Beautiful Catastrophe: The Death and Rebirth of Becoming a Mother
So I was hanging out the other day with a friend who has a newborn. A freaking gorgeous newborn boy, to be exact.
He is her first baby. She has recently become a mother.
You know, when we hear those words we hear them like it’s no big deal -- “become a mother,” like you might “become a doctor” or “become a pet owner.” As if it’s just this thing that happens, without anything else happening -- it’s just this exciting addition to one’s life. You add this new thing and go about your business.
Like a new-home owner, or a resident of a new town.
But this particular transition comes with a cost. A BIG ONE, yet nobody really talks about it.
And if you do talk about it, you have “postpartum depression.”
I have an idea: Let’s talk about it, right here and right now, and call it nothing other than a human, adult reaction to a giant shift in identity, a presence of mind recognizing the end of an entire chapter of life, a heart mourning the woman that once was, and a soul shaking under the weight of a new giant world.
I’ve talked about it a little before, and in my case I actually DID have postpartum depression, and obviously I’m not trying to say that having these feelings does not indicate PPD (um DUH). What I’m saying is that it seems to me that every woman who becomes a mother, no matter how much she loves her kid or wants to be a mom, will most likely, at some point, mourn the loss of her previous identity.
And it will hurt.
You’re sitting in the house a few weeks after your perfect baby is born. Everybody has gone home. The help is gone. Your husband (or wife) is back at work.
Your belly is still sagging. Your boobs are exploding. You’re bleeding still, maybe, but you’re definitely leaking milk. There are big pools of it on your bed and couch and everywhere. You don’t really sleep, but rather fade in and out of a half-sleep, alongside your baby, checking him every hour, acutely aware of his breath, as if it were a freight train roaring through the room: Do I hear it? Yes, I hear it.
His temperature, his blanket. He stirs and you’re there, boom. Awake. You are infinitely connected. You seem to be melting into this tiny body. He wakes and you stare into his eyes, struck and dumbfounded at his beauty. You coo at him and notice the way he moves his mouth, as if he wants to speak. What will he say?
Someday he will speak. And you know you know him better than everybody else, and always will, and you know when he’s sleeping you’re there when nobody else is there, and you’re watching him breathe so you can breathe and watching him sleep to drift into your own.
And you’re falling into a love you’ve never known. It’s like quicksand; the more you struggle the deeper you fall. Only you’re not struggling, because it’s a gorgeous catastrophe, and there’s nowhere else to go.
But you watch people leave, too. You watch your husband go to work. You see friends come and go, bright and capable with energy and direction, as if the world is still going on outside, out there.
And you’re isolated and stuck.
As you watch them there are moments, moments when you remember when you used to run around and visit people and live your life and work and be alone. You remember when your body was just your own and you were thinner and felt contained and like the owner of your boobs and vagina and life. You remember having a couple shots of tequila or maybe a cigarette with some friends, and you did it like it was nothing, never knowing it was somebody who was going to stand like an old friend some day, a thousand miles away.
You were twenty, twenty-three, thirty, thirty-five. You were free and young and somebody else.
We were free and young and somebody else.
But now, we’re mothers.
At some point the reality will hit us: We are never alone again, no matter where we are, and we are the only ones in the world who have become this person toward this child.