Postpartum & Pandemic Parallels - Part 1
Most of the new moms that I work with lament a similar refrain: “Will this ever end?” I remember when I was in the throes of early motherhood and the days were sooooo long and the nights were even longer. It seemed that the only indication the days were changing was that the light was different. But everything else was the same. Feed, change, sleep; feed, change, sleep; rinse, repeat. There was a monotony to it, and yet a glimmer of something else: a strange mixture of resignation and comfort. Resignation: “This baby isn’t going anywhere, and neither am I…I guess I’d better settle in...” and at the same time, Comfort: “I feel safe in my home with my sweet baby in my arms. I don’t need to go anywhere.”
At the time I remember thinking, “If I can just get out of this house and do something else - anything else - I’ll be ok.” I tried it, calling a friend and telling her (nope, I didn’t ask nicely - I basically demanded), “Meet me at the hospital breastfeeding group in 30 minutes. If you’re not there, I’m coming to get you!” I just couldn’t take it anymore - not one more second of looking at the same four walls. My daughter was only 3 weeks old at the time. My friend and I met at the hospital, and sure enough, seeing her face and her sweet baby boy (only 3 days younger than my daughter) gave me the feeling of groundedness that I needed. Cut to devolving into fits of laughter when her son projectile vomited all over me during group...the laughter grounded me too. (OK maybe it wasn’t that funny but when you are totally sleep deprived projectile vomit is somehow hysterical.)
Now, in this shelter-in-place/SIP/quarantine craziness, we don’t have our “usual” coping skills. We can’t just go out and walk around Target for fun or go hang out with friends in the way we used to. And for the love of everything holy, nobody wants anything projectiled on to them.
So what do we do?? How do we cope with that similar feeling that This. Will. Never. End?
After I left for college, when I was missing home, my dad used to say to me, “Look at the moon tonight. When you look at it, know I’ll be looking at it too, and we’ll be connected.” Years later, I remembered my dad’s words while I was sitting up in bed, in the middle of the night, feeding the baby. I would look at the moon, say “hi” to my dad, and to all the other women I knew were also sitting up feeding their babies, all over the world. I felt connected, grounded, steady. I know it sounds cliche at this point, but there was something so powerful about knowing that we - all us new moms - were in it together. Feeding, diapering, sleeping, rinsing, repeating. All around the world, and for generations before.
Now, 16 years later, we are enduring this pandemic, together. And, there is intense social upheaval that needs our attention too. In fact, we have an opportunity to make change in a big way, to be kinder to each other, to look at our own shortcomings and learn to be kinder to ourselves. Not an easy task, but a necessary one.
Those dark days and nights of postpartum didn’t last forever, and neither will this pandemic. Just as in postpartum, there will be things for which we will grieve deeply. And we will come out of it. We will learn from it. We will integrate it. We will make meaning from it. We will look at the moon and remember that we are connected and that is powerful and vulnerable at the same time. We can hold both. Just as in postpartum, we can hold the joy and the pain. We can hold the confidence and the imposter syndrome. We can hold the laughter and the tears. Just as in postpartum, we can take this opportunity of being raw, being cracked wide open, as an opportunity to grow and change and love more deeply, more vulnerably, more meaningfully. Just as in postpartum, when it is necessary to follow the baby’s schedule and slow down (sleep when the baby sleeps!!) we can use this time of slowness to look deeply into ourselves and grow a little more. Or, better yet, just rest. Rejuvenate. Reimagine.
Some of those postpartum days felt pretty darn bleak, and I find myself feeling that way now. But then I look at my daughter on the precipice of adulthood and I realize that out of the darkness came a very, very bright light.
Written by Rebecca Geshuri, LMFT