When I last reflected on parenthood and what it would mean for my life, I was deep in the throes of prenatal misery. I felt like an alien on planet ‘womban’; a mystical place where beautiful, valuable beings with uteruses were physically, mentally, and emotionally stretched over the course of 10 grueling months. While stretching, they were expected to experience deep fulfilling joy, rock a naturally dewy glow, and lean into the notion that their life’s work was complete.
I felt none of that shit.
Giving birth two months early didn’t help my case. It was actually terrible. The 300+ days that followed my son’s birth were a funhouse of emotions that can only be explained as wrenching (heart, soul, mind, gut…).
For folks who’ve decided that parenthood isn’t in their future, this may seem like a moment of affirmation for your decision to remain childless. But alas, I cannot confirm (nor deny) that you’ve made the right choice. Although the general tone of this message skews negative, I want to talk about the rebirth that happened after the birth.
I’m not referring to the placenta. I’m talking about the deliverance that is postpartum existentialism. For so many people, having a child is an incredibly isolating experience. Because I had been heavily conditioned to take parenting for granted — something you do when you’re following the script of life — I never considered the complete internal combustion that birth initiates. Having my son cracked me wide open (no pun intended). My come-to-Jesus cycle mirrored the 5 stages of grief. Shortly after my birth, I experienced a blissful period of denial. It was easy to deny that my life was about to be upended. After all, I had a newborn baby in the NICU that I went back and forth to visit. During that 2 month period, my husband and I had full nights of sleep, we moved around as we pleased (while on parental leave), and spent most of our time preparing our new home for our baby. In hindsight, it makes sense that I thought life was going to go back to normal quickly, I had a 2 month ‘break’ from what my life was about to become.
One of the most surprising things about my postpartum experience was how angry I felt about the drastic changes that came with new parenthood. There were none of the romantic feelings that so many people described. Quite the opposite, I was mad at the changes, mad at the sacrifice, mad at my naïveté about what this would be. My rage scared me. It tricked me into thinking that this is what I would always feel. People don’t feel like this about the new baby that they wanted and planned for, I thought. Every time I had this thought, I would cycle through guilt > shame > sadness. None of which are particularly helpful when nursing a new baby and trying to hold a new marriage together in a new home.
Bargaining came next. I told myself that if I could just get through the days, I would make it to the evenings. The evenings promised short stints of respite where I could be free from this shackle, and completely untether myself from this weight. But alas, each time I made the bargain, there was the realization that the night would end and that I would be responsible for the care of this human weight in just a few short hours. A cycle that led to painful, dark anxiety.
That anxiety snowballed into depression. In hindsight, I was incredibly depressed for the full year after my son’s birth. I don’t think I acknowledged the weight of that depression because I was in survival mode. I knew that I had to survive for this baby and that I had to show up to my parenting job every single day. So I carried out all of my tasks diligently but I used numbing agents at night to escape the painful question that always buzzed in the back of my mind: how did I get here?
When winter began, so did the reckoning. The understanding that absents a chemical imbalance, some of this pain was completely self-inflicted. The problem became clear: I was suffering through a season but I had convinced myself that this was a permanent existence.
Every postpartum journey looks different, but it is very likely that the look and feel of that journey will change to make space for a new season. Even though parenting won’t necessarily get easier, the taxing demands of a newborn baby would. What I needed was clarity of perspective. I would not feel the weight of this life-altering change forever. Parenting was permanent, but this sadness wouldn’t be. My journey reminded me that for many people, motherhood blooms like a flower — closed off, desperate for survival, and unsure at first, but opening up to reveal something beautifully unique with the appropriate time, nurturing, and support. I didn’t receive these messages at first — either because I was too committed to being miserable as a new mom, or because many moms are afraid to say things like it took me a year to accept, lean in, and love this experience.
I’m one week away from day 365, post-birth. But I feel like I’m just stepping into day 1 of my rebirth. I am just now delivering myself into the type of motherhood I romanticized from Instagram. I’m not ashamed to say that I’m obsessed with my baby boy’s smile. I have a deep desire to know him more, to learn more about myself through him, and to immerse myself in his beautifully imaginative world. I’m still me, which means I still deal with anxiety and I still need quiet time to refill my highly sensitive cup. But I don’t need to numb out anymore, I lean into the privilege of experiencing the range of emotions that come with mothering.
What I wish I knew 365 days ago is that my process, no matter how turbulent or windy, was necessary and temporary. There were times when I couldn’t see peace in the distance, but I’m so glad that I looked into my son’s eyes one day and finally found it.