Okay, I’m going to share some secrets about what goes on behind closed doors. Before pregnancy, no one tells women that there are going to be a lot of tears. All they see are the groups of shining skinny women pushing strollers (complete with a sleeping baby) along the road, Starbucks cup in hand, laughing. What they don’t see is the anxiety, the tears, the loneliness, and the loss that women can experience as a result of this enormous change in their lives.
I’m glad pregnancy is nine months long. It takes that long to work through the issues that crop up...family boundaries, financial pressures, relationship issues, old wounds, loss of mobility, body image, career choices, birth worries... Women look to their baby’s birth as the end of the process, only to find out that it’s just the beginning. Then all the same issues resurface, in addition to a general sense of loss and loneliness...oh, and a crying baby.
Then I get the phone calls. Three or four women a week call me to say they are sitting in a puddle of tears, surrounded by crumpled tissues. They ask, “Is this okay? Is there anyone else feeling this way?” Oh, my goodness, yes...most everyone! The problem is that we’re all sitting in our houses, alone and apart.
Our support network of coworkers is gone (and I thought I hated to go to work!), our partners may be at work (so mad at them for going to work!), the house needs cleaning (isn’t that what I’m supposed to do to justify staying at home?), the laundry is piling up (who knew babies could generate so much), and people keep visiting and visiting (expecting me to make tea as they dole out their unsolicited advice.)
I’m tired and anxious just reading what I wrote!
When my daughter was born, my mum only lived a block away. She would come by each morning, ironed clothes in a basket, ready to clean my house, prepare the meals, and leave. I can’t believe that she didn’t say anything about what I should be doing, how I should be holding the baby, what she wanted. She would just kiss me and leave. Wow! She was everything I needed. But I still needed help.
Then, an amazing woman forced me to attend a mum’s postpartum support group. “It’s Wednesday at 10am. Be there, clothed or not!” Once there, my daughter promptly threw up all over me. If I’d been at home, I would probably have cried over the loss of the milk that I’d worked so hard to get into her little body. But, surrounded by all the women, who were reaching out to me with towels, blankets, and tissues, I just had to laugh. That day, I sat next to the woman who would become my best friend. We have had lots of tea and tears and walks since that day in 1983.
Twenty years later, she said, “I wouldn’t have made it through these years without you. I wouldn’t have stopped in the middle of the day, and taken time for myself without your encouragement. I wouldn’t have sat down and read a book during my baby’s nap time, without you phoning me and telling me to SIT DOWN. I felt I had to account for every moment that I wasn’t out working or cleaning the house, or preparing meals for the family.”
Where did this mother-guilt come from?
Maybe I’m just a lazy thing, but I believe we need to be guilt-free about giving time to ourselves as mothers. We need to set firm boundaries with our extended families, to selfishly protect our new small family. We need to allow ourselves to take a nap, stop for tea, read a good book, take a slow walk, care for ourselves. We need to listen to our bodies and our wisdom, and honour our intellect and our intuition.
We need to ask for help from the community of women around us. We need to open our doors and gather, so we can sit in one big puddle of tears and laughter...together.