Shell-shocked. That was how my OB described postpartum-me. It was like a kind, and loving, slap in the face. My defensive self raged, “What do you MEAN I didn’t handle postpartum like a rockstar?” The rest of me thinks that shell-shocked was probably an understatement.
On paper, my daughter’s birth went exactly how I wanted: quick, and with minimal interventions. My baby was totally healthy. With the exception of some completely normal stitches, so was I. Physically, at least. Mentally? I could have been much worse. Having said that, staying in the hospital an extra day to see a psychiatrist wasn’t really in my plan. I was terrified something would happen to my baby, and that it would be all my fault.
Post-Partum Recovery Challenges
We struggled quite a bit with breastfeeding in those early days. She was a sleepy little thing who wouldn’t stay latched, and I doubt my milk ever really came in. Within the first four days of her life, she lost over a pound and was dehydrated. Daily visits with our lovely lactation consultant did nothing to quell my fears that I wasn’t actually able to provide this baby what she needed, that I was somehow failing as her mother. Despite the fact that I was feeding my baby, and she quickly thrived on formula, I was lost. Even with medication, therapy, and a strong network of supportive family and friends, the fog of my postpartum anxiety and depression did not lift for at least 10 months.
I hadn’t realized the significance at the time, but the seeds of my healing had already been sown. Months before giving birth I had signed up for a session of Mothering Arts. This international movement, with Sebastopol roots, aims to bring mamas and babies together, nourishing and supporting women as they grow in motherhood. In my pre-mama days, meeting up with a random group of women I had met on the Internet would have been far outside my comfort zone. However, there was something in the Facebook ad that had touched a place deep in my soul, and I signed up.
Finding Support Among Other Mothers
About five weeks postpartum, I dragged myself out of my cave, managed to brush my hair, and arrived late to my first class. The other ladies were welcoming, with children ranging from three months to almost a year.
Each week for the next several months, the five of us and our babes would meet at our leader’s house. We would eat delicious and lovingly prepared homemade food, journal, learn from our guest speaker, and generally support each other through this amazing journey. I left feeling cared for, and often a bit emotional. In this circle of women I had a safe place to process my birth story, my totally inexplicable birth PTSD, my feelings about our society’s social constructs of motherhood, and I began to see myself as a mother. Upon what foundations did I want to build my relationship with my daughter? What sort of memories did I want to create with her? Who, exactly, was I becoming? Who did I want to become?
It was there I began my life as a hippie mama in training, a baby wearer, a Waldorf-curious believer in rhythm, a gentle parent, a co-sleeper. It was there my new identity really began to take shape.
To those beautiful, strong, diverse, and loving mamas: thank you for supporting me through that amazing and challenging time. Thank you for holding my hand, and walking with me through those tough first months. Along side mothering your babies, you mothered me. I am deeply appreciative, and forever in your debt.