I stopped wearing diapers this week. (For those unaware, postpartum recovery means weeks of uterus shedding and bleeding for the birthing parent). The bleeding had become light enough to switch to thin pads and regular underwear. It’s one of many milestones that mark recovery, that signal healthy progress. As the mother of a newborn and toddler, it was at least one less diaper to worry about.
So as I tossed my last stretchy pink (of course) Depends in the trash I expected to feel a bit happier, a bit more human.
Instead, I cried.
I chalked it up to weird postpartum hormones, but I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Why was I sad about diapers?
Then it hit me. The transition from diapers to pads (and eventually to panty liners and then nothing) meant I was healing, but that meant I was one step further from labor, delivery, and pregnancy. It meant I was one step further away from the time when I was growing and carrying my son.
Pregnancy means something different for everyone, every body, hell for every pregnancy. We talked about that already. For me, my second pregnancy was even more inspiring than my first. I was creative. I felt peace and awe as my belly swelled and my hips widened. The night before my induction I lay in my first son’s room, snuggling him to sleep, feeling my second son roll and kick in my womb and could not think of a more joyous moment.
It’s odd, pregnancy for many, myself included, is a journey of anticipation. It’s joyful because of what, of who, arrives at the end. It’s a path that ends in life, in motherhood. The nights leading up to my first son’s birth felt like Christmas Eve. Each night I’d lie down and wonder, hope, that I’d wake up to the squeezes of labor. I searched, my body and google, for the smallest signs that labor was near, that the arrival of my son was imminent.
For my second pregnancy I felt that same anticipation and joy, but there was something else. Like the last weeks of summer, I felt the urge to savor every minute. I wasn’t anxious for delivery, I knew it would come eventually, and I knew that while the day would mean the arrival of my son, it would also mean the end of pregnancy – possibly forever.
I’m three weeks postpartum today, and this time around has been much different, much harder than the first. Maybe because this was a c-section, maybe because climate change is threatening to roast the nation into a long, slow, and very hot demise, or because the toddler keeps us on our toes. For whatever reason, I’ve felt those “baby blues.” I’ve spontaneously burst into tears a dozen or more times – and that’s ok. I expected that, through the bold sharing of other women, I understand that this is all within normal parameters. The women in my life have reached out to ask how I’m doing, offered their support, and empathy – and that has made everything feel less overwhelming. It’s made me feel less isolated and more prepared.
But I wasn’t prepared for these feelings of grief and longing for pregnancy. I expected the opposite actually. I expected to celebrate my empty womb. I have been scouring race sign ups and crafting and re-crafting training plans for my postpartum return to ultra-running. I’ve been plotting a feminist-athlete cocktail series with a friend. I’ve been hedging against that all-too-common trend of “mom” taking over my entire identity. I’ve been clinging and cultivating all the non-mom parts of me. Having read countless accounts of mothers losing themselves in motherhood, I worried about how much three kiddos might take from my sleep, my schedule, myself and was excited to at least reclaim my body.
I wasn’t prepared to cry over bloody discharge, or especially over the lack of it. Don’t get me wrong, I’m excited to return to the things limited by pregnancy. Even more than the long runs and craft cocktails, I’m eager to watch my children grow. I know the delight in watching such magic. I already feel that joy in every new gymnastics skill the pre-teen masters, I relish the pride I see (and feel myself) every time she tackles a new math concept. I’m amazed when my toddler learns a new word or responds to a command in French. I know I have an entire future of firsts waiting for me – first steps and first dates, the first “I love you mom.” I’m looking forward to seeing who they all become – whole, complex, independent humans.
But each step towards that end is a step further away from when I was their whole world, from when I carried them everywhere I went, from the moments I’d feel their first movements, little hellos from my future children, greetings only I could “hear.” Each day of growth moves us further away from the days when my body fed theirs, the days when my scent, when the rhythm of my heart was enough to remind them that they were loved, they were safe, they were home.
So I’m eager to see what their lives become, and I’m eager to regain a little more independence myself, but in the meantime, I’m logging every bad joke that still cracks a smile on my step-daughter’s face. I’m imprinting my toddler’s open mouth kisses and spontaneous hugs. I’m locking in every feeding, every hour spent doing nothing but holding my newborn, curled on my chest, arms and legs pulled in, head nestled as close to mom, as close to home as possible.