Guest Post: Perfectly Imperfect: What No One Tells You About Your New Normal
Each woman will inevitably feel very different about this time of transitioning from pregnancy to motherhood. Everyone talks about the beauty of childbirth and bringing a baby into the world. Baby showers, excitement over nesting, decorating, unspoken expectations and fantasizing about your new family and child. Women talk about encouragement and empowerment during their journey of pregnancy, birth and beyond. But what happens when it isn’t empowering or encouraging and you feel like a failure or that you aren’t having the experience everyone else has?
Motherhood is not simply a biological experience. It is also a social experience that carries with it a dizzying (and often maddening) set of social expectations. These expectations pertain not only to the way one dresses or speaks or relates to one’s child(ren). They also pertain to the depth and transparency of mothers’ emotional lives.” Kristen Oganowski, “The One Pressure on Moms We Never Talk About".
There are many emotions and thoughts that rise to the surface in one day and a lot of them mother’s and caregivers cannot be transparent about. Why aren’t we creating spaces to talk authentically about our fears or when our experiences are outside of “the norm” and the areas around which women need the most support? We aim to address and offer that support. But first, this week I am honored for a guest blog from Collectively Creative Writing guru, Mother, and All around Awesome Woman Jessica Ennis to talk about her “Perfectly Imperfect Experience." We felt it was important during this series to shed light on the topic of birth and postpartum. Read on.
In 2008, many things were going on around us. Obama introduced “Yes, We Can!” The "Sex and the City" girls returned in a feature-length film, we said Bonjour to the Jolie-Pitt twins and here I was enduring a healthy yet painful first pregnancy -- due to many months of struggles with my sciatica, a seemingly endless (and sleepless) 36-hour induction and subsequent stressful assisted vaginal delivery via vacuum extraction.
Needless to say, after six exhausting hours of pushing like my life depended on it I was not exactly glowing. But there he was -- my adorable tiny baby Reed -- and he was all mine! After a less than perfect pregnancy and birth, I figured things would get much easier now that my beautiful baby was on the outside. Wrong again.
Soon after we were discharged from the hospital, my ankles and face became swollen, I experienced a high fever, headache and I was still unable to sleep. My doctor asked me to come in and I was diagnosed with postpartum preeclampsia (high blood pressure and elevated protein in my urine, with a risk of seizures). I didn’t even know this condition existed after pregnancy, was I the first women ever?! Of course not… as women, we just don’t talk about birth stories and post-birth stories that don’t paint the right picture.
After being prescribed magnesium and I was sent on my way home to care for a tiny life that needed me, I was feeling nervous and insecure about my ability to care for my child through this condition. The preeclampsia eventually resolved, the Ambien did its job in addition to totally turning me into a zombie. So, of course, I was all set. I was a complete mess and far too weak to even hold Reed. Thank God for the support system of my mom and husband who took over for several days. Throughout this time, anxiety overcame me. I lived in a constant state of fear that my child was suffocating underneath me even though he slept in a bassinet and so many other thoughts that did not allow me to enjoy this time, which was disappointing and terrifying.
The relentless guilt I felt only made matters worse after I could not get Reed to latch (while using a lactation specialist and my pediatrician’s nurse). I pumped several times a day for six weeks, yet I could barely produce more than an ounce or two of milk. So joining guilt was also a feeling of failing in the most basic functions of womanhood. Now I feel differently but at the time I felt alone and isolated. My child was only a few days old the first time I had to use formula and this led to a more profound feeling of failure. Thinking back, I was a drooling zombie who could barely lift my arms much less my baby. And, I could hardly squeeze out a few drops of milk from a pump - let alone even breastfeed. I cycled through thoughts like will my son suffer emotionally or will his immune system be compromised because of this? Will I fail forever?
In the grand scheme of things, our little family was incredibly blessed but those early days of motherhood were pretty traumatic. At the time, I thought I would never get to a point where I wasn’t overwhelmed. But little by little, day-by-day, things seemed to settle down and I was finally able to enjoy our “new normal.”
My health and my sleep improved and the baby grew bigger and cuter by the minute. Reed was healthy, happy and seeing him thrive helped me finally let go of the guilt I felt for having such a rough start at motherhood. Much of the things I felt were beyond my control and my sweet child did not suffer during those early days when I was unable to hold and nurse him.
Reed is now almost 9 years old and I was eventually brave enough to try it again: he has a 4-year-old energetic mess of a brother named Dean. I still get pangs of mom guilt and thoughts of being a failure every now and then. Are they eating enough veggies? Are they getting enough exercise? Am I spoiling them? But, at the end of the day, I know I love these boys with my whole heart and I’m doing my best. And for me, that’s imperfectly perfect.
We were happy to bring you this series. If you are struggling with life transitions, anxiety or fears around fertility, reproductive loss, maintaining a healthy pregnancy or post-partum life, please contact us to be connected to existing groups or individual services.
Until next time...
DO GOOD & BE WELL,