Having a baby is a transformative experience, and as I roll out of the first week postpartum (edit: now second - clearly no time for writing these days), there have been a lot of thoughts floating through my head. I didn't have any of the typical pregnancy problems - no swollen feet, no stretch marks, no non-stop morning sickness - but what I did have was a strange amount of normalcy. I expected pregnancy to be overwhelming, or confusing, or something amazing! exciting! But instead, it just...was. It was a natural evolution, with it's amazing moments, I suppose. I expected it to feel more dramatic.
As my due date loomed, I knew change was coming, but what I didn't completely comprehend was that you can't really wrap your head around it. There's no "Get ready! You're having a baby!" crash course that prepares you for what is about to happen to your life. You hear other new parents say it's wonderful and exhausting and you can grasp the concepts, but you have to live it to truly understand.
When I went into labour a week early, the first thing I thought was "I'm not ready yet". And I was ready, in the most obvious ways. I wanted to meet this person I had been growing and caring for without meeting all of these months. I wanted pregnancy to be over, kind-of - at least in the wish you could wear more than two super stretchy outfits and actually roll over in bed sort of way. But I wasn't ready for it to end.
Coming out the other side, I bore no battle scars or visible wounds. No horrendous stretch marks, no major physical trauma, nothing to "recover" from, and by day eight even my previously pregnant belly had disappeared. Instead, what I came away with was an overwhelming sense of joy accompanied by a gaping sense of loss, fighting it out for pieces of my day, but mostly invisible to everyone around me. Though I hadn't "lost" anything - you could argue that I gained the greatest thing, really - I felt a bit like being pregnant ended without any closure. Suddenly, abruptly, I no longer shared my body with Jack. He had his own life now. He occupied his own space. That time was just...gone. Over. Our connection was both severed and improved, but I hadn't been ready to leave the old state completely behind yet.
The emotional toll of being pregnant, giving birth, postpartum hormones, and surviving the first days of your new life - figuring out your new role, trying to maintain your relationship, attempting to behave even moderately like a real person, adjusting to not being pregnant any more - runs deep, and is much harder to troubleshoot than a visible, gaping wound or injury. People see wounds and recognize that they need to heal. People see emotion and our inclination is to think they're not strong enough. Even though I recognized it was wrong, my first thoughts were that I wasn't strong enough, too. That I needed to be tougher. Not that these were wounds equal to any other and I just needed time to recover, heal, and process everything that had just happened.
When I found myself struggling in the late afternoons, when the twilight began to creep in and the long night ahead seemed very long (and sleepless) indeed, leaving me wondering how to fill it (with a fussy baby, obviously), I wondered if there was something more. Is this PPD? Is this normal? Do I just have the baby blues? Are other people just like me also crying, a little bit, on their porch right now, because, feelings? Even describing it was a challenge, missing the right words to say "I'm so so happy but I have moments where I feel so overwhelmed and lost and like something has gone...missing" and even that doesn't say it quite right.
This is the part of having a baby that gets a bit forgotten in the afterglow of your perfect new human's arrival. While we talk about it, it's abstract, in a "Don't let this happen to you" sort of way - not in the "this is unbelievably hard but you can survive and it's totally normal and this was my experience it's different for everyone" kind of way. This is hard. And there is no perfect way around or through it. It should be talked about more, and we should care less about looking like we have our shit together when I'm willing to bet that most new moms (and dads) definitely do not. We are all just figuring it out as we go.
I do not have my shit together. Most days, I am lucky I manage to put on clean clothes or remember to brush my teeth. But two weeks in to being Jack's mom, most days are incrementally better, and the gap that was once there seems smaller, less nagging. The balance of happiness vs. sadness, of smiles vs. tears is shifting. I am cautiously optimistic that everything is going to be just fine.
So many things are wrapped up in adding these amazing little people to our lives. For me, it's the life Jack will live. The responsibility we're taking on, raising a person. The shift in my identity, my relationship, my independence. My thoughts about being a mom. My hopes and dreams for Jack. My complete and utter lack of knowing what the right thing to do is, and just hoping my survival instincts get us through these first few tumultuous weeks.
The invisible scars, when I survive, and heal, and somehow get through - and I will - will be there, though I wish there was something else, too. Something recognizable, easier to describe, easier to witness. Something I can show. Because when the emotional wounds are gone, there won't be an obvious reminder that makes me think: I was here. I was human. It was tough but it got better. I gave life, and I survived.