Dear Prepartum Self,
If I could, I would send you this letter to read before giving birth to try and prepare you for the adjustment to motherhood.
First, it will be hard in ways you never expected. The baby blues will arrive as waves of sadness and be an utter surprise. You’ll hold your beautiful baby and cry, feeling lonely and confused. Adrift.
You’ll blame your emotions on the tiredness from disrupted sleep plus the physical tenderness of recovering from the birth. It’s not until later that you’ll learn that most moms, about four out of five, experience similar blues.
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Your body will feel foreign at first, in between pregnancy and what it was before. You will feel strangely hollow, a blank space in your middle where your baby used to move and hiccup. Even though he’s now in your arms, there is still a loss—odd as that sounds. A comfort existed when he was constantly with you, safe and attended to versus out in the world with a litany of dangers and needs.
Your life will be completely devoted to your baby as his sole source of nourishment and primary care, and it’s not only tiring—having a tiny, helpless human tethered to you—but it upends your very identity. Every bit of your life now revolves around your baby, and in those first few weeks it can feel isolating.
People will visit and you will glow as they coo over your baby, then they will leave and you’ll continue the same rotation of continuous care. Your main orbit has shrunk to that of your home. The brief periods of time when your baby is not in your arms are never enough to do all the things you wish. Household or personal tasks are done in brief spurts, and morning showers are a race against the baby crying to be picked up.
You’ll question if you’re doing things right. Is the baby gaining weight? What if something terrible and stupid happens, like dropping him? You’ll worry, then tell yourself to stop fretting; you don’t want to pass on any anxiety to your baby, so you take deep breaths as you hold him close.
You’ll feel guilty for feeling all of this. You’ll look at your perfect child and feel ashamed for feeling sad, as though you’re selfish or ungrateful. If I could, I’d send you this letter to tell you that it’s OK to feel this way. Of all the changes in your life, this is the biggest. It’s your body, your relationships, and your identity. It’s also the best.
I’d send you this letter to tell you how you’ll make it through those first few weeks of baby blues and physical healing to experience a deep well of joy.
Looking at your sleeping baby, so innocently dependent on you for everything, your heart will melt. You will absolutely marvel to look at his face, drinking in every feature and expression. He is the most beautiful baby you have ever seen, and with wonder you’ll repeat to your spouse, “He’s so perfect. Can you believe it? He’s our baby, our son! We get to see him grow up. We get to see who he’ll become.”
You will swoon as his eyes open for longer periods of time and he interacts more with the world around him. You’ll talk and sing to him. You won’t be able to kiss him enough, because there simply aren’t enough kisses or endearments to show him the depth of your overflowing love.
Being his mama is round-the-clock work, and is a privilege you can scarcely believe you were gifted. You can already see how quickly he’s growing and changing, so the time spent interacting with him and helping his development is treasured. As exhausting and tedious as some moments can be (the cluster feedings, back-to-back diaper changes, and fussiness), you wouldn’t trade it for anything.
You will type up most of this letter on your phone while your baby feeds and sleeps in your arms. You will feel for your younger self, unprepared for the baby blues, your body awash in hormones and terribly tired, and you’ll want to tell her, “It will be OK. You’re not a bad parent for feeling sad, so let go of the guilt. Feel it all, go through it, and know this: The full wave of wonder is coming. You will feel more love than you thought possible for this tiny human. You’ll be so happy. You’ll be so much more than OK.”
Your Postpartum Self