Shadow of a woman with her newborn babyShadow of a woman with her newborn baby

A Mother's Raw Journey Through the Postpartum Silence An embrace of the shadows.

By Lisa McCann | Photo by @_mariatoscano

I’m sitting in the sterile waiting room in the maternity hospital, waiting to go in for my twenty-eight-week scan on my third pregnancy. For a brief moment, I will see my baby. He will be bigger this week. I will try not to talk nervously to the obstetrician, to fill the silence with irrelevant words, words I know the answer to, having done this twice before – and yet.

This is a different baby; this is something new. I will try to savor the moment – to see him and fully experience these few seconds. Normally, he is hidden beneath layers of wool and fabric. He kicks sporadically throughout the day and night. His heart beats alongside mine, reminding me I am never alone (at least for now). He is the same size as his brother and sister were at this many weeks.

The first trimester was a month of unrelenting nausea, moments of joy, lots of reading, and refusing crab claws and rosé on the beach.

“Everyone knows!! They know!”

I spent my days sleeping in rickety beach chairs as my little girl and boy built sandcastles made of shells and flowers nearby. This third baby went from being a blueberry to a cucumber to a cauliflower. The app doesn’t tell me much, only that. I forget to check it. This is the third and last time I will do this.

So I sit in the waiting room and I feel angry. I am surrounded by advertisements for breastfeeding and bathing babies – happy babies, calm babies. I remember my first baby and how I fell off a cliff after she was born, and no one warned me. I learned so many things. I thought I was prepared, and practically speaking I was. What I wasn’t prepared for was me – how I would be.

That’s why I sit here and am angry because no one told me. In this place where babies are born. They arrive into the world, so many of them. But mothers are born here too. It’s all I can think of. I am flooded with imagery of all the lonely mothers. Their babies are beautifully dressed, with pudgy cheeks and everything new babies need, like bibs, bottles, strollers, and blankets. They have mothers who love them so much it hurts – it physically and mentally hurts. We are hurt, but no one asks us how we are. Not really.

I want to talk about how it is and how it feels.

One thing I know is there will be love – this body I haven’t loved has made this smaller body. This beautiful, otherworldly being with feathery eyelashes and perfectly formed fingernails (they grew inside me!) This love is a tidal wave – it swells inside and turns to tears.

The experience of giving birth and the aftermath is pure emotion and transformation – it is crying at the joy, at the relief, and the delirious exhaustion. There will be excruciating pain, night sweats, a catastrophic drop in hormone levels, and postpartum bleeding. Tiny pills, laxatives, and cups of tea mixed with tears. Round pink cheeks and a new sense of self and sense of purpose.

Each time we give birth, we know more – what won’t be done for us and what we must do for ourselves. Being honest about the difficulties we each face can lighten our mental load. A friend who recently gave birth to her first child reminded me that, as women, we are innately hard on ourselves, so when it comes to childbirth and motherhood as the ultimate measure of being a woman, we can’t afford to fail. We feel an unrelenting drive to be the perfect mother and not to show the darkness or admit weakness.

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After my first and second children were born, my friends and I would meet up for coffee and walks. We were raw, our arms ached – we had nothing to offer each other or ourselves. I wanted to talk about the violence of it all, and I wanted to howl. Instead, as new mothers, we held our babies and talked about their sleep. Anxiety and intrusive thoughts began to frame my days, especially with my second child. The hyper-vigilance that kicks in to ensure your baby’s survival became almost relentless, and I would hear the newborn cry wherever I went.

As those deliriously joyous and exhausting days went by, I would wrap myself up in soft blankets and loose sweatshirts and wait for the healing to begin. I slowly began to talk about all of it with whoever would listen, and I instantly felt braver. I finally accepted as much help as possible because I realized I couldn’t do it all with two children.

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I felt stronger from doing regular Pilates classes. I wrote about all of it in my journal, no matter how dark it all got. I am still looking for that perfect support group for new Mothers, but maybe this time, I will find it.

After each birth, I stared at each baby in wonder: I was broken, but they were perfect. I would never hold this against them. They are the beauty in the darkness.