I remember sitting in my breastfeeding class, eight months pregnant, listening to the lactation consultant talk about how hard having a newborn is on a marriage. That the sheer exhaustion of it all will cause you to snap at your spouse. That after the natural high of labor and delivery wears off, you’ll freak out thinking you’ve ruined your lives by having a baby.
My husband and I are solid, I remember thinking. We’ve been through two deployments to Afghanistan and we always come out the other side stronger than before. Like I said, solid. Ford truck tough. Afghanistan versus our beautiful baby boy? No contest, right?… Right?
What a naive shit I am.
I underestimated my own emotional and physical transformation, big time.
Of course people warned me. Told me their horror stories. I read everything I could get my hands on, downloaded every pregnancy app on my phone, signed up for every class our hospital offered. I was going to study the shit out of motherhood and totally ace this. I even got my placenta encapsulated in hopes that I would replenish my body with the hormones I would so suddenly lose. I was prepared to look postpartum in the eye and say, Fuck off. I’ve got this.
Again, what a naive shit I am.
Growing up in a culture that only seemed to value a woman if she was pretty and skinny, I’ve struggled with my physical changes. And when I say “struggled”, I mean it has been a daily mindfuck. I have wept like I was mourning the loss of a loved one. I have cursed myself while staring into the mirror, naked, poking my fat, analyzing every stretch mark. The white shiny kind that sneak in on your body, whispering that things are starting to change. That there’s a baby growing inside of you. Then there are the dark, angry, crater-like stretch marks that they almost seem like they want to rip right open from the pressure of carrying your baby. The dark ones are the worst. Not just because they light up your body like the bright lights of Vegas, screaming for attention, but because they point straight down, drawing my eyes to a different scar. I run my fingers over it, the opening that birthed my baby, reminding me of the horror of the last 40 minutes of labor when my body couldn’t do its first job as a mother: deliver him safely.
So they sliced me open and pulled him from me. And even though I was numb from anesthesia, I could feel them yank and pull him from me. Leaving a sucking emptiness where he once lived inside of me. An emptiness that was only filled when I heard him cry for the first time. My husband and I looking at each other, laughing and crying at the same time. So relieved. So happy.
Everyone tells me it takes time, and to go easy on myself. To mourn the outcome of the birth that I didn’t want, or expect. The birth that left me feeling mutilated and like a failure. The burning pain of the stitches that kept me from being able to reach for my crying baby in the hospital, and weeks afterwards once we were home. And underneath all of this, is the insatiable wanting for my old body back. I promise this doesn’t come from a superficial place. I promise. I just want something that fits me, that looks like me, that helps me feel normal; because maybe if it happens outwardly, my mind will follow. Because right now, I’m not who I was and the new identity of “Mom” just doesn’t seem to fit quite yet. I’m still too new at this. I’m still learning.
Sometimes I’ll voice my insecurities about my physical appearance to my husband, and he’ll just shake his head and tell me I’m beautiful, and I silence him by telling him he doesn’t understand–it’s not his body. He’ll look down momentarily, defeated, and then look back up into my eyes. Searching. Wondering where I went. If I’ll come back to him. If the woman he fell in love with and married will ever come back to him. And I’ll have to look away, because I can’t meet his gaze. I can’t give him an answer, because I don’t know where she is either. But if I had to guess, she’s probably at The Walrus, singing “Pour Some Sugar On Me” into her Blueberi Stoli. Shit, she was fun, wasn’t she? Beautiful, too. Ah, the days before pregnancy. Before the dimples on my ass went rogue and multiplied.
So where do you go from here? The place that only silence can create, widening the distance between you and your husband. And you’ll think, for a brief second, that this is what kills marriages. This will be it for us if I can’t fix this. Fix me. Find me.
And it will all seem hopeless for a while, until one night, in between feedings, you’ll wake up and reach for your husband like you used to, and he’ll open his arms to you without question. It will feel safe there. It will feel like you just took a breath for the first time in weeks. You’ll forget all the mean things you said to yourself that day and just let your husband love you. Love you the way he has been trying to do for days. For weeks. He’ll ask you if you’re okay, and you’ll say yes, because you will be. You will be.
And even though he’s never left your side, you’ll tell him you missed him. So, so much. And he’ll understand, because he missed you, too. He missed you, too.
Related post: The New Dad’s Guide to Surviving Your Wife