Look at me. Smiling in this picture. Smiling in every picture I post. Smiling in all the words I write. Bliss. Motherhood is pure, heart expanding gladness. I have never known love like this before. I can’t count the amount of time I’ve spent staring at this child with a beautiful ache in my chest. Each day I am amazed: The way his little eyes take in the world–so intently curious, fascinated with everything. The way he raises his eyebrows in surprise at people, reflections of himself, new textures and sounds. The softness of his skin or fuzziness of his hair. New sounds he makes, words he forms that he doesn’t know he is saying. I spend hours trying new ways to make him smile. I spend more moments then I can count with tears of gratitude in my eyes. How did I get to be so lucky to have this little soul come into my life?
I was blessed with an easy pregnancy. No morning sickness, a feeling of vibrant health and beauty, a glow, an excitement, a feeling like I was a walking miracle. Pregnancy was the most beautiful experience in my life, and I was so ready for him to be born. He was 10 days late. Labor was hard. Really, really hard and nothing like I had planned. Nothing like the beautiful births that preceded ours from our friends or the other expectant parents in our birthing class. It was messy, scary, and life changing. For three months afterwards, I couldn’t talk or write about it without involuntarily shaking. I’m still amazed that he made it earthside alive. I’m still amazed at his strength. My heart hurts when I look at the pictures of those first days–how his little face is twisted in pain. Must have been a serious headache.
We left the hospital the next day. I still remember the fear and anxiety. I still remember wondering, “If we leave, then who will be there to take care of me?” It’s a selfish thought, I know. But at the time, I was weak and bleeding and in pain and running on adrenaline only.
Luckily, we’ve been blessed with an easy baby. He rarely cries. He is content, happy, healthy and a joy to have in our lives. Even still, this has been one of the hardest times in my life.
I bled bright red for 7 weeks post-partum. Friends and family and even one of our midwives said, “Try not doing as much. Rest more. Don’t do so many chores.” But I was more still than I have ever been in my life. There were no outings, there was barely any housework-save for a load of daily laundry, and I had stocked the freezer full at the end of my pregnancy.
For months, just the thought of going to the grocery store seemed like a trek to Everest. I was just so tired. Beyond exhausted. For the first 5 months, I chalked it up to the hours in the night I spent not sleeping. My baby nurses like a newborn. 8:00-8:30 is bedtime, top off at 10ish, awake around midnight, 2:00, 2:40, 4:00ish, 4:55. Up for the day in between 5:30 and 6:15. Almost every night. I’ve never been a good nap taker. This here is good reason to be tired.
But not this tired. Not heavy head and weighted eyelids, airy fuzz feeling pulsing through your veins. Not stand up and nearly faint. Not cut every corner cleaning (both myself and house); I draw the line at maintaining hygiene for my son. Not too tired to think about getting more than one or two things a day done. I used to teach high school, rode my bike to work, trained for and ran a marathon, taught 3 yoga classes and waitressed on Friday and Saturday nights. All of that took a lot of energy. I’ve never slept more than 6-7 hours of sleep a night.
So what gives?
When you go in for your six week post-partum check-up, they hand you a questionnaire. Maybe I wasn’t completely honest about my energy & interest levels. But the two scary questions: Have you ever had thoughts of harming your baby or yourself? were an emphatic no. No I would never do anything to harm this child, and because this child relies on my body for his survival, no I cannot hurt myself. The love I have for my son is beyond any love I have ever known, beyond any love I could have guessed at, is deeper than the ocean and just as constant, and wider than the horizon. I would do anything for him. Cliche? Yes, but true. Anything. Even learn to finally be kind to my body, even make it through the days and sleepless nights, even give every ounce of life and vitality I’m not sure I have to make sure that he is happy and healthy and strong.
It’s the love that keeps me going. Because I do not feel strong. Only in the last two weeks have I forced myself to really run again on a regular basis. Running is hard when I feel like I will give birth to my insides after only two miles, but afterwards I feel more alive. I’m pushing for yoga a few times a week too. And writing more. Things I didn’t previously feel I had the energy to do.
I’m starting to come back to life. Breathing life into my weary bones by doing what I used to do before I gave birth to a life outside mine. Maybe these last few months my body’s been in shock. Maybe I’ve been mourning losing the life that once was mine. Maybe postpartum depression is about more than thoughts or desires to hurt yourself or your child. I think so.
I’m just learning that I can do both. Be a full time mother and run, write, teach yoga, cook real meals from scratch, create, make, hike, connect to others, be open about all that I’ve been feeling, accept their lifeline. It just takes more work. I’m relearning how to do everything I did for 34 years alone while caring for this child.
Run? Yes, but do so tired and pushing a stroller. Write in bursts throughout the day during nap time. Do yoga with your child on your mat underneath you practicing his own tummy-time. Meditate while nursing. Cook while showing him colors and smells of vegetables. Paint while wearing him and dancing to miss tiny hands dipped in color. Put your phone on speaker and call your own mother. I don’t have the luxury of alone time. Not yet. Maybe one day. For now these small steps are of great help.
And I’m writing them here in hopes that maybe this will help another new mom. If it’s you–don’t wait to reach out for help. Any help you can. It doesn’t mean you aren’t a great mother. You can be sad and still love your son or daughter. You can dance in between elation and rage, your heart can sink in sorrow and soften with care. Postpartum depression and long term sleep deprivation have similar symptoms. I’m still learning this. But I also think that what I’ve been feeling is more than the exhaustion from lost sleep since each day I’m starting to feel a little more alive.