It started when I was pregnant with my first child. That excitement and nervousness broiling in my brain and heart as doctors and family members cooed, planned, and coveted the child growing in me. I don’t blame them. I was doing the very same.
I don’t think I had an inkling then because it wasn’t until my second child that I understood why I felt invisible as soon as the baby left my body. But hindsight is 20/20, so here I am after two wonderfully blessed births of two beautiful baby girls, and I can very clearly see what made me start to feel like I, the mother, ceased to matter or even exist outside my child.
During pregnancy, you are surrounded by people with a vested interest in your health and well-being. Perhaps for the first time in your life, you have a doctor genuinely paying attention to the functions of your body with something other than apathetic, clinical dismissal. They will run all the tests and jump through all the hoops. They will treat your body like a temple because it is holding your very own little miracle inside.
Especially with your first pregnancy, your husband and family might pamper you and treat you like you are beautiful, unique, and doing something truly remarkable, which you are! So, throughout the lengthy process of growing life, while your body changes in distressingly endless ways around you, there are few doubts that you are seen in your mind. After all, you get to sit first when chairs are scarce. Strangers show interest in how far along you are and about the sex of the baby. You get to hold a special party to celebrate the birth — reminiscent of childhood birthday celebrations and wedding showers — where you are at the heart of it all.
These are the moments where you are seen.
Now, fast-forward to the birth and hopefully the blessed health of both mother and child. From the moment the baby is on your breast, it is almost instantly noticeable that all doctors, your spouse, your family, and even you have lost interest in anything going on with the mother’s body. You enter recovery covered in the joy of new life, but with a niggling sense of unmet expectations. That sensation grows, fertilized by sleepless nights and a body hurting from bloody nipples to insanely itchy stitches.
You try to figure out what is wrong beyond the pain, the body you don’t recognize, the sudden crushing weight of responsibility for the life in your hands, and the extreme wash of hormonal emotions from ecstatic to inconsolable. It took me a long time looking back through what was very likely a postpartum depressed haze to realize an unpleasant truth: Women are dropped like hot potatoes as soon as they give birth.
People will still coo, but it will not be at you, but toward the bundle of life and joy, you could no longer even imagine living without. For you, they may think to offer condolences for the exhausted shadows under your eyes. Two days after birth, the mother strives to find her equilibrium and is tasked with carting a newborn for the first check-up. But, again, nothing here is about you, and more than likely, you don’t even care. Yet.
However, it all adds up. The baby’s sudden and seemingly endless needs superseding the mother’s presents a genuine challenge in a family unit to find balance. In addition, new mothers struggle with the expectation of giving up any sense of me or I so they can fit this baby-shaped piece of themselves back into their identity now that the actual baby is out in the world.
If this sounds super selfish, I do not apologize. This maelstrom of loneliness and invisibility is how I felt that first go-round with baby number one. I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in having thought and felt in this way. To be clear, I would not change my motherhood in any way.
I am so very thankful for the two daughters I adore. But, I will fight tooth and nail to protect this hard-won realization: A new mother’s mental and physical health matters just as much as their baby’s. We need to support our new mothers better. We need to see deeper than the tired shell to the true woman we knew before pregnancy and then strive to help these two strangers unite into one whole, new person.
We should be helping new mothers connect with their new lives to allow them to develop solid and healthy relationships with their new baby bundles. They need us.
Helping can be as simple as listening. As simple as a hug at the right time. It could mean going shopping for new clothes that fit a new body and supporting how that makes a mommy feel. It could be as easy as sitting with the mother for more than a quick pat on the baby’s head, but to really listen and relate and console to what is happening in her life. It could be as clear as hearing the lie in, “I’m fine,” and not waiting to be asked for help. No matter what, the first step will always be the easiest: see her.