We Are All Mothers
“If I can share any wisdom at all, it’s that the first year or two of motherhood is submerged in fog – and as your child gains independence and becomes their own little person, that fog slowly lifts – akin to a metamorphosis—It gets better!” - Annika C.
I can’t even begin to express how grateful I am that Annika has shared her story with me. Annika and I have been friends since elementary school. We have been through many of life’s biggest moments together and I am forever grateful to be able to share and go through motherhood with her by my side.
Annika has shared what early motherhood looked like for her, through challenges of afterbirth pain, body image and adjusting to new life as a mother while grieving the loss of what life used to be like. So many of us experience grief over the life we had before motherhood, and so we should. We go through immense changes through body, mind and self and it is an incredible transition we must all work through as we navigate the early months/years of motherhood.
Here is Annika’s story. Be mindful and respectful when you read what she has shared.
“While my birth experience could have definitely been worse, I did feel traumatized after birthing my son and I still have a difficult time seeing pictures of and/or hearing stories about childbirth. I believe my trauma stemmed from not being able to control the situation. My cervix refused to widen, I was prepped for a c-section and then told that it would not be necessary, I was frozen from chest to toes and then asked to “push” my child out of my birth canal. All the while, the nurses were anxiously watching my son’s heartbeat on the monitor as it became fainter and fainter – telling me to push harder even though I couldn’t feel any part of my lower abdomen. It brings me to tears just thinking about it now – 2 years later. I thank god (or whoever is watching over us) every day that I was able to hear Danilo’s cries seconds after he exited my body. Hearing his first little wails was and always will be the very best moment of my life.
I wish that there was more awareness about the after-birth pains that many moms face. We hear such scary stories about how painful giving birth can be but very seldom are the after-birth struggles shared. I could barely walk out of the hospital when we were discharged three days later. I burst my episiotomy stitches (in my vagina, yes) carrying my son five blocks in his infant car seat to his first doctor’s appointment when he was one week old. It took me an hour to go across the street and grab groceries in the second week of his life. I felt a secret gratitude for my son experiencing jaundice because it meant that I was able to rest just a little bit more (how awful!). The dull, throbbing pain in my pelvic floor area took about 8 months to fully go away.
I felt very lucky to be able to breastfeed right from the get-go. My son had his tongue tie cut by a doctor at the hospital about an hour after he was born and he started suckling right away – no latch or milk issues. However I seemed to spontaneously “dry up” about 5 months after exclusively breastfeeding. It was a mystery to me at the time, and I felt a few pangs of guilt for feeding him formula because I intended on breastfeeding for the full two years as was recommended by Health Canada at the time. The guilt quickly subsided when my son started sleeping for significantly longer stretches at night and when I realized that I no longer had to schedule my life and diet around his eating preferences – it was marvelously freeing, which was an aspect of my pre-motherhood life that I had been grieving immensely.
As expected of a millennial mother, I was also grieving my pre-baby body and I worked myself to the bone to get it back. I tried every form of fitness class offered in my neighborhood, I counted my macro’s, went vegan – the whole shebang. I now believe that insufficient calories was likely the cause of my loss of breastmilk. I knew that I had a problem when I started looking at myself in the gym mirrors and feeling proud enough to take a picture, but then editing those pictures when I got home so that I could present an even “fitter” Annika to my social media friends. I also refused to be intimate with my partner for a significant period of time after having my son. At first it was because I was in pain, but then it morphed into a feeling of being grossed out by my own body. I’m not sure when I came back to reality, or if I even did (maybe I just lost the weight and my skin tightened back up over time), but I can now honestly state that I feel comfortable in my body again. I wish I was more in-touch with why I struggled and why I don’t anymore so that I could impart some wisdom on other new moms, but it just happened. What I can say is that it felt much more rewarding to work towards bringing my body back to functionality, rather than working out for sheer aesthetics.
So, as you’ve likely gathered, the beginning of motherhood was difficult for me at times. Along with the pain and body image issues, I was also the first of my friend group to have a baby and despite nearly all of my friends being the best, most excited and supportive bunch ever (!) I still felt very isolated at times. There were days that I cried because I missed the freedom of being a normal, baby-less, early-twenty-year-old. And that pain was of course compounded by the guilt that followed because I loved my son more than words could describe. I experienced the “baby blues” for the first week or two after Danilo was born and I quickly learned that wine at night time was a bad idea because it put me into a negative headspace. Other than that, I believe I was mentally healthy during my postpartum phase. I experienced joy often and I was a happy camper so long as I was able to go to the gym and get 4-5 hours of sleep at night. My partner was a saving grace more often than not which I feel very fortunate about. Now that Danilo is two, we seem to be butting heads a bit more because our cultural upbringing and parenting styles differ, but we work through it. I’m always excited for a new day with Nilo and I can’t even remember who I was before he existed! If I can share any wisdom at all, it’s that the first year or two of motherhood is submerged in fog – and as your child gains independence and becomes their own little person, that fog slowly lifts – akin to a metamorphosis—It gets better!”
I am sure that so many of us can relate to so much of Annika’s story. The beginning of motherhood is hard. So often we aren’t told about what postpartum will look or feel like. It can be immensely discouraging. Add in breastfeeding challenges, body image dysmorphia and mom guilt, and then sometimes it truly feels like we are sinking.
Afterbirth pains can be really challenging, especially if we were not truly aware of what postpartum can look and feel like. Finding a care provider that you trust and feel comfortable talking to is so crucial. Ask the questions, read about postpartum bleeding and aftercare. Read about the importance of the first forty days after birth. Educate yourself and find support in friends, parents, health care providers etc. Postpartum, especially the first six weeks afterwards truly aren’t talked about enough. If you experience birth trauma be sure to get help and talk to someone about it.
Like Annika said, the first year is often submerged in fog. It does get better though! Ensuring you’ve got support systems in place and doing research and educating yourself while pregnant on things like postpartum healing, bleeding, breastfeeding, and how your body heals can often help us from creating these unrealistic expectations. Educating yourself on infant sleep helps to prepare us for hourly night feeds and learning to thrive off of smaller amounts of sleep. Being mindful that our bodies have just gone through an enormous transformation of growing a baby to birthing a baby and that you won’t have a “pre-baby” body back overnight is also really important.
We will always experience mom guilt. But that doesn’t make you a bad mom. The fact alone that we feel guilty and love our children proves enough that we are good mothers. We won’t all parent the same and that is ok. You don’t have to have the newest most expensive baby gear, or the outfits that look like they came from out of a magazine to be a good mom. You don’t have to breastfeed or bottle feed to be a good mom. You don't have to stay home or go to work to be a good mom. All you have to do, is love your children and remember to love yourself. Without taking care of ourselves we truly aren’t able to care for our children.
Annika, thank you for sharing your story with us. You are brave. You are strong. You are beautiful. You are resilient. You are empowering. You are worthy. You are loved. I truly am so thankful that you have shared your story. I know so many other women and families will be able to relate to what you have gone through. Your story is inspiring and I know that you will have helped so many mothers by sharing your motherhood.
I am going to link some helpful websites to read about some of the common postpartum challenges we may face. If you have the option to join a mom group, do it! Make new friends who have children similar in age. Put yourself out there to build those support systems. It is so worth it.