Before commencing the intrepid journey nick-named the Fourth Trimester (the first 4-6 weeks after your baby is born), new mothers-to-be can find themselves deluged with cautionary warnings about the imminent and permanent personal transformations looming around the corner … “Yes, yes…I’ve been told already” you might have muttered under your breath, “I’ve investigated, postulated and fumigated. I’m organised you see. I believe I am ready and prepared for what lies ahead of me”. But “Ha!” say the doubting girlfriends who went before us.
Why is it that nearly all experienced mothers know, that new mothers-to-be, can never really comprehend the almightiness of their changes ahead? Simple: Every journey is utterly unique. No two paths the same. Just as girlfriends couldn’t really prepare for their own new-mother experiences, they knew we were unable to predict ours.
However, there are similarities between all our individual journeys – parallels and likenesses that connect mothers to each other – of that we are extremely aware: Coffee or wine with the girlfriends on a Friday afternoon can open this Pandora’s Box:
- Natural Birth is painful: Before birth we have gotten the picture that pain is involved – but it really, really hurts! If the pain from an infected tooth rates as a ‘3’, and being disemboweled alive rates as a ‘10’, then let us pat ourselves on the back that we just may have endured an ‘8’ or a ‘9’. But if you didn’t have a ‘natural’ birth, don’t feel cheated. You don’t need to experience natural childbirth to be a fabulous mother!
- Arriving home is freaky: When you walk into your home with your newborn for the first time, it is like everything in the Universe has tilted slightly … Your house is now a family home; your partner is now the father of your child in some new triangular relationship; and you yourself categorically are definitely an adult now, as you have moved up a generation from daughter to mother. Collectively it produces the strangest feeling of tentative uncertainty. Crikey, the responsibility of parenting is scary!
- Breastfeeding is a Solo Endurance Test: We all dream that our lactation experience will be akin to the Madonna with child, and for a lucky minority this does occur. Then for others of us, heck there can be blistered, cracked and bleeding nipples, painful engorgement, blocked ducts, mastitis, and the crowning glory, a breast abscess. Experts espouse that much of this “discomfort” (the medical profession’s most under-exaggerated adjective) is preventable, and retrospectively hindsight will often agree – but at the time, we fiercely independent strong Kiwi women don’t ask for enough help, or can’t locate enough help, and many of us struggle through an intensely lonely battle.
- Life can suck as a Milking Machine: I have learnt, that 2-3 weeks after childbirth, for many of us some strange moment of jading clarity occurs, when we realize that we don’t like feeling as if we’re some unappreciated cross between a milking-machine and a washing-machine. We are leaking sweat, tears, milk, blood and urine; and for a moment in time, we really want our old life back.
- Loneliness can be drowning: It must be acknowledged that it is not ‘natural’ for babies to be raised primarily by one person who’s alone all day. Intense loneliness is a very bad space to be in, but the dilemma has a solution – mixing with other mothers. Seeking out empathetic companionship over coffee with other mothers can be incredibly healing and cathartically uplifting.
- Depression is rampant: After having a baby, later down the track you may begin to comprehend that there are a lot of clinically unhappy mothers getting by through ensuring positive outward appearances. For those that experience first-hand the insidious blackness of post-natal depression, their insight becomes one of great compassion and respect for their sisters who endure this cerebral chemical imbalance – which is by the way very medically curable.
- Most men don’t get it: Women without children don’t get it, so how can we realistically expect our men to get it? Some men can be adoringly tender in the early days, but not all. Their primal drive is to be is our hero, our knight in shining armor. So give your man the space too he needs in those first weeks to discover the daunting identity of his new role. Remember, one of the best lines you can say to your man is “It’s not your fault”.
- Intuition is essential: Using instinctive maternal intuition is not just important in motherhood, it actually becomes a crucial necessity and fundamentally indispensable. Ignore it at your peril! But I don’t need to teach you that, as we each learn that lesson the hard way.
- Women are amazing creatures: Wow, heck yes! Our uterus grows babies, our body births babies, and our breasts nourish babies. That’s a miraculous privilege, and a repressive yoke. Like sweet-and-sour, or yin-and-yang, most women feel bondage adjoining their bonding. Nevertheless, it is a humbling honour to be the giver of Life, and doing so always seems to increase a woman’s spirituality at some level.
- Love is a Mother: This is the all-embracing realisation striking you like the apple landing on Isaac Newton’s head, that perfect mothering requires perpetual selfless and enthusiastic dedication – oh heck, maybe you won’t be able to deliver that level of service! But it’s not about being the perfect mother, and if that is your goal you’ll drive yourself nuts. Maternal Love is about being a good enough mother, one who knows she’s human, and subsequently imperfect, and can forgive herself (love herself) when she stuffs it up … because you will stuff it up, over and over, we all do. Love is a Mother … and somewhere in the hours, or days, or weeks after childbirth, we realise we would sacrifice our own life for our precious child. Perhaps that is motherhood’s greatest gift to women, being able to experience the intensity of authentic pure devotion.
At the moment of every birth (particularly one’s first), an ethereal bomb explodes, and no one can predict where all the shrapnel of one’s previously prized persona will end up. Eventually we manage to glue ourselves back together to resemble a fairly close facsimile of our pre-motherhood person. But life post-baby is the stuff that crystal balls are made up of … particles of semi-precious gem bonded together that eventually provide divine wisdom!