My husband and father-in-law talk downstairs about the score of the baseball game. The baby and I have retreated to the rocking chair in the nursery and I finally get him to stop screaming as he latches on and begins sucking. I set my head back on the plush cushion, close my eyes, and rock.
Even though it’s just me and the baby, I’m embarrassed by the hot tears that well up in my eyes and begin to drip out and down. My nose tingles and I let the warm liquid roll down my cheeks – mainly because my hands are busy holding the baby and I don’t want to disturb him. Laughter and deep voices on a summer Saturday travel up the staircase of our Chicago apartment. My tears form faster and fall harder.
Do they see me? Does my husband know I’m up here crying? Why am I crying? And they sound so happy – as if nothing in their world has changed.
My heart opening as a result of new motherhood shook me the most. It wasn’t the constant crying or the sore breasts or the change in sleep routine. The existing with my heart wide open is what rocked me, broke me, and made me want to put myself back together – just as I was before having a baby.
I grasped at things that would make me feel like my old, cocooned self. I wanted to fit back into my pre-pregnancy clothes. I wanted to go out to a restaurant and drink a glass of wine. I wanted to go back to work, shop with friends, watch a tv show with my husband on the couch, without worrying if the baby would wake up.
But no matter how hard I tried to return to that “girl before kids”, something felt wrong – I felt open and vulnerable and way too exposed. It was as if the whole world could all of a sudden see me, and I couldn’t discern what they thought.
As a new mom, I encourage you to keep your heart open. Once it breaks, once you experience heartache or tragedy or overwhelming love, stay that way. Stay open and in awe. Let yourself experience the rawness of finally living in the moment. Of letting all your flaws and fears hang out in the living room while visitor after visitor come by to make small talk and lay their eyes on the new baby.
I breathed in the tenderness and constant fullness in my breasts, but also in my entire chest. Some days my whole body drooped and shook, my arms aching from rocking the baby, my head foggy from midnight feedings. And then, there was something about the look my husband gave me when he saw me with the baby – as if he was seeing me for the first time. And I needed his reassurance – Is it good, honey? Am I good?
The armor I had been wearing before motherhood was layered and impenetrable. I rarely used my voice to express myself, and when I did, it was always through the filter of society’s expectations of a woman. I dressed up, played the part, cultivated independence while remaining sweet and innocent. Motherhood helped to chip away at this facade – and once it started crumbling, I found that I actually liked the result – the real me.
When we, as women, reveal our true selves, we actually change and heal the world. Our collective feminine, viewed without the overwhelming lens of patriarchy, is raw and beautiful, just like an open heart, and just like motherhood.
It’s not perfect, but once you’re a new mom, like most life-changing experiences, it’s actually more painful to try and go back. To try to put the armor back on, and function as if nothing has changed.
Because everything has changed. I’m nursing my baby upstairs in order to not be caught crying. They can’t see me upset when I’ve been blessed with a healthy baby boy. They can’t see me acting ungrateful. So at what point do I accept myself, just as I am, right in this moment? At what point do I accept my sadness and overwhelm as a new mom along with my love and joy? Maybe as part of my love and joy?
This is the key to maintaining an open heart – first acceptance, then compassion. An understanding that remaining open doesn’t mean being full of love and happiness all the time. It only means giving yourself permission to be who you are.
Motherhood means you finally get to voice how you feel, and look how you look. You get to act as you are, where you are, when you are. You don’t judge or dismiss your feelings, but rather observe and forgive them. Some days you’ll get everything “right” and feel like you can shoulder the struggles of the entire world. Other days you’ll feel so alone, even with the new baby next to you, it’s like no one else is real. Like the people on the sidewalk below you, sipping coffee and walking leisurely with their dogs – ummm, do they get it? There’s a baby crying up here, and he’s been awake most of the night – do they even know??
No, you’re not the same, and you can’t go backwards. But, you’ve been given an opportunity to get comfy in your vulnerability, and in your beautiful rawness. Which will open up so much for you, Mama – and truthfully, will change our world.