new mom

Sticks and Stones

I’ve heard so much lately, “I suffered from Postpartum.” “My girlfriend is really struggling, I think she might have Postpartum.” “I had Postpartum with my second child.” Postpartum is not something you have, it’s not something you can suffer from. Postpartum simply means that you just had a baby. That’s it. Postpartum is a stage in the childbearing year. It does not in any sense of the word mean that you are suffering from Postpartum Depression. And here’s why this matters:

All mamas need support postpartum. All mamas, all daddies, all partners, and often all older siblings. Postpartum is the time after the baby is born that things seem crazy, out of whack, completely different, new, and maybe kinda scary. These feelings are normal, expected, and none of them mean something is “wrong”. The postpartum period often includes the "baby blues," again totally normal, and again nothing is wrong. If we put too much weight into the word, "Postpartum" itself, it makes something totally normal and expected seem like something that needs to be treated or fixed.

Postpartum does not mean Postpartum Depression or Postpartum Anxiety. These two are perinatal mood disorders and are not simply the time after you’ve had the baby. Mamas who fall into this category may need more support than mamas not suffering. However, (and I’ll beat this point over the head until it’s unconscious) postpartum mamas - all postpartum mamas - need support.

That support comes in many forms, food for the new family, help with the laundry, holding the baby so mama can shower and get the baby poop breast milk smell off herself. It also means having people around who are supportive and loving so the mama can say, “This is hard.” “I’m exhausted, and I can’t even find my slippers much less that $70 nursing bra I was so excited to use. (Probably wouldn’t fit anyway, what with my boobs the size of cantalopes.)”

We need to connect so other mamas know that their partner isn’t the only idiot in the world who, for some reason, has recently lost the ability to recognize the trash is full and needs to go out and the dog hasn’t had an actual walk since the child was born, but somehow you’re the only one who’s aware of that? Not sleeping is frustrating, and being a milk machine is frustrating, and baby poop on everything is frustrating, and bottle washing is frustrating, and my haircut is frustrating, and the toddler’s loud breathing is frustrating, and whose idea was this anyway?! That, my friends is postpartum.

Partners and grandparents and well-meaning neighbors have all become stuck in thinking the word “postpartum” somehow means a mama is suffering from a mood disorder. No, she’s suffering from being in the fourth trimester of a pregnancy. She’s suffering from all the frustrations mentioned above. Ok, maybe not the haircut, but most of the other things. Support is necessary. So, if mama says she’s going to “Postpartum Support Group” don’t wig and call the therapist - be thankful she’s going - then she can get all her frustration out and come home feeling more human.

If, on the other hand, a mama is suffering from Postpartum Depression or Anxiety, it’s no big deal. She needs the same support, just a little extra. She may need a visit to a doctor on top of support group, she may need extra sleep, or more time to herself. But let’s make sure to stop - all new parents are in the postpartum phase, and that is in no way a heavy word - it’s just what it is. Help the new parents in your world by lending a hand or an ear or some arms to hold an infant. Let the new parents know they aren’t alone, and if they are suffering, they don’t have to suffer alone. And if the mama is your partner and she seems to need a little extra help, educate yourself and don’t make her feel broken. She’s not broken, she’s exhausted and that fourth trimester is a bitch.

YAWN.

Parenting a new infant is something else. It’s really just Something Else. It’s so difficult to explain to non-parents exactly what it’s like to bring home a tiny helpless human whose wellbeing is your sole responsibility. Plus you can’t get over the fact that there’s a tiny person here that is yours. As in your kid, your baby, yours forever and ever.

And when you bring the baby home, you have no idea what to do with it. You have to feed it all the time, and then it sleeps. But it won’t sleep in the bassinet, it won’t sleep in the bouncy thing your cousin Suzy swears by, it won’t sleep in it’s crib, or that doc-a-whatever, or the co-sleeper or ANYWHERE BUT ON YOUR CHEST!! And you think, this can’t be right. There’s just no way that all these people all over the world who have tiny infants just hold them all the time. How do they do things like eat, or bathe, or I don’t know, pee?

Truth be told, our infants as humans are born severely underdeveloped. And I mean that in the nicest way. They are literally born these premature little creatures when compared to other primate babies. This means their brains continue to develop at embryonic rates for a year after birth. Did you hear me people? Embryonic rates. Embryonic.

Why is this so, you may ask. Well it’s pretty simple. When we began to walk upright our pelvises had to change to accommodate this new modality. The pelvis became smaller and therefore the birth canal could no longer accommodate a fully formed head. Enter evolution and babies being born earlier in gestation and that means for a year after birth they’re completely not gestated. (Ok, gestated is ridiculous and I get that, but you catch my drift.)

So think of it this way - the damn thing should still be inside you. In its hot tub, floating around with food and drink on demand, being lulled to sleep by you walking around. Once we think about it - newborns like to be bounced and shushed. Remember what it sounds like in that pregnant belly from hearing it on the doppler? Member when the baby in your belly only “woke up” at night while you were laying still and not moving. TA-DA! The baby just wants back in, and can you blame it? In addition she wants to smell you. Hear your heartbeat and the sound of your voice. He wants your warmth and to know that he hasn’t been left for the wolves.

There are so many products that promise to lull your baby back to sleep for you so you don’t have to do that work. One in particular is extraordinarily expensive and will put the baby back to sleep with rocking, vibrating, and any other number of bells and whistles. I gotta say y’all, no. Just stop it. Now, there are the babies who never stop crying. Like never. And they drive the parents to tears and the edge of beyond. If that baby needs to sleep in a swing so it can stay asleep and let the poor tired mama get some much needed sleep - more power to you. The deal is, the parenting of the waking infant is not only necessary for that baby brain to continue to develop properly but it’s necessary training for the rest of parenting life.

Yes, it’s difficult with the baby up in the middle of the night. You’re exhausted and hopeless and frankly, helpless. But you have to do it. You must persevere. Because while they can develop a product to help rock a baby back to sleep I don’t think they have one yet to talk to your teenager about sex. Or one to prevent their first heartbreak or loss or to keep them from taking stupid risks and drinking at a party. Nighttime parenting is necessary parenting time. It’s necessary that you rock your baby thru the difficult nights. It’s necessary that you get up and change the diapers and attend to their needs for so many reasons.

Parenting is hard - just ask the parents of the teenagers in the High School down the street from you. It’s hard to be the parent. It’s hard to do all the things all the time. But you gotta do it, because they need you. They need you now and later and always. They need you and they’re crying out for you to tell you so. Remember, this first year you are completing the gestation of this tiny human. Remember, the baby is just a tiny helpless mammal. It needs you for literally everything, especially to make it feel safe.

But girl, let me tell you, if you need to get that damn rocker - soother thingy to keep yourself sane, get it. It’s better that than a really sad, tired, and crazy mama.