Our daughter’s birth was over nine years ago so everything about that experience is blurred by time – and the absolute fatigue of being a new parent. However, to complete my doula certification, I must write a reflective essay on my child’s birth or my postpartum experience. If I hadn’t journaled about the experience nine years ago, it would now be a shadow of a couple memories that were particularly difficult.
This morning, from my daughter’s box of keepsakes, I pulled two leather bound journals filled with pages of memories. I hadn’t read them in years and never before with the intention of reflection. My words are raw, but in the style of a journalistic account of the event. Entry after entry, for weeks, I documented feelings of total inadequacy, “Watching you sleep as I went through paperwork and suddenly started crying – felt scared and insecure about my ability to care for you. So small and dependent.” Then, with no examination of my feelings or what I might do to feel more secure, I moved on to how many hours of sleep I got the night before and that I was glad her dad had insisted I sleep between daytime feedings.
Maybe there was nothing to examine. Maybe, at the time, I just needed to put ink to my emotions so they were validated to me. However, in the long run, personal validation doesn’t give closure to the feelings that I was alone and felt that no one had shared my experience. I documented waves of tears, being generally overwhelmed, and missing her dad even though we were in the same house for days, and feeling totally incapable of being a parent. Then there are the entries documenting the love – the inexplicable amount of love I had for my baby. It’s been over nine years and reading about those days sends me back to tears in an instant.
Looking back, I know we really needed more support, but at the time it didn’t seem necessary. People had been having babies, well, since the dawn of humanity. We were smart and self-reliant. Why would we need help? We had each other. What a lovely, apple pie in the sky, white picket fence, daydream that was – with a foundation based in a total lack of experience. Now, I see who I was, what I went through in those days, and know I survived to become stronger as a person and a damn good mama. I hug the me that was so fragile and scared those nine years ago. I tell her she’s going to survive that time and so much more. With the crystal ball of hindsight, I think how things might have been different if we’d had more emotional support. Maybe we could have averted divorce if we’d had someone to guide us and encourage us to take time for ourselves. Maybe having someone to encourage us to talk about our fears would have prevented us from isolating each other. Maybe instead of writing it down in my journal, and stashing the book away til the next entry, I could have told her dad I was thankful he insisted I try to sleep between feedings. Maybe, so many maybes. All the what ifs pour into my mind. But we didn’t have a support person to turn to – family is often too close to you to ask the hard questions and we were the first of our friends to have a child – so we fought through the fog and we managed to keep our baby alive and healthy.
I am so blessed that I’ve been called to help families through their transition of welcoming a new life, their new identities as parents, stress of losing freedoms, and the overwhelming emotions of parenting. I pray to every deity, and ask my own intuition, for the ability to listen and guide and empower families to be the best version of their story. Parenting. Marriage. Partnerships. Identities. Life. It’s all so hard, so hard, but can be so very good.