Video intro to this post: Or just read below :)
dear, dear mamas.
You are the unsung heroes of every life on earth.
your pain and love and bodies.
you set out to create new life
and then think your bodies inadequate
because your pants don’t fit
how they used to.
Can you love yourselves as much as you love your new children?
Can you look in the mirror and see the life you created
While allowing the other life you once lived
to let go?
It’s a big ask.
I love you more than you’ll ever know.
I dance with you in the sunlight,
our bodies connected by movement,
our hearts beating together.
And dear dear mamas,
at night when we sit silently together in the moonlight,
rocking our babies to sleep,
I feel you with me.
Our joy and our sadness,
our ecstasy and our loss,
our forever changed lives,
opened to one another,
in the way we wanted to connect when we were young girls,
but didn’t know how.
January 2015, a freshly new mother with a 2 month old:
I’ve been filled with the urge to write since Wolf was born, yet being a mother has left me with little time to do so. In the months since Wolf arrived I’ve often found myself seeking some kind of a map or a deeper guidance for motherhood. In place of a clear cultural model like many people have, women in our culture have the internet, books, and of course each other. In many ways I’ve found that there is too much information out there and not enough encouragement to follow your heart, or intuition. Yet your intuition (and your incredible body) are what got you here in the first place. I’ve found the post-partum journey to be life-changing.
I believe this is why I’m writing this. Becoming a mother is the most profound transformational experience of my existence and there is so little “out there” that speaks to the mysterious, powerful, transitional time immediately following the birth of a child. So this is me, speaking to it, for myself and for all of you my beautiful new mother friends.
I love you all and I love this life. I can’t wait to meet your little ones and share in this momentous new beginning with you. If you find this helpful and want to share it please pass it on.
Here it is, barely edited, grammatically incorrect in places, imperfect, and just fine the way it is… something I’ve learned to do a lot since Wolf came into my life.
With all my love, Paige
Becoming a Mother
“I feel like I’m breaking!” I said breathlessly to my midwife, Elizabeth, between contractions.“The only thing that’s breaking dear is your maidenhood.” she calmly replied.
The moment my son Wolf was born something needed me in a way I’d never experienced before and couldn’t have imagined was possible. I’d wanted to be a mother for years. I’d fantasized and visualized the loving, giving, present mother I would be. What I couldn’t imagine was the intensity of being responsible for this flawless brand new being—a being I love more than I’ve ever loved anything—and who also needed, constantly needed me—my milk, my touch, my reassurance, my smile, my time. A being whose body scared him when he farted and burped, or woke up from a nap. A little creature who could not lift himself up, tell me what he wanted, fall asleep on his own, or even just take a break from needing me.
At the same time that Wolf arrived, needing my every resource, I was met with my own profound need for rest, love, and sleep. Wolf’s birth was graceful and without complications. He was born at home, at the foot of our bed. My husband Jeff, my mom, and our midwives greeted him with love. The birth took me to new depths within myself. Each contraction brought me into my most powerful humanness and the space between these mighty surges was an indescribable peace and silence—the ground of creation.
“My body is born to birth. My body is born to birth.” I repeated to myself during my most intense contractions, a mantra to keep my attention focused on the trust and confidence I needed to bring our son into the world, and to stay out of my mind where doubts and fears ruled—Is this right? Am I okay? Why is this taking so long? Should it really be taking so long? Is something wrong? My mantra would meet that wave of thoughts with the power and serenity of the whole ocean.
Wolf was born after sixteen hours of labor and two hours of pushing, and he was perfect. Perfectly healthy, strong, and for a newborn incredibly alert. “Ready to be here.” Elizabeth Moore, our midwife said to us when she came back to our house to check on us the next day. When Jeff and I fell asleep that first night, with Wolf between us in our bed, our eyes shone with joy and wonder.
To prepare for the birth of our baby I spent hours reading books, talking to friends, going to appointments, and attending birth classes. Jeff and I talked about different labor positions, where the birth would be, who would attend, what we would need.
I created a nursery, organized little clothes, and researched diapering choices. I did an incredible job preparing for the birth, and for the new baby, but within all that preparation I hardly gave a thought to imagining what I would need after the baby arrived. And with the exception of Elizabeth, no one talked about it either.
I don’t regret a moment of the preparation and intention I brought to Wolf’s birth, but I couldn’t help but wonder, after he was born, where was my mantra for the long journey into motherhood? During labor I would turn to Elizabeth and ask her, “Can you tell me what’s happening now?” and she’d say, “Each contraction is opening your cervix wider.” Or “The baby is in inactive descent, soon you’ll feel the urge to push.” Or “Reach inside of you and see if you can feel your baby’s head.” Or when I seemed impatient simply, “Every contraction is bringing you closer to meeting your baby. You’re doing beautifully Paige.”
