Our culture focuses a whole lot on pregnancy and new babies and not a whole lot on postpartum.
So much so that many of us are lucky to experience baby showers filled with trunk-loads of gifts for our new baby. We download pregnancy tracker apps on our phones and read detailed day-to-day updates on how our baby is growing in utero. We spend months researching the pros and cons of different baby products—strollers and baby swings, high chairs and car seats. We stockpile closets with diapers and outfits, attend regular prenatal checkups, and maybe even drool over swoon-worthy newborn photographs on Pinterest. Some of us come up with a birth plan or take a birthing prep class. There’s excitement, anticipation, and congratulations and we’re told to “cherish every moment” of our newborns’ first days and weeks.
We enter our final stages of pregnancy having compiled ideas about what our baby will be like, what motherhood will be like, and how it “should” all unfold. Somewhere in there many of us have soaked in the glossy Pottery Barn magazines and the Instagram “highlight reels” featuring smiling mothers and peacefully sleeping babies. Without evening consciously realizing it, many of us have created expectations around what our highly anticipated motherhood experience should be like in order for it to be a good one.
We’ve also heard the “horror” stories of course. We’ve heard about our cousin who experienced debilitating postpartum depression, about our best friend whose cesarean section recovery was terrible, and about our neighbor whose baby was colicky for months. Maybe we’re terrified of how awful it could be, or maybe we’ve convinced ourselves that this absolutely won’t be us…we’ve got it all under control. We’ve done our research and done our planning and we know the type of mother that we’re going to be.
So, the thing is, none of any of this really gives us much of an idea about what the postpartum period REALLY brings. Ultimately, the pregnancy, (however complicated or uncomplicated) goes by. The birth, while an incredibly significant event, is a single event in our lives. Motherhood though…what about all of that?
The postpartum phase just isn’t nearly as neat and tidy and talked about as pregnancy, labor, and delivery.
It’s not nearly as linear, not nearly as black and white. And it’s not nearly as simple as either glowing bliss OR a postpartum mood disorder. Instead, it’s messy. It’s a time of intense highs AND lows…all at the same time. It’s everything that you thought it would be AND everything you thought it wouldn’t be, all at once. It’s triumphs and tears, all over the course of one day. And…this is okay! This doesn’t make you a failure, and it doesn’t mean that you are feeling things you “shouldn’t.” It doesn’t mean that you need to apologize or that you’re ungrateful. It doesn’t mean that you’re an x type of mother or that your baby is a y type of baby. And, just because it’s not nearly as openly talked about or planned for as the baby herself, it doesn’t mean that you’re the only one experiencing the roller coaster ride that you’re on.
So, has anybody told you today, that, it’s ok?
- It’s ok to feel in love with your baby, but also to feel like she is a stranger.
- It’s ok to feel exhilarated and also exhausted.
- It’s ok to love your baby but not love every moment with him.
- It’s ok to feel uncomfortable in your body, and still appreciate its power.
- It’s ok to feel thankful for a healthy baby, while also grieving a birth experience that didn’t unfold as planned.
- It’s ok to feel joyful and also overwhelmed.
- It’s ok to ask questions and still follow your gut.
- It’s ok to feel excitement about your new role and also mourn the loss of your previous self/life.
- It’s ok to worry about separation from your baby but also crave moments alone.
- It’s ok to appreciate the efforts of your family/friends and still feel disappointed that those efforts aren’t the support you really need.
- Its ok to feel frustrated with your partner but also miss intimacy with him/her.
- It’s ok to feel grateful and still feel shocked by how unrelenting motherhood is.
- It’s ok to feel sentimental as your baby grows but also long for new stages ahead.
- It’s ok to miss your childless friends but also feel you no longer relate to them.
- It’s ok to feel lonely and also to crave solitude.
- It’s ok to dread a return to work and also feel relieved to re-enter adult life.
- It’s ok to for it all to feel bittersweet.
- It’s ok to feel conflicting emotions all at once.
In fact, the intense duality of emotions is more than okay. They’re normal and there’s actually even a name for this experience. It’s called ‘matrescense.’
And shockingly, even though we’ve heard of every pregnancy term in the book, most of us haven’t heard this term. We haven’t heard that we should expect to experience the beautifully messy phase that is matrescense. Yes, your baby has been born and she is now here wearing her cute onesies (or maybe her spit-up stained pajamas from yesterday) and sleeping in her pricey bassinet contraption (actually she’s probably only sleeping in your arms, isn’t she) but you, the mother inside of you, is also newly born too. And no one spent quite so much time preparing for her, did they?