I glance in the mirror these days and don’t recognize myself.
Not the big belly. As far as my size I might as well be Alice and Wonderland, my sense of self shrinking and growing with each change in my internal relationship to it. I feel smaller now at almost nine months than I did at three months pregnant. More able to get around, less trapped.
In early pregnancy people told me I looked the same and I gawked at them like they were crazy. Now the same people think I’m “huge” and I wonder what they’re talking about. Yes, there are an extra forty pounds hanging around me somewhere, but I hardly find it noticeable.
I look old. And tired
No, the change is in my face. Which for the first time in my life of gaining and losing weight, isn’t appreciably bigger or smaller.
It is instead starkly older, lined with exhaustion and stress. My hair is lackluster, with a few shining white strands, all of it a kind of frizzy cloud. My eyes are usually bloodshot, always tired. They seem to be retreating into the dark recesses of my skull. I walk (waddle, I suppose) something like the dead.
This is relatively new. Three weeks ago I was overflowing with energy, walking and dancing hours each day just to keep myself from bursting. I was sexy (at least to me – the general public went with “cute”), vibrant, and powerful as all get-out. (Older looking, yes, but also more alive.)
Recipe for the walking dead
Then we kept not hearing back about the house. Then the baby was breech (finally flipped, thank God). Then my husband got sick. Then he got better and I got sick but his cough didn’t go away. Then I didn’t get any sleep for several weeks because sudden loud noises like coughing send me into PTSD spiral nightmare. And he still has the damn cough. And I’m still sick.
So there are reasons for this sudden downturn in life energy, but I’m noticing just how much pregnancy highlights the care I am or am not getting.
When I can take in the love, nurturing, and support that I need, I radiate. I feel stronger and healthier than I ever have, bounding around the world like any limit is just the puny bar of a cage I’ve outgrown.
When I get depleted (not just physically, but socially – when I don’t get enough warm loving regard), I go down fast. The greater demands on my energy highlight every place the stream is blocked, every way I don’t get or can’t receive what I need.
And from this place of extreme and relatively sudden depletion, postpartum looks bleak.
How does one even survive a newborn?
Honestly, it looks bleak anyway. In many cultures, the new mother is carefully nourished and nurtured for at least 40 days after birth, at which point there will be a ceremony to welcome her back to society.
Lord, can you even imagine? I look around my life in a kind of stupor. How would I even begin to set that up?
Motherhood: built on sacrifice
My own mother stayed at home alone caring for me even as she recovered from the major abdominal surgery my birth had entailed. I’ve never known her to get enough rest, to take in enough care, to do nice things just for herself. To this day sacrifice is her default, depletion her norm. The stories of my babyhood, especially, are bleak. She spent six hours alone on her birthday bouncing me because every time she stopped, I’d scream. Finally, utterly exhausted, I dropped off to sleep just as my father came home from work and innocently asked what was wrong. “The baby seems fine now.”
That’s the motherhood I’ve inherited. The motherhood I see all around me. It seems the closest we come to addressing it is often just to name it. To let people complain, a little, that they are so tired, that things are so tough.
And I’m all for complaining, actually. For safe spaces to get at some of the darkness, to be heard and seen.
But I want more than that.
A New Motherhood
I want to take up as much space as I need to be the center of my family. To shower my baby with as much love as he or she will need from me without stripping my own soul bare to do it.
I want to have the audacity (and it feels audacious to me) to ask for what I want. Frequently. Before I’m at the edge of exhaustion. And not just to keep myself out of overwhelm.
I want to ask for what I want out of the sheer joy of how much I love myself and how good it’ll feel to have it.
Knowing that’s good for everyone. Knowing I can trust myself and my desires, that they are not selfish in any traditional sense, that me having doesn’t take away from other people. That it’s not a zero sum game.
I want the last 5-7 weeks of my pregnancy to focus on filling up and setting the groundwork for even deeper receiving once the baby’s here. And when the baby does come (in his or her perfect time), I want to make my whole focus a radical experience with receiving in abundance so that giving can come that much more easily.
I want (at least) 40 days of love for me-in-transition, a baby too metaphorically precious to touch the ground, and the new family being formed. And then I want a deep and nurturing ceremony to welcome our new selves into the world.
I have no idea how to get any of that (and I’m not asking for advice), but I’m going to try anyway. Worst case scenario? I’m as exhausted as I was going to be anyway. I can live with that.
It’s an experiment in support
What happens when I ask for it? What happens when people give it? Can I allow myself to be the focus of my life without guilt or the need to prove I’m worth it? Can I take in love and kindness just for being myself?
I’m asking the questions. I’m setting up experiments. And I’ll share at least a little of it here with you (including opportunities for you to receive some radical support of your own, and to pass it on, possibly to me, if that feels good.)
I’d love: Enthusiasm and well wishes. Appreciation for how important this is.
This is also a great space to examine your own relationship to support, should you wish. Especially in times when you’re giving a lot.
I’d rather not have: Specific offers of support (I’m not ready yet), or advice.