And now that the baby’s here. Months into his new life, I want to turn to the midwife, tears in my eyes, Wolf in my arms, exhaustion in my body after nights of not sleeping and days of meeting need upon need, and say “Can you tell me what’s happening now?” And hear her say in that calm reassuring tone, “Motherhood, my dear, your motherhood is being born.”
Only a piece of our motherhood is born with our babies, the rest comes with every new day as a mom. Each new phase and fumble and triumph with your child, yes, but also with yourself. As it so often does the image of a metamorphosing butterfly serves—the butterfly does not transform into an insect without growing pains, without uncertainties, risks, and facing fears. It takes courage, trust, and intuition to wind yourself up into a tight cocoon and grow into a totally different creature that you cannot even imagine.
Making Decisions—Where will you parent from?
Just before Wolf arrived, Jeff and I were trying to decide whether or not to give our baby an injection after the birth. We learned about the risks associated with not giving the injection, and we learned about the risks associated with giving the injection. I felt like I was watching a ping pong ball bounce back and forth in my mind between extremes….if we do this then this could happen, if we don’t do it then that could happen… I felt really stuck about how to begin to make these decisions for our child, fear seemed to reside in all corners.
Elizabeth counseled us during one of our late pregnancy appointments to use this first decision, before the baby even arrived, to explore how we would make choices as parents. “This is your first opportunity to choose where you will parent from.”
So many of the early decisions we make as parents are based in research, science, and well-meaning advice that come from outside of ourselves, yet having a baby, and parenting them throughout their lives, is one of the most internal, intuitive, experiences one can have in this life. After hearing Elizabeth’s words I returned to watch the ping pong ball for a little while longer and that’s when it hit me—I had to find my own way, a way not based in fear, but in trust. That’s where I want to parent from, I thought to myself—from trusting myself, from trusting my husband, from love, connectedness and finding in each moment that quiet still voice that knows the way without a lot of busy dialogue.
Radical Self-Love and Forgiveness
I read once in an essay that “children are like little Zen-warriors” sent into our lives to point out all the remaining weak spots in our armor, and encourage us to finally let it fall away. I’ve loved this idea, what I didn’t realize was that the challenges would start right away!!
Being sleep-deprived, hormonal, tender in all your tender-est places and also beginning to provide food for your baby literally uses all of your physical resources. On top of that you don’t have time to ____________________ (Fill in the blank—for me it was meditate, read, exercise, be alone) so all of your resourcing crutches are also removed. In a lot of ways this is ripe ground for getting really, really, really, real about taking care of yourself.
In the first months of Wolf’s life I found myself acting out, snapping, and just generally feeling crabby/annoyed towards myself and others (especially my husband) in a way I hadn’t in years. I noticed critical thoughts and powerful emotions arising about things I was doing. I was hyper critical towards Jeff. I found myself snapping at him—often in the middle of the night when we were trying to get the baby back to sleep— or for not putting the dishes away properly, or not getting me water fast enough (nursing makes you sooo thirsty!) or putting a diaper on incorrectly so that pee leaked out (as if I never did that!).
It surprised and frustrated me to feel like I was “losing my cool” over and over again. And then what did the mind go ahead and do with that? It made me wrong for it, when what I needed was forgiveness and a lot of extra leeway for a transformational experience that was going through me and through Jeff!
Eventually I learned to take a deep breath, yell, cry, or walk away when I needed to, to let the surges of incredible emotion pass through my body and of course apologize when I could, to my husband yes, but also to myself for holding such a high standard and thinking it was a real place I could live from. Forgiveness, loving-kindness, and self-love are your new best friends. And if they weren’t already a big part of your life, now is a great time to welcome them whole-heartedly in.
Postpartum Body Image
Wow, this is one of those elephants in the room. Just about every woman I’ve spoken with, who has a new baby, talks about how challenging this was for her, yet we hardly ever address it. Here’s my quick and dirty on it.
The practical and mostly physical:
After you give birth you are still going to have a big belly!! Maybe you know this already but I didn’t really have any idea of what to expect. The cool thing is that your big belly is going to shrink very quickly as your uterus resumes its normal (about the size of a pear) size. So that’s a pretty amazing thing in and of it itself to experience. Frankly everything your body just did, from growing a human being, to birthing that human being out into the world is fucking incredible. Really I can’t think of anything much more awe-inspiring that one could do with a body.
