September 27, 2013

Postpartum Trauma: When Motherhood Diverges From Dreams.

Photo: Marie Diaz on Pixoto.

Motherhood, for me, started out with a bang—the bang from an unexpected and loud firecracker, not the bang from a boisterous party.

After a wonderfully smooth and healthy pregnancy, I eagerly awaited natural childbirth.

For real.

I prepared with a self-hypnotizing method given to me through my midwife.

I relished in fresh-from-the-garden food grown by my husband and labored at dreaming about the vision in my mind’s eye of what my future life would become.

Of course I had a few bumps in my pregnant road, but, for the most part, I was the picture of health and clean living. More, I was happy.

I got spinning certified during my third trimester—the college girls surrounding my stationary cycling bike couldn’t help but stare, jaws dropped down nearly to their handlebars—I couldn’t blame them and I didn’t care. I was enjoying the fullness in my belly and the even greater fullness in my expectant heart.

I called off my 6:00 a.m. yoga class at the last minute, after my water broke in the early-morning hours—traveling to the hospital rather than to the studio to teach.

My beautiful child was delivered on what would have been my drive home.

Giving birth without so much as a Tylenol—my pregnancy had been completely drug free as well, including my coveted caffeine—was a combination of an exhilarating and liberating experience.

I felt flushed with pride and awe at both my miraculously capable body and my newborn—her puffy, heart-shaped, rose-colored lips, the most perfect I’ve ever seen.

And yet.

And yet.

And yet, for me, motherhood started out with a bang.

I had a traumatic introduction into motherhood.

Sure my yoga-fit body was honestly immediately back into almost better-than-pre-baby shape (I’m envious even of myself as I write that); and, definitely, I went through what all new mother’s do:

Changes down there that no one warns you about so you internally panic that it won’t ever go back to “normal.” (It does—never fear, new mamas.)

Sleepless nights with a hungry, suckling baby.

And seemingly endless laundry filled with stains that are all the same colors of either mustard yellow or pale ivory.

But I also experienced something a bit more—and less.

When parenthood doesn’t begin for you the way that it does for everyone else out there—you know the articles, the over-heard discussions, the easy sharing of mommy-hood gossip and tips—there’s a grating rawness, an emotion and a jealousy towards those going through relatively “minor” adjustments to this new way of life and relatively “minor” concerns.

Your first date night with your new-father of a husband isn’t excitedly top of your list; posted via adorable pictures on Facebook while your newborn’s with Grandma, sleeping.

Rather, you are better off planning a therapy session to manage your post-traumatic stress from events that will never be shared within the realm of social media. (And you should do just this—I didn’t and I should have.)

Because the unfortunate reality is that not all moms have an Instagram-worthy, status-update-friendly postpartum-posting beginning.

No, some have concerns and worries that extend far, far beyond chafed nipples and men who “don’t get it”—and you certainly don’t discount the others’ stories, but you also cannot relate, so foreign are theirs from yours.

And what do we do when our postpartum life isn’t anything at all like the latest popular sitcom or, more importantly, like the story that you had created inside of your own head and heart?

What do you do?

You honor it—all of it.

You honor the envy you occasionally carry in spite of your own swelling joy and gratitude.

You honor the frustration and your initial struggle to survive, much less thrive.

You own the fear nestled within your tender, newmommyheart—sometimes buried too deeply for others to notice, much less help you care for.

You disregard insensitive comments made by people who mean well but who are actually clueless.

You acknowledge that while you might not have postpartum depression, you do have a significantly life-changing view of the often overwhelming responsibility—and love—that comes along with new motherhood.

You do all of this and then you remind yourself that it’s okay that you don’t want to read the recycled or simply sweet and minor grievances in articles of those “other” new mothers—their own struggles and advice for what the “postpartum” period looks like.

It’s alright, too, that you sometimes feel cheated, fooled and foolish, or angry, or scared.

The only thing that’s not okay is pretending to be someone who you are not—pretending to be a mom who wants to talk about the weather and nipple tips when you’re, instead, the sort who would prefer sharing the anatomy of profound grief and tips for how to want to get out of bed in the morning.

And the bottom line is this—it does get better.

One of two things happen to you: one, you find your distressing situation alleviated by time and healing and new-found health or, two, you become more comfortable living in where you’ve arrived because you’ve come to accept the terms that “normal” is subjective and that “postpartum” has many connotations too.

No, wait, a third thing potentially happens—changing, and evolving, your enslaved heart—you fuse both of these two revelations together, into one complete and satisfying picture and vision of motherhood—your own.

 Welcome to Holland by  Emily Kingsley

When you’re going to have a baby, it’s like planning a fabulous vacation trip – to Italy. You buy a bunch of guide books and make your wonderful plans. The Coliseum. The Michelangelo David. The gondolas in Venice. You may learn some handy phrases in Italian. It’s all very exciting.

After months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrives. You pack your bags and off you go. Several hours later, the plane lands. The stewardess comes in and says, “Welcome to Holland.”

“Holland?!?” you say. “What do you mean Holland?? I signed up for Italy! I’m supposed to be in Italy. All my life I’ve dreamed of going to Italy.”

But there’s been a change in the flight plan. They’ve landed in Holland and there you must stay.

The important thing is that they haven’t taken you to a horrible, disgusting, filthy place, full of pestilence, famine and disease. It’s just a different place.

So you must go out and buy new guide books. And you must learn a whole new language. And you will meet a whole new group of people you would never have met.

It’s just a different place. It’s slower-paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy. But after you’ve been there for a while and you catch your breath, you look around…. and you begin to notice that Holland has windmills….and Holland has tulips. Holland even has Rembrandts.

But everyone you know is busy coming and going from Italy… and they’re all bragging about what a wonderful time they had there. And for the rest of your life, you will say “Yes, that’s where I was supposed to go. That’s what I had planned.”

And the pain of that will never, ever, ever, ever go away… because the loss of that dream is a very very significant loss.

But… if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn’t get to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things … about Holland.


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Ed: Catherine Monkman

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