Friday, November 23, 2007

Memories of Postpartum + Mother Knot Thoughts

Instead of adding to my previous post about The Mother Knot, I decided to go ahead with a new one. It is fitting because the thoughts I feel like sharing are less about the book than they are about my own memories of life postpartum. Lazarre's book is one that gives voice to the "ugly," to the "bad mother" within. I craved books like this postpartum and devoured each book about motherhood that I could find (I didn't find this one). Unlike Lazarre, who explicitly *hates* her baby at times, I never felt I hated my baby. Yet, as I adjusted, I felt at times that I hated being a mother (heck, I still feel this way sometimes! Though, not with the painful sense of shame and failure at being "bad" enough to have that feeling. I've realized that the experience of mothering and one's feelings about that role is separate and distinct from the actual baby or child of which you are the mother). My "bad" feelings postpartum (and now) were all turned inward, not directed at the baby. I felt suffocated, chewed up and my bones spit out, erased, deconstructed, worthless, and useless. In hindsight, I see the PPD-ish glint behind these feelings, though some of these feelings also featured in my pre-motherhood neuroses as well. Postpartum was the most vivid and painful transition point of my life.

The author of What Mothers Do specifically critiques the ambivalence that Lazarre describes in her book. Aside from this, I adore the book What Mothers Do, it is one of my very favorites about this subject. I think we can look at the cultural elements contributing to that ambivalence rather than view Lazarre as somehow less developed of a mother (or wrong for her ambivalence). I think it is sociocultural, not personal (I also don't think it is "natural" or inevitable, which is where Stadlen of What Mothers Do and I agree and where Lazarre and I would disagree). I don't really think I feel, or felt, ambivalent exactly (at least not in the angry way that Lazarre describes). I definitely turned any hostility inward and felt badly and negatively towards myself rather than towards my baby.

I felt slapped in the face by postpartum. I was triumphant and empowered in birth, but diminished, insecure, and wounded postpartum. I had a difficult and complicated recovery due to unusual labial tearing (unrepaired, because the damage was not really acknowledged/noticed in time for a repair). Maybe this contributed to my difficult adjustment to early motherhood. I've long tried to analyze the difficulty, concluding that it is not uncommon in the least, but wondering why/how others survive without mentioning this pain. How is anyone doing this? I would wonder, concluding that I must not be "cut out for this" and that I was the only one feeling alone, stifled, shut down, and unheard. As a consistently overachieving type, it was humbling as as well as psychologically painful to not "get an A" on this new "assignment," my baby. Each time he cried, I felt it was evidence of failure, failure, failure. I would see women and couples without children and think, "it isn't too late for you" and "if only you knew." When I would see women who were pregnant I would feel a sense of grief for them--"just wait. You have NO idea what is coming." (Again, hindsight shows me a little touch of PPD-ishness here...)

I felt silenced, muted, captive (and yet captivated!), squelched, and denied. Maybe these feelings mean I'm egocentric, selfish, or immature (I certainly lectured and berated myself about that!), but they were my reality at the time. The experience was so scarring to me that for about 18 months after my first baby was born I considered not having any more children--not because I couldn't handle pregnancy, birth, or even the mothering of a baby and toddler, but because I could not stand the idea of experiencing postpartum again. I came to realize that my only regret about these days of early motherhood was not in how I related to my baby, or in how I took care of him, or loved him, or appreciated him, or marveled in him. My regret is that I was so very mean to myself the whole time I did those things--in reality, I was actually fairly skillfully learning how to mother. I was responsive, nurturing, kind, and loving and I took delight in my baby, but I was cruel to myself almost the entire time and failed to appreciate or notice any worth I had as a person or to accept and have patience for my birth as a mother.

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