After your uterus shrinks you are going to have some extra belly fat and skin that you didn’t have before (not to mention what’s going on with your boobs!) but this is great, it means you’ve created the maternal fat stores that you need to feed your baby. Nice job.
No. You probably aren’t going to be able to fit back into your pre-pregnancy pants for a while.
No. You don’t even bother trying them on for a couple of months ( I waited four and then it was still too soon).
Yes, buy yourself (or get from a friend) some comfortable, stretchy clothes that you feel good wearing. Something fresh and clean. A few different outfits that you can wear during those first weeks postpartum. I liked PJ pants with different patterns and nursing tank tops (I was almost constantly hot or having hot flashes). Cause right… the night sweats… noone mentions the night sweats. For at least a week, and it may have been more, I had bed sheet soaking brain exploding hot flashes run through my system.
Yes, you take time, even if it’s just 30 minutes, for yourself everyday. I made sure to shower and get dressed in clean clothes each morning after breakfast. A mama friend gave me some fancy nice-smelling bath products, this became my ritual: shower or bath, lots of suds, brush teeth, and coat myself in lavender body moisturizer. This also helped me with visitors stopping by and relatives who wanted to take my photo. Hmmm, yes, I know I’ll appreciate seeing those photos later, but I still wasn’t psyched about having them taken in the moment—the clean clothes and shower helped! (Addendum to the photo part 7 years later: If you don’t like it, as I did not, you truly can tell people who want to take your picture, no. No, really, NO.)
Don’t overdo it!!! Even if you feel like you have the energy for a walk, run, bike session in the first weeks after your baby is born, you probably don’t. That’s not what that energy is for (nor is it for cleaning the house, or doing laundry if possible). It’s for your healing/recovery, and for your new baby. Can I please just remind you of what your body just did! Seriously it’s wild. Take my advice--lay low, take it easy, watch a TV series you’ve always wanted to watch (if you have the bandwidth) and just let all those beautiful, tender parts of you heal. Another amazing Elizabeth Moore quote, “The fastest road to get there, is the slowest.” (Addendum to the above 7 years later, and after a second birth and child, I did walk sooner than was “advised” after our second, Alice was born, because I had severe anxiety, and the walking helped. But I had to be very careful and pay close attention to not overdoing it. Trust your intuition. And I want to take a moment to recognize that many new parents are so very alone and without resources and support, if this is you, rest when you can and do your best to ask for help when you can. Most people are more than eager to lend a hand, do some laundry, provide a meal etc. to new parents. But without the ask, they may not offer. Be brave, say yes. Receive. )
When Your Milk Comes In
“In the next few days, when your milk comes in, you are going to experience another brand new sensation that you’ve never felt before as your body begins to turn blood into milk for your baby.”
When Elizabeth said that to me on day two of Wolf’s life I wanted to say, Another new sensation?? Can’t I be done with those for a while?! In fact I may actually have said that. Just when I felt a little bit of ground back under my feet, my milk arrived. In the big picture this is a good, grand, wonderful thing. But it’s also So. Freakin’. Weird. Your boobs get giant (like double triple D/E/F depending on where you started out) and they are rock hard with milk. It’s uncomfortable and very emotional for a lot of women. I won’t say a ton about this because it’s so different for every person but just some general thoughts… it’s really an incredibly bizarre experience (and can I also mention amazing again, really what a magnificent body you have!).
Give yourself some space, don’t decide to have a lot of visitors around the house on day three/four of baby’s life (especially ones you don’t want to see your GIANT, swollen, leaking breasts). Take showers and baths, cover yourself with lotion, put on your roomiest top, rest, relax, keep your baby close. Kiss, hold and love that baby. Feed that baby. Lie down. Rest. Go back to bed. Cry as much as you feel like and don’t worry about it. Laugh if you can. Ask your partner to hold your hand, ask your mom to give you a kiss. Let yourself be coddled. Breathe deeply these moments when you are on the cusp of the power of birth.
Nursing is hard work. It takes a lot of energy, time, and good food for you! Don’t be worried if it’s not easy. I had a pretty “easy” time and it was still hard. There’s tons of resources out there to support you in breastfeeding. Use them. And if, like many women, your milk doesn't come in, and you can’t get the milk flowing, be easy with yourself, there’s thousands of children now grown into adults who drank formula, donor milk, a mix of both, and guess what they’re just fine.
Postpartum Support—the Internet is not your friend!
It’s a wild ride. And unspeakably beautiful. “So big. So wide. So deep,” as a friend said to me. Jeff and I chose to have a homebirth and as a result we had the care of our midwife well beyond the length of a normal hospital stay. She visited us every week for checkups during Wolf’s first four weeks of life and almost everyday during the first week of his life. She was also available by phone for questions, concerns, and herbal remedies both for me and for our new baby. Jeff and I both felt that her support was incredibly important for our postpartum journey.
If you don’t have a midwife or doctor whose care will extend beyond your hospital stay I highly recommend hiring a postpartum doula, or having a friend/friends/family who you trust and are comfortable with (and have experience with birth!) close at hand. We loved having a professional come to our house and check up on us. Elizabeth helped us with everything from our first diaper changes to a clogged duct in one of my breasts.
Every time I looked something up on the Internet I went to the worst-case scenario: a clogged duct became mastitis, a blue day became postpartum depression, some extra crying (from the baby not me this time) became a horrific food allergy. Elizabeth talked me back from the cliff on all of these occasions and gave me practical advice that didn’t involve a trip to the ER, heavy duty antibiotics, and usually involved nothing more than a warm washcloth (or cold cabbage leaves---they work wonders on swollen breasts and hurting nipples… for real) and some ibuprofen. And if you do need antibiotics for mastitis, as I did for my second child, take them, without question. Enjoy what you can of the ease we have treating infections like this, think of the women who didn’t have anything of the sort!
On those days when you want to escape, when you feel disgusting and out of sorts, when you can’t see straight from being tired and the mind wants to beat you up on top of it all, take that undying love that you now have for your baby and direct it inwards. After all this is where that beautiful new being came from in the first place. Below are a few mantras and words of wisdom that helped me.
Remember you are healing from the inside out. Don’t try to push your body to “return” to some fantasy of “before” it won’t serve you in the long run. In fact you will likely injure yourself by trying to go too quickly. Imagine a healing ball of light originating in your now empty uterus. Fill that new space in your body with this perfect restorative energy and let it run its course. You need to do nothing except welcome it into your body and let it guide your recovery.
Your body knew how to get here. It knew how to grow a human child and birth it into the world. It knows how to recover and restore itself as well. Let it happen at its own pace.
Recognize, Release, and Replace. Every time a negative body image or scary “I don’t know what I’m doing!?” thought comes through, notice it as soon as you are able, and replace it with love. If you like stop your actions in that moment and place a hand on that part of your body and say one of the following:
Thank you for bringing my healthy baby into the world.
Thank you for serving me and allowing for a beautiful birth.
Thank you for providing milk for my child.
Thank you for being strong and wide and open and allowing my baby to arrive.
I know you are healing in your own time.
I’m learning everything I need one step at a time to be a mother.
Go to the bathroom when you have to! Eat when you are hungry, and rest when you need to.
This is a silly one, but go to the bathroom when you have time. Also take a rest when you have time. Don’t wait for “a little later,” or after I just “quickly do these dishes, fold this laundry, pick up this… finish typing this sentence” (I just stopped and took a pee!). There won’t be a later like there used to be. Now is the time to pee. NOW is the time to eat. Now is the time to sit down. Holding it isn’t good for your bladder especially after having a baby. It’s a little thing but an important part of self care.
Kegel while you Nurse!
I felt really intimidated when I read that I “should” be doing 200 kegels a day! That seems like a lot. But if I do twenty or so a few times a day while nursing I really feel like it makes a difference.
I’m going to end this here before it becomes a book. Good luck. Much love. Call me for anything (and at any time!) and welcome to motherhood.
Your friend, Paige
PS. Speaking of books, I loved “After the Baby’s Birth” by Robin Lim. It’s out of print now but you can find it on Amazon used for like $60.00.
About this writing: This is a series of short essays that I wrote after my first child was born. I gave them as gifts to friends who were having their own first children. Now I have two, and they are well beyond babyhood.
I am publishing this here for others to read and find themselves within. Perhaps your journey is similar or perhaps it varies greatly from the above. It is through the sharing of our experiences of motherhood that we can all continue to find the strength, vulnerability, love, community, and support that we need to be parents. Postpartum care is getting some good attention these days, but it still a sorely under resourced and misunderstood time in women's lives.
When I re-read this recently, after a friend sent it back to me, I found some of the wisdom from that fresh "new mom" time to be good reminders for this moment of my life.... I'm still remembering to pee when I need to!! And more so, reading these words was a potent reminder of this incredible time that new mothers around us are walking through everyday. These essays were a reminder to check in with new mothers (and seasoned ones!) often and to support their well-being and mental health through all the means possible. Whether you are a new mom or not, you will have the opportunity at some point to be a part of the support network for someone who is, and you were definitely born to a mother somewhere.
I work with teens, young adults, mothers and other adults too! Reach out if you'd like to schedule an intro phone call. Learn more about my offerings on my main website. paigedoughty.com