Thursday, 2 November 2017

The far side of the postpartum experience: mourning, loss and recovery

It’s a really weird experience, going through pregnancy and having a baby. You foster that life that grows inside you and then it emerges into the world and continues growing. But for a long time it’s not independent of you – it relies on you for food, to keep it warm, to lull it off to the sleepy-world. Your baby is an extension of you, and you are an extension of your baby. And then, it begins to shift. Baby can move, baby begins to realise they are independent of you. Then baby begins to eat food. Real, solid, human food that anyone can feed her. She relishes this new set of experiences. Baby can crawl. Baby is growing up.

Somewhere along the way this story stops being about you as a pregnant body, you as a new mother. The bleeding stops, your stomach slowly and steadily decreases in size with each passing week. You can walk farther than a mile without needing a rest, you get to sleep. You aren’t craving sugar and carbohydrate all the time, your body has replenished the iron and zinc that it donated to the placenta. There are newer babies that replace your baby as the ‘new thing’ and that is beautiful too.

Somewhere along the way this story starts being about you again. You, and this other little human, this baby that is now independent of you, that can be cared for by a loving and well-meaning relative or a minder. She needs you, of course, but it’s not in that primal, biological ‘basic needs’ sort of way, more of an emotional support and a care-giver like anyone else could be.

And then, what are you? It’s been eight months of breastfeeding and naps-in-arms. On the outside, little has changed. It’s still breastfeeding and naps-in-arms. But a subtle shift has been tip-tip-tipping away the last few weeks. Fewer feeds, sometimes napping in the bed. More solid food. Trying to stand. The change now is taking place in your own body. A niggling change, as your body shifts once again.

Bodies are funny. Nothing happens suddenly, it’s all subtle thief in the night type stuff. You feel a little cramp here and there and feel the hormonal shift that you can’t really explain to anyone else. Your body is changing, again. You’re beginning to phase out of being a postpartum body, and back to being a regular (what does that even mean?) woman who has the capacity and the potential to do it all over again.

Matter has this impatient, eternal desire to perpetuate its own existence and to reproduce itself. It just wants to keep on keeping on. And you realise that your body is just a part of that bigger picture. It’s a funny thing, adjusting to all these changing roles. It’s a funny, emotional time. A time for grieving a loss, anticipating the return of an old friend, expectation and waiting. It’s a time for crying and not being able to say why. Of incomprehensible rage and a void of sadness welling up. A huge part of being a breathing, feeling body is the huge amount of feeling that it entails.

We don’t talk enough about the feelings. The feelings matter a lot. 

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