donderdag 14 januari 2016

Preparing for postpartum (1): mothering the mother

After my son was born I didn`t exactly take it easy. Less than 48 hours after giving birth, I was literally wheeled out of the hospital in a wheelchair, still wobbly. To be quite honest, I was happy to leave as I hadn`t been able to sleep during my stay there as every hour of the night someone would come in to check some of my vital signs. (Like seriously though...) I knew I would be more comfortable and able to get some rest at home. 

Although that was true, I did try to *bounce back* immediately. I thought I was supposed to. My son was only a few days old when I strapped him to my chest in a carrier and went walking to the grocery store to get us some things. Every day during the first week I had to get outside the house because of a doctor`s appointment for my son or for some administration that had to be done as we would be travelling in a few weeks time. When I was home and not nursing/changing/cuddling my son, I was folding laundry and doing the dishes. I thought I was supposed to. 

As we were staying far away from family and friends and my husband was busy studying for exams at the time, I felt like I had no choice but to immediately bounce back and continue life like I didn`t just go through a labor marathon and had a newborn. I thought I was supposed to. 

I continued to keep up my new supermom-act in the weeks to come: when my son was 3 weeks old we had to travel across the world and through time-zones. After a 24 hour travel and having just had a baby you`ld think I would just crawl up in bed and sleep, right? Instead, I made myself coffee and started cleaning. I thought I was supposed to. 

I think you`re getting the picture here. During the whole transition of becoming a mother, I made sure my son was very well taken care of. But I forgot someone very important along the way. I forgot myself. And because I was so far away from family and loved ones, there was no one who would notice how much I was slipping away. How much my needs were being neglected. How I wasn`t being taken care of. 

Being an expat mom made the situation tougher in the sense that there was nobody to *step in*. I hardly had visitors and simply had no one to call to come over to lend me a helping hand as everyone that could have lend a hand lived thousands of miles away. This made the pressure of having *to do it all* mount to a boiling point. 

And I would suffer the consequences both physically and mentally for months to come. My nifaaz (postpartum bleeding) lasted even longer than the usual 40 days, which can easily be contributed to the fact that I really did not take it easy or grant my body the rest it needed. I suffered from issues like constipation for quite a while and severe postpartum hair loss as I wasn`t nourishing my body properly. Because of travelling through time-zones and not taking it easy afterwards, I developed insomnia which resulted in panic attacks and some serious postpartum blues that would carry on for several months. The saddest part? It would take a long time before I actually started to feel connected to my son. That overwhelming sense of love that is supposed to knock you off your feet once that little bundle is placed in your arms? I only started to experience that type of love when my son was already a couple of months old. Not exactly how I expected motherhood to be... 

When I finally made it out of the newborn stage I honestly felt battered, disappointed and I felt a deep sense of loss. A loss of not having been able to enjoy much of those first weeks and months of my son`s life. I felt like something had been stolen from me. And I felt angry. Angry at our western society that doesn`t teach us anymore how to properly support a new mother. A society that thinks mothers should *do it all* all of the time. A society where we have forgotten that (new) mothers also need *mothering*. 

Gradually I was able to accept those feelings. Process them. And let them go. Gradually I put the pieces of myself that I had lost along the way back together and started to make *self-care* a priority in my life. Gradually being a mother became the greatest source of joy in my life and alhamdouliLlah, it still is today. 

However... I promised myself that I would help other women avoid getting caught up in a similar situation. (Which is exactly why I am writing about this.) I also promised myself that if I would ever be pregnant again, I would do things completely differently. 

And so I am. Already half way through my second pregnancy I have been busy preparing for my postpartum period. Where most mothers are focused on baby gear and choosing colors to design the nursery, I have started to prepare for my *lying-in* (More about that later.), am reading on proper nutrition, gathering information on natural ways to heal both physically and emotionally and stay in balance and most importantly: I am looking for a cleaning aid. ;-) This time around my priority is self-care. 

If you`re a mom-to-be or pregnant with a second, third, ... little one, I urge you to do the same. Self-care does not mean being selfish. I had to lose myself in order to realize that self-care was not a luxury, but a necessity. It means making sure your own cup is filled before you`re going to fill up those of others. 

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