Ephraim’s birth was a shock to my self-assuredness and plans, and that shock followed me through the first few weeks of adjusting to motherhood.
There isn’t a whole lot that you can do to prepare you for actual motherhood. No book is going to tell you the exact personality your child will have, or the exact personality that you have, or the unique way that your personalities will mesh (or clash, as the case may be.)
When we brought Ephraim home, I couldn’t be alone because of my blood loss. I couldn’t drive myself anywhere. I couldn’t even really carry him down the stairs safely. I spent most of that first week on our fold-out couch with him sleeping in a bouncy seat next to me. I experienced a huge amount of anxiety every time we had to go somewhere–to the pediatrician, to the photographer’s for newborn pictures, the hematologist’s office. I kept it together while we were out, but when we came home, I would collapse on the couch and cry.
There is a tremendous loss of freedom that comes after welcoming your first child into your family. It’s not bad. It’s not something to regret or to resent, so please don’t read it that way–as much as you lose, you also gain. But it is a shock. I reeled from that shock for weeks, and I didn’t know what to do about it, and I didn’t know how to talk about it. I didn’t want to talk about it at all, actually, since I had spent my pregnancy being grateful for every pain and inconvenience, and I felt a huge amount of shame that that sentiment didn’t continue after his birth.
My parents went home and Jeremy had to go back to work by the end of that first week, and then I was alone–just Ephraim and me and my confusion.
Ephraim was a perfect newborn. He ate every three hours like clockwork, but each feeding took almost an hour. When he wasn’t nursing, he slept. But I was afraid of nursing in public–over the next few weeks I would get over that–when you’re just figuring out breastfeeding, though, the last thing you want to do is do it in front of other people who may or may not be angry at you for doing so. I had heard so many horror stories around the internet and in the birth clubs about breastfeeding in public. As a result, I felt like I could not go anywhere. (For the record, new breastfeeding Mama who may be reading this: no one has EVER said one negative word to me about nursing any of my three boys in public. So please don’t let that fear keep you homebound.)
Even in the house, though, I was unsure what to do with Ephraim. Was it OK that he was asleep on the main floor and I was upstairs? Or vice versa? Could I step outside without taking him with me? Could I take a shower while he was sleeping? What if he woke up? What if he cries and I don’t hear him? Do I have to keep him with me all the time?
These are all questions I could answer without hesitation, guilt, or anxiety now, but as a first-time mother barely into her role, they puzzled and irked me. I was happy with Ephraim; I was not upset that he was there, that he existed, but still I struggled. I began to realize that it had been far, far easier to carry him around in my belly than to have him out and his own separate person. And I was terrified that I would begin to resent him because I just couldn’t quite figure out how to do life as it was before.
I had heard of the “Baby Blues” but I didn’t really know what they meant.
After the first few weeks of reeling through this mess of anxiety, sort-of-resentment and then horrible guilt, I started to understand. I forced myself to recognize the hormonal upheaval for what it was, and to let go of the guilt it induced, but I also didn’t let myself wander down the mental road of whatever my hormones were wanting to tell me. What I mean is, when I had these thoughts of resentment, I would both remind myself that I was not thinking rationally, and also force myself to think of something else.
And by the time I was about six weeks postpartum, everything started to balance out. I had learned to nurse in public, and I stopped feeling so blindsided by having this little person with me everywhere. I got over the culture shock of the whole thing, and I recovered, of course, from the physical difficulties of the birth. And over the next year, I would quietly message friends I knew that were expecting their first, and warn them that they may have a similar sort of crisis after their babies arrived, but that everything would be OK. I sort of wished someone had done that for me.
And I am relieved to say that I never experienced this sort of turmoil with my other children. Thank goodness.
For the record, I believe wholeheartedly that my struggle following Ephraim’s birth was a combination of normal hormonal wonkiness, the shock of the timing and nature of his birth, and the normal naivete that accompanies any first foray into parenthood. It was NOT postpartum depression, which is not something you can talk yourself out of. If you think you’re suffering from PPD, please seek help–don’t try to do it alone.