If there's a spectrum for how first-time moms bounce back — psychologically and physically — in the first months after coming home from delivering a baby, I'd place myself way to the side . . . the tapered end so flat you have to squint to see it. That's me. Hi, I'm waving. Here on the end of the bell curve that indicates normalcy in postpartum experiences. Of course, I'm not surreptitiously hanging onto the edge by any clinical standards. I just assume I belong here, because my first few months home from the hospital sucked.
Exclusive breastpumping sucked. Postpartum anxiety and panic double-sucked. My potentially fractured hip from delivering my baby via vacuum extraction triple-sucked (eight pounds, nine ounces, 22 1/2 inches ain't easy to get out!). I addressed these things in order of importance, first treating my mental duress — it's hard to parse usual chemical imbalances from the hormonal thwack that takes you down after delivery — and then focusing on physical wounds. Once I had a handle on those two things, I thought I was in the clear. But no, there was a new sensation waiting, staring directly at me with wide, unblinking eyes: fear. And fear hung out right by the front door, reminding me of all that would ostensibly happen if I tried to pass by and go outside with my new baby.
Scared to Leave the House
The thought of leaving the house with my newborn was easy to ignore when I couldn't, myself, leave the house. But once I was cleared to be an active participant in life, I had no excuses. The world was calling our name. "Come meet me and my new baby for coffee!" a Facebook mom-friend would beckon. What would I do if things went awry while I was out of the house — if my daughter cried and I couldn't console her, or she pooped and I couldn't adequately clean it up?
I Took My Own Baby Steps
I started by leaving the house to hang out with other moms and their newborns alone, without my daughter. I'd leave her at home with my mom and take the journey out alone, making notes of things other seemingly confident moms did with their infants in public. I paid attention to how they held them, how they reacted when the baby lurched into a loud scream, and how they excused themselves to handle blowouts. I'd ask questions like, "Where did you change her?" and insist they actually tell me what they used for a makeshift changing table, because I just didn't have the confidence that I'd be able to think on my feet like them.
I would never properly explain to them why I was showing up to mom meetups alone. I'd simply say things like "too hard today," which wasn't a lie, per se. But I was ashamed.
Taking care of a newborn can feel scary.
Eventually I worked up the chutzpah to take my daughter out with me in the stroller. Just us. We were going to meet another mom. Three blocks away from our house, my daughter had a huge diaper blowout and started screaming. I trembled, realizing that my worst fear was unfolding in front of me. "What would I do if she screamed in public?" was happening. I dumped my entire diaper bag onto a random driveway, pulled out the things I needed, and did a half-ass job of changing and cleaning her up. Still jittery, I only rebuttoned some of her clothing because I couldn't figure out the onesie, and ventured onward to meet my mom friend.
Coffee unfolded exactly as you imagined. My daughter screamed the entire time and was cold because I hadn't actually put her clothes back on.
All of the "what ifs" I was terrified about happening eventually happened. And we survived them. But it wasn't until speaking with people recently that I realized how normal this experience was. It wasn't just me afraid to leave the house with a newborn; many women feel this way. Taking care of a newborn can feel scary, and the unknown is daunting.
Perhaps my postpartum experience was completely normal after all, smack-dab right in the middle of the bell curve. It was just my own negative self-talk and judgment that made the experience more isolating.