A friend and colleague of mine recently wrote some very touching and honest posts about her recent postpartum experiences. It is amazing how powerful the written word can be at clarifying and explaining one’s feelings.
I wrote the following article about my own postpartum feelings several years ago and have submitted to various publications, but it has always been rejected. So, I decided to finally “publish” it here. I plan to then do a follow-up post about my postpartum experiences with my other children.
Birthing the Mother-Writer* (or: Playing My Music)
By Molly Remer
After my first son was born in 2003 I felt silenced. Stifled. Shut down. Squelched. Denied. Invisible. Dissolved. Muted. 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.) Postpartum was the most vivid and painful transition point of my life.
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 physical recovery due to unusual labial tearing that was not repaired. I hypothesize that perhaps 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 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.”
I felt a duality in motherhood for which I was completely unprepared. How is it possible to feel simultaneously so captivated and yet also so captive, I would wonder. Bonded and also bound.
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 at 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.
When my first son was almost one, I wrote in my journal:
I feel like I have no one to talk to. I feel like no one understands me. I feel like I cannot express what I really feel inside. I feel like no one believes me. I do not feel accepted. I feel like my needs are not being met. I feel burned out. I feel drained. I feel angry. I feel sad. I feel desperately unhappy. I feel guilty. I feel wrong. I feel alone. I feel unworthy. I feel like I am not good. I feel invisible. I feel ignored. I feel small. I feel bad. I feel like I cannot say what I mean and actually be heard. I feel like I can’t explain my “bad” feelings. I feel trapped. I feel suffocated. I feel stressed. I feel overloaded. I feel like snapping. I feel mean. I feel unfair. I feel selfish. I feel disconnected.
I miss Mark. I miss our relationship. I miss feeling right in our marriage. I miss being alone together.
I feel like I am not enjoying motherhood the way I am “supposed” to. I feel confused. I feel conflicted. I feel torn. I feel low. I feel resentful. I feel worried about the future. I feel anxious about being good enough. I feel stretched. I feel taut. I feel like changing.
What helped me a great deal during this time were the voices of other women. Not women face-to-face, though I had begun building a network of wonderful female friends, it seemed too painful or dark to broach the question with them—-“Do you hate this sometimes too?” And I couldn’t really bear to voice my feelings to my own mother, also a tremendous source of support for me, because to risk hearing her say, “Yes, sometimes I did feel tortured by YOU” was not really what I needed. She also has a well-meaning, but frustrating tendency to meet genuine expressions of despair with comments that imply I should put on a happy face. Instead, it was the voices of women reaching off the printed page that met my hunger for contact. For truth. For rawness and a look at the “ugly.” I gobbled up books about motherhood and women’s experiences of mothering and have a permanent place in my heart for the “momoir.”
A quote from Wayne Dyer that serves a recurrent guidepost (or almost obsession) in my life is, “Don’t die with your music still in you.” During my abovementioned painful transition to motherhood I couldn’t shake the feeling that I wasn’t letting my “music” out. Then, following the birth of my second son in 2006, sort of accidentally, I began writing again and in earnest this time (articles, essays, blog posts, journals) and later realized that I no longer have any fear about dying with my music still in me. And, I also don’t feel depressed, invisible, worthless, or muted anymore. During my original fretting over this phrase, I felt like it was another type of “music” that I needed to let out (mainly that of the social service work that I had been groomed for in graduate school), not words necessarily. However, I’ve finally realized that maybe it was literally my words dying in me that gave me that feeling and that fretfulness. They needed to get out. I’ve spent a lifetime writing various essays in my head, nearly every day, but those words always “died” in me before they ever got out onto paper. After spending a full three years letting other women’s voices reach me through books and essays, and then six more years birthing the mother-writer within, I continue to feel an almost physical sense of relief and release whenever I sit down to write and to let my own voice be heard.
Molly Remer, MSW, CCCE is a certified birth educator, activist, and writer who lives in a straw bale house in central Missouri with her husband, two young sons, and infant daughter. She blogs about birth at https://talkbirth.wordpress.com.
*title inspired by Literary Mama.