or snuggle – and each time I stare at my sleeping husband and marvel that, despite whatever may have happened during our days, here we all lay at night, a contented and peacefully sleeping family, caring for each other as we are able and as we should.
Morning comes and Mabel and I get up to face our day while Jason is at work. We share smiles and songs, alternate snuggling and sleeping and discovering the world together. Sometimes a new bit of the house will get tidied or cleaned, sometimes it won’t. Sometimes the day is just rocking and nursing and napping and silly TV shows to entertain me while Mabel goes about the business of growing.
And when the evening comes with it’s challenges, I check in with myself to make sure I’m still okay, only to realize I’m more okay than I’ve ever been before. And while Mabel grows and changes so do I. I’m becoming a new Me, finding a new Self. And the new truth of this Self is that it’s really not about Me so much anymore. Everything is different. Perfectly and wonderfully different.