I was three weeks postpartum, standing in front of my 14-year old son, suddenly feeling very overwhelmed – and defenseless to the tears running down my face. To my credit, I hadn’t one breakdown since arriving home from the hospital; save for a brief episode triggered by an unfulfilled midnight craving for cookie cake. My C-section recovery had been painful and frustrating, which I anticipated. What I had not anticipated was the anxiety related to my role as new mother. I am still trying to reconcile the challenges of being a new wife. It’s been quite an eventful - and exciting – year.
A supportive husband to help take the edge off of life is certainly appreciated. And the way that he has eased himself into the roles of husband and father makes me fall in love with him again, daily. The sound of his voice as he speaks to his newborn daughter kisses my ears softly like quiet ocean waves, and is equally soothing, calming – and I find myself smiling in spite of my exhaustion. Even if that precious little girl cuts through the serenity with piercing screams.
But outside of our relationship are the pressures and responsibilities that I place upon myself. These personal expectations are derivative of my prior life experiences. Not only do I want to better myself for my family moving forward, I also want to hang on to the good that I have been able to do as a mother and pass that along to my newest child.
So I am standing in my first-born’s bedroom, overcome by hopelessness. And maybe a little hypoglycemic due to cookie cake withdrawal. I don’t even remember why I am in the room, but I know that I am sorry to have even crossed the threshold: Books and papers had escaped from his school bag and were crawling underneath the bed, both the closet and the hamper seem to have vomited clothing onto the floor making it impossible to discern what was clean and what was dirty, his desk was littered with empty fast food cups and dirty plates, and his comforter and top sheet were wrestling at the foot of his partially exposed mattress.
And it wasn’t just his room. My husband and I had spent a blissful two weeks together at home, living in pajamas and setting up a comfortable environment in our bedroom that we referred to as “the nest”. We had tried to maintain light housework, but the baby was our priority. Now that he had returned to the office, my limited mobility and permissible activity was limited to the infant. It’s likely that I could have benefited from heeding the advice of others who suggested a welcome abstinence of household chores during maternity leave. And perhaps if I had been more able-bodied at that time the condition of the house would not have impacted my enjoyment of being home. But I viewed it only as a glaring reminder that I was weak, recovering from major surgery. Forcibly alleviated of the responsibility of maintaining a clean and orderly home, I avoided that manufactured (and temporary) reality by withdrawing to my bedroom; however, once I left the nest I was faced with the clutter of real life.
Which is what I was experiencing at that moment in my son’s bedroom. As much as the rest of the house was a reflection of my fresh postpartum existence, his room reflected my PREpartum attentions. This was my first-born, the one with whom I had intensely and exclusively spent the past 14 years. Not only was I starting anew with his little sister, I had to do so while managing our relationship which – invariably – would have to change.
There it was. Underneath the Hollister sweaters and Taco Bell cups was the impending new reality, a realization of which began to impact me like an undertow. I never saw it coming, but it grabbed hold of me as I was unaware and vulnerable. With it brought fear and panic.
Though in the moment I understood very little of what I was feeling, and attempted to work through it as it was happening. Nate asked what was wrong, and I was honest as I said, “I don’t know; I don’t know why I am crying.”
I processed best I could, and lamented my frustrations at the condition of his room and how I felt that he could pitch in more around the house. I shared my feelings of helplessness at my inability to take care of the house and everyone in it. Most of all, I surprised both of us as I cried, “I just miss you. I miss us.”
Nate was caught off guard by the confession and pleaded with me to understand that his sister needed me and she was more important. I began to cry harder and insisted that she wasn’t more important, she just had different needs. He said, “Of course she is and of course she does; if you ignore her, she dies. If you ignore me, I can handle myself.” My vulnerability made me feel I was the child, being scolded by a parent to understand those aspects of life I couldn’t possibly comprehend until I experienced them myself. I felt incompetent in the moment, and continued to mourn the loss of our partnership; as if I had never allowed myself to accept that we would one day no longer be a pair, free to do as we wish in our own carefully crafted world.
Those raw emotions continued to pull me out to sea, and before I succumbed to drowning in my own tears, I took a deep breath and excused myself to the nest. I had already split my affections by marrying Jason, and here I was again reducing my capacity for attention by introducing another person into Nate’s life.
Why had I not considered this prior to the pregnancy? At least allowed myself an opportunity to prepare for these feelings. I find it interesting that the pregnancy resources I consulted spoke of expanding families by emphasizing the impact to the existing children. But nowhere did I read a warning related to mother’s guilt. I was foolish to not consider it.
The next morning following breakfast, Nate and I crossed paths on the stairs. He stopped me and grabbed both of my shoulders: “Hey,” he said softly. “I’m really sorry about my room.” Then he pulled me in for a hug – which is rare – confessing that he felt badly about my being upset, and encouraged me not to feel overwhelmed. “You’re doing the best you can right now.”
Then as quickly as it had happened, it was over and I was left standing on the stairs alone with the faint scent of Old Spice and maple syrup hanging in the air around me. I understood in those few seconds that my love wasn’t something to be fragmented and parsed out to each being in our rapidly expanding family; this unbelievable creature – my first-born – has my entire heart. And I love him wholeheartedly. My heart doesn’t have pieces – it has layers. And those layers created by my husband and my infant daughter provide a richness and a fullness to our lives that Nate and I would not have otherwise. No one is more important than the other; we are all different and each relationship is unique. My partnership with Nate has not dissipated. It has evolved.
Posted on March 4, 2013, in lifestyle, parenting, relationships and tagged baby, Bean, expanding family, family, infant, Jason, Madelene, marriage, maternity leave, mother's guilt, Nate, new baby, newborn, parenthood, parenting, Peach, postpartum, postpartum emotions, postpartum recovery, siblings. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.