Hollywood sold me a lie.
Shocker, right? Let’s remember, I’m part of the Disney generation, a lover of rom-coms and a Pinterest fanatic. In what facet of my life did I fall for a lie? Well, I had every expectation that as soon as my baby was born, life would be perfect. Hard work, yes, but blissful perfection. I would love that little cherub so much so that life couldn’t help but be calm and zen-like.
All you parents out there are laughing at me. I’m finally in on the joke.
You see, what we don’t talk about often in movies or in Birth and Babies classes are the severe losses that both men and women experience postpartum.
Yes, you’ve got this ADORABLE peanut to call your own, but your life has changed irrevocably, and it’s both terrifying and something to grieve. Old life? Goodbye! Never to be seen again. To be fair, I’m happy to leave days of sickly sweet shot-induced hangovers at the bottom of the memory pile, but I do miss lying in on the weekend, or being sick and taking an actual sick day – you know, a sick day that doesn’t involve being there for anybody but your phlegm-congested self.
When I was in the depths of my postpartum depression, I met with a phenomenal counsellor. While my postpartum had many facets to it, the losses of a former life to the current life was a theme that kept coming up. Prepared counsellor that she was, she gave me a handout on postpartum losses. Here’s that same list, courtesy of Families Matter:
- Being irresponsible
- Body image
- Time for yourself/your spouse
- Being pregnant
- Ability to focus
- Yourself as an individual
- Yourself in relation to the world
- Income/Financial independence
- Sense of accomplishment
- Ability to concentrate
- Immunity of childhood issues
- Professional identity
- Being organized
- Feeling competent
- Trust in self
- People contact
- Eating habits
- Old relationships
- Being in control
- Adequate sleep
- The “dream” of parenting
Seeing this list really put things into perspective for me. It meant that I wasn’t alone or abnormal for feeling off after having my son. It was normal to feel like I’d lost myself, my identity and my free time. It was normal to feel a little disconnected from my spouse, to feel that the image I had of parenting wasn’t accurate or that I wasn’t confident in my skills as a parent.
And if this is how I was feeling, it’s how millions of other parents, both the birth mothers and the other parents, are feeling as well. Your life has turned upside down into this world of poopy diapers, feedings, nipple confusion, sleep schedules and the lot.
So what do we do about it?
Well, according to my counsellor, you’ve actually got to acknowledge the changes to your life and grieve the losses. At first I felt like a jerk for grieving the loss of my former life. Society makes you feel selfish for that, and people can be unnecessarily judgmental. Don’t let it. Focus inward for a bit and forget the noise and the guilt.
Grieving the loss actually helps us to move on. We may have had an idea, in theory, that our lives were going to change dramatically, but it’s one thing to imagine the change that comes with a child and another thing to experience it. Sort of akin to people telling you how painful natural childbirth is versus actually feeling like you’re going to rip in two… that kind of thing.
There is so much research out there that shows that if we take the time to grieve, we can reach the point of acceptance. If someone close to you died, you’d grieve in order to move on. Well, part of your life died. Again, I am incredibly grateful that I have the kid that I do, as are other parents who go through this, but part of your life is gone, and in order to move forward you need to grieve.
So, what are some creative, constructive ways to grieve? First, don’t turn to food or alcohol. It’s so easy to do that, but so destructive for your health, and are more likely avoidance tactics.
- Keep a journal, write your feelings down;
- Exercise. Walking, running, anything where you can let your body expel some energy while your mind is free to process is a positive thing;
- Talk to people you trust and that you know are supportive. This could be friends and family, and/or a counsellor. Finding someone that has been through this and made it to the other side is so helpful;
- Take time each day to really cherish your kid. It can be hard. They’re teething, or they’re crying, or you’ve changed the millionth diaper, but find those moments. For me, it was the special smile, blowing raspberries on his belly, or feeding him in the middle of the night, patting him gently to burp him in his sleep. Focus on these moments. Make your memories in these moments.
For anyone that’s feeling the loss of their former life, the shift from individual to parent, know that you’re not alone. Know that it’s okay, and don’t let yourself or others make you feel guilty for it. Haters gonna hate, and all that. If nothing else, I’m here for you. I’ll be your kindred spirit.