I had a dream the other night about a brand-new mother in some nebulous ancient culture being showered with immense love, affection, celebration, and tender care. Flowered garlands and feet massaged in oil abounded. Certainly, attention was also paid to the small child, but much of the community in this dream was tending to the mama, for she had just endured a life-changing (blessed) upheaval but was now focused solely, not on herself, but on tending to her little one.
The mother, lest we forget, upon becoming so, has just undertaken something that even the most scientific and even the most spiritual among us cannot fully grasp. The creation and delivery of a new life. Something so significant and yes, also ubiquitous and ordinary, but no less awe-inspiring and altering. She has just brought life into the world through her body; has just endured a pain so searing and excruciating that it would eventually be blocked from her psyche so that she might choose to do it again; has just been flooded and emptied and flooded once more with hormones that would swing her moods from soaring highs to guttural lows; has possibly had her belly sliced open and organs set aside or her vagina cut with a scalpel and re-stitched; has been given Pitocin, epidurals, antibiotics oh my!; has gone through hours of stalled labor; has had a baby with jaundice, high heart-rate, low birthweight, or any number of frightening scenarios to add to the already intense experience of labor and delivery. Has, after nine months of waiting and knowing so little, abruptly, startlingly, become a mother. The mother has been through a lot.
And in my dream, the family, the community, tends to her and takes care of her, meets her needs to the best of their ability, whatever that means for her, so that she can then take care of her child.
This doesn’t always happen, well-meaning as most of us are. I was guilty of this myself before I became pregnant. We ask, how is the baby? What’s the news with the baby? Can we hold your baby? We want to visit you in the hospital and engage in small talk for a couple hours about the baby! Let’s hear more about the baby!
But what about the mother? People don’t want to hear that you are struggling with hormonal shifts and baby blues and a wrecked body and complete and utter exhaustion. People almost don’t seem to care or at least are very put off by the whole thing. Perhaps it is because we remain, culturally, terrified of vulnerability and the murky shadow side.
After getting to know many fellow new moms over the past few months and sharing our stories with each other, this seems all too common. It is completely understandable that friends and family are going to be eager to meet and greet the new child, but the mother is often forgotten, and left in the corner of her messy house feeling guilty that she’s not more up or excited or eager to have visitors or take a walk around the block or grab a bite at the nearby restaurant. She’s not sleeping, and I mean truly absolutely not sleeping. She’s stressed over breastfeeding. She’s tending to her swollen, torn, bleeding body. And she’s already wondering, how will I get my figure back? All the while, still, trying to please you.
The answer to this is not, well yeah, that’s how it is in the beginning. Deal with it.
The answer is, I totally get it. You’re doing great. We’re here for you. Keep going.
I had lunch with a fellow new mom recently, and we both agreed, while chuckling of course and understanding that none of us is perfect and people really do mean well, that this is what new moms want in those early weeks: warm food dropped off and twenty minute visits (we know you want to meet and get to know our little one, but there’s plenty of time for that; let us catch our breaths), but if you do plan to overstay, why not clean those dishes and maybe throw in a load of laundry? We want a shower or a nap while you hold the baby and a new pair of (cheap) leggings to fit our post-partum body, not another onesie that our newborn will never wear and that will subsequently be re-gifted or donated or shoved into the back of the closet to add to the rest of the new-mom life clutter. We’d gladly take a case of water bottles and some snacks to keep at our bedside table. Hey, we’d appreciate some accolades or words or encouragement – you’re doing a great job! and we’re proud of you! – can go a long way. Or we want to be asked, how are you feeling?, and if we answer, I’m struggling, this is hard, I’m exhausted, to be treated with compassion, and if you’ve been through it, deep knowing. Or, we just want to be left alone. That is its own peaceful showing of love.
Struggling in the beginning, or at any time really, doesn’t mean we don’t love our child or we’re not grateful or we can’t wait to traipse down this new path with our kid, wide-eyed and in wonder. We just want some understanding that pregnancy, labor, delivery, and the fourth trimester are incredibly, overwhelmingly volatile and anyone who says otherwise is lying, zero percent neurotic, or blessed with some unicorn angel baby who doesn’t cry, breastfeeds like a pro, and sleeps at least five hours in a row from day one.
The way I love my son is somewhat ineffable; alas, I will try – it is a deep in the belly, transcendent, almost terrifying sort of love. It is the sweetest, sweetest thing. And I also really enjoy being a mom. I like the responsibility and the domesticity and the closeness. I like the tiny clothes and the reading of ridiculous books and taking a shared bath and pumping breast milk. I like experimenting with what might help him sleep better or all through the night or make him laugh or soothe him when he’s crying. I like cradling him and rubbing his head and making up songs and taking stroll after stroll. I don’t really mind the laundry or the bottle cleaning. I can (usually) get by on five hours of sleep. I look forward to being tuned in to my child and supporting him as much as I can in becoming the best version of himself. I feel lucky that I like all of this and am all in.
But the first two weeks were brutal. The next two weeks were somewhat less brutal, but still so hard. And on it goes, a jagged line of good days and great days and super difficult days. Joining a new mom’s group and being in a couple of different group texts with fellow new moms and fellow sober moms gave me a place to take my summoned courage and tell the truth, and in return, be told the truth. I learn everyday from these women – how to share the joy and the challenge.
I appreciate the lessons that come as life continues along it’s cyclical course. When we become parents, oh how we begin to have more forgiveness and understanding for our own parents. I remember once when I was young, I asked my mom around Mother’s Day, how come there is no Kids Day? She smiled and replied, every day is Kid’s Day. And so true, and even more so for the lucky children who grow up in functional and deeply loving homes. Children, when parented well and blessed with good health, get to be blissfully, unapologetically irresponsible and carefree. Mothers? Fathers? The responsibilities and concerns are endless, and yet deeply rewarding. But in the beginning – teetering on too big.
So throw that friend of yours who has just had a baby, a mother shower, whether that looks like delivering flowers and kind words or sweeping her kitchen floor and bedroom or leaving her the hell alone and understanding she’ll return your text in a few weeks. Tend to her. She is sacred. And someday she might be you.