Back to normal?
I once went to a Pilates workshop designed to get participants “back in touch” with their postpartum bodies. The women in the class were in the throes of the newborn period — only a month or so postpartum, in most cases.
They looked exhausted, but hopeful that things would get better. I was probably about a year into being a mother.
The instructor looked over at me. “Shannon, why don’t you tell us about your experience? You’re further along than everyone else. How are things going for you?”
I know I was supposed to be the ray of hope in the classroom — the woman the others could look at and say, “I’ll be calm and collected like her in just a few more months!”
But I couldn’t play my role.
Although I certainly felt better than I did when I was caring for my colicky, screaming-all-night newborn, I still felt off-kilter. Maybe a little stunned. Clearly in the middle of a “process” that was going to last for years and years.
“Wow, I don’t know — it’s been about a year, and I still feel like I’m in the postpartum period!”
The other women looked dismayed, and I felt like I’d broken a code — like when you give your pregnant friend a detailed description of your harrowing birth experience and destroy her peace of mind.
Expectations meet reality
I imagine most women probably enter into motherhood with a fair amount of hope. This was certainly the case for me. I think it’s safe to say I was much more starry-eyed the first time around: “I will give birth painlessly in a tub of water and breastfeed languidly in a sea of white linens!”
After an experience that didn’t meet my expectations, I was much more pragmatic with baby No. 2:
“I will request an epidural when I want it and supplement with formula if he’s not gaining any weight.”
But pragmatism aside, I still had hopes and expectations for the experience of having a second child.
I hoped he wouldn’t be colicky. I expected the postpartum period would be difficult, but I imagined I’d be better equipped to handle it since I was a “veteran.”
Conventional wisdom seemed to back up this expectation. Although many observers are fond of saying, “Two isn’t just twice as much work, it’s 10 times as much work,” others are quick to point out that the second time around isn’t as hard because you kind of know what to expect.
A fundamental change
At first, it was all about logistics: I struggled to keep my 2-year-old occupied while I was nursing the baby. I tried to time naps so they’d coincide with conference calls (often failing miserably).
I dragged my toddler kicking and screaming out of the middle of the road where she had dashed in a huff after we turned the “wrong” way on the sidewalk.
Eventually the maneuvering of two became easier, and I waited for the feelings of self-satisfaction to settle in.
But they never arrived.
Even though I was finally getting more sleep, finally feeling less bloated, finally reading a book now and then — I still didn’t feel like I was “back to normal.”
And I think this is because I realized that, on some level, I’ll never be back to normal (and I’m not just talking about my abs).
Caring for a child is a life-altering experience, one that tends to shift your priorities and take some getting used to.
If the postpartum period is all about getting acclimated to parenthood, maybe we could admit this is an ongoing process — one that extends far beyond the six-week checkup or the day our maternity leave runs out.