One summer, when I was in my twenties, I skipped town. On a whim I hired a Ute with a friend and moseyed up the north coast of NSW. We ceased showering for days, lived on mangos, slept early, woke at dawn puffy with heat. We laughed at our body odour, snapped shots of our tent-swollen eyes, and ignored the salt encrusted dreadlocks in our hair. We looked, quite frankly, a mess.
About a month after the birth of both my babies, I looked similar to that twenty something, but I couldn’t have felt further from her long ago carefree relaxed attitude.
For anyone else in these shoes you’ll understand the shock of seeing the ‘revamped’ you staring back from the mirror. You register the shock, and then scan the room looking for your hairbrush, but it’s probably still lying dormant in the unpacked hospital bag. Your eyes are puffy from lack of sleep, skin crusted with dried breast milk and a shower? What the hell is that?
The look of someone after a perfect summer holiday look, but without having the holiday part.
This is known unofficially as the blinding reality phase. Or the “What-the-xxx-just-happened?” Your birth experience was planned to the teeniest detail – god your birth plan even had photos of lotus flowers opening. You know because you clocked feeling slightly embarrassed by the detail of it, just as the midwife slid that plan into her top drawer. Birth is done – still trying to be understood, mind you – but parenthood? Doesn’t that just happen? Apparently not. Because parenthood is one of the biggest life transformations a woman or couple will ever pass through. Birth is foreplay compared to parenthood (sorry for the sex reference, yes your libido also got lost along with the shower, the hair brush and the hairdryer).
Yet as with all transitions, grief and loss are a fundamental step towards stepping into the new role of parent. Do you know that actually don’t love your baby any less if you wish at moments you were with your work colleagues again. Those ones who knew you well enough to get you a coffee at nine forty every morning. Or if you feel resentment because along with the joy of their arrival, it also brought two thighs that no longer fit into those black jeans you’d loved for a decade and a half.
Elly Taylor, relationship counsellor and co-author of Becoming Us describes the birth of a child as a time in a woman and her partner’s life as being one of the most important life transitions, and one we as a society fail to mark. And by missing it, she believes “..couples who rush to get back to a “normal” life as quickly as possible, thinking that’s what they should be doing, put way too much pressure on themselves and each other.” Taylor claims this is a time to embrace the transition because ‘It’s about becoming your new version of “us”. This is about creating a new normal, but in order to do this, we need to grieve the old norm. Another vital step in this process.
Here’s a brief list of the kind of transitions Taylor refers to:
Parenthood is a potholed with transformations. A new mother transforms from daughter to mother (or for men -from son to father). From lover to parent.
Taylor believes that by misunderstanding how vital it is to mark the transition to parenthood, can cause “a disconnect in the experience inside of a woman which she can’t even articulate to herself let alone to her husband.”
So what can you do?
The attuned parent is what we aim to become. We know our baby wants and needs this from us, but it takes time to attune to your infant and to get to know who this person is. Time to allow for that to unfold. And heck, time is something you now have a lot of. Maybe not to get your hair washed, or the knots brushed out, but being with this little one, that time will last a lifetime.
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