Last week I went to visit a female GP for my 6 week postpartum check-up. It was weird. Even though she wasn’t my regular GP (ours is a dude and I wanted to talk female to female), I went in thinking I’d at last get a chance to talk to her about how I’m going physically and emotionally after labour. Either I have warped memories or things have changed drastically since my last postpartum check-up because that’s not how it went down at all.
She asked me how my labour was (Answer: very intense and very fast), whether or not I required stitches (Answer: No, thank heavens) and whether we had decided what type of contraception we will use now that it’s “safe” to