Motherhood: The Final Frontier
I spent the first six months of motherhood in a state of almost perpetual, debilitating fear. Outwardly, no one could believe I was struggling. Sometimes, I craftily kept it from myself. But I was afraid. Afraid I would profoundly screw up my baby by doing something wrong. Advice to new mothers is a tangle of contradictory information which each messenger advising that what they are touting is the "best" option. "Best" is relative when you have entered a role that requires you to, sleep-deprived, keep a tiny human alive (sometimes) with your very own body. "Best" is bullshit. Here's why.
Medical advice regarding babies changes and evolves perpetually. In the past, giving them whiskey when they teethed and drinking Guiness while pregnant - basically the good ole days of mommying - were recommended. Now, if you don't breastfeed, put them on their backs (okay this is a solid evidence-based one), never cosleep (or maybe cosleep depending on if you meet all of the 500 requirements for doing so safely), carry them constantly, oh, and also simultaneously sleep train them they will probably die. While this is an exaggeration, to my hormone-addled, sleep-deprived brain, it was THE TRUTH.
You can't make sense of truth in an almost paralyzing state of fear. I'm sad to say that this new frontier of mommying is marked with a intense degree of fear-mongering at, what I suggest, is the detriment of the overall (particularly mental) health of any new mother. New mothers need to be empowered with the knowledge that they can do this most difficult thing in their lives thus far, in an extremely vulnerable state, by trusting their instincts. Now that's a general statement and I obviously, if your instinct is to put baby in the oven, you should probably resist that urge and visit your local hospital. Stat. But those of us who have traveled that deep and mysterious journey through the experience of birth and find ourselves transformed in fundamental, inexplicable ways, must believe in our ability to care for this little life that is seems so unbearably fragile. I am not suggesting that mothers have some kind of "natural" inclination to automatically know what to do with an infant but I am suggesting that power exists in the knowledge that you are capable and equipped for this sometimes terrifying transition to motherhood.
From the somewhat traumatic circumstances of my daughter's birth, to the first days, weeks and months of her life, I felt deeply disempowered. By having a midwife and attempting a homebirth, I thought I was in control, as I had felt through my extremely empowering pregnancy experience. I was so afraid that anything anyone said meant I had to do it for the well-being of my daughter. I HAD to breastfeed or else I was a monster. I HAD to enjoy the first bit of my altered life after my daughter entered it. I HAD to chronicle her every coo so that I could cherish it as a memory always (and that's not covering most of the contradictory medical/wellness nonsense that gets thrown at new mothers). I was paralyzed by what I had to do and the relentlessness with which I had to do it. I was a mother now and I felt like there was nothing on the other side but darkness.
I will talk more about my breastfeeding struggle and my passage from dark to light as I struggle(d) with my new identity as a mother. One thing I know now, almost two years on, is that postpartum was a gift I would never have asked for (and one that I would never bestow on anyone else) because it made me immediately struggle with who I would be as a mother and how much my new role as mother would or would not define me.
For this, I am truly grateful.