Its 2.30 am and she hasn't slept since about three days before her birth. Which was about 3 days ago.
The baby is screaming.
Her breasts are screaming.
She cannot tollerate another hour of the baby hanging from her nipple, sucking the life out of her. She can barely sit because the stiches have swollen. Her arms are sore. Her back aches.
All day long her family has sat around her, passing the baby around and thinking of creative new ways to shut the screaming up. They've given their expert opinion on her milk making capacity, they've commented on the babies weight less (apparent, they say) and question on whether she is really going to wait five days for the milk to come in??? is she sure???
2.30 am and she is alone. The family has dissappeared with their expert opinions and their wisdom and their oatmeals and fennel teas. Her mother appears at the door and looks at her, "Is there anything I can do dear?" "No Mom." "Why is the baby crying again?" "I don't know mom". "Here, give me the child...."
The post partum war has established itself deeply in the folds of the bedroom curtains. It hides in the bed sheets jumping out everytime someone rustles the covers. It hides behind the door jumping out at her everytime she, or someone else opens or closes the door.
Its either me or the baby. And since I'm bigger and older, its going to be me who wins this one.
Despite our childbirth preparation, parenting classes, women's groups, feminism, blogging and midwifery model of care, as new mothers we are completely unprepared for the postpartum war. And we think we won't fight it. And time and time again, I walk into a woman's home postpartum and find her thick in the battle.
So what is the postpartum war?
1. It is our intuitive mothering skills that we inherit from our mother. This is beyond reading and reason. This is the basic, unconditional, completely dedicated love that our mother gave to us during our post partum period. Yes, that was the 70's wasnt it? Mom was in some purple post-anesthesia haze, with some bizarre formula instructions in one hand and the absolute urgency to train us, 5 day old women, to be independent and assertive. 30 years later, with a Masters degree and 5 years of therapy to heal mom's deep mistakes, we find ourselves wondering why the baby won't just shut up and go to sleep and stop being so dependent on us for every little thing!!!!!
Regardless of what we have learned, we learned to mother during our first two years post partum. We learned that from mom, who did the best she could. But also was fighting a war with us. Because she, like us, was told that babies need to be disciplined, managed, not spoiled. That we must set boundaries and not lose our independence. That life is too complex for unconditional dedication. There's too much to do. And babies need to learn independence and rules. Get them out of the bed and off the breast or they will be there for 38 years!!!
2. We honestly believe that two needs and desires cannot live in one space. You want milk and I want to sleep. You want attention and arms and I need to go to the bathroom (and I've been constipated ALL WEEK!!!). You need me to stare at you in bed all day and I have about 56 emails to answer right now. You need my completely undivided 24 hour attention and I need a breast pump so I can get out of this trap as soon as possible and regain the independence that it took me 33 years to achieve!!!
The truth is, as mothers we can and must learn to live with two needs and desires in one space. It doesn't have to be one or the other, as long as we are completely, totally dedicated to our baby when it is time to do that. As skilled as we are, we cannot multi-task when it comes to giving our baby undivided attention, which is what our babies need. Even if it is only a few hours a day. No one needs to win this war. We need to stop thinking we need to fight it.
3. The baby doesn't need to shut up, the baby needs to be heard. If the baby is screaming, the mother is screaming. The mother and baby are so fused during the first two years that it is impossible for the baby not to manifest the mother's emotions. As polite women, we keep our emotions within. Only to find that after all the lactation experts have left our bed-side, our baby screams for about four hours. The baby needs to be heard and the mother needs to listen. The mother needs to talk and state her needs and the rest of us need to listen. The rest of us need to listen to the baby and attend to its needs. And baby needs are pretty simple. LOVE. Pure, Genuine, oxitocin induced, dedicated, unconditional, focused love.
Eventually a baby who is never heard will shut up. And 30 years later she will wonder why her beautiful postpartum bed has become a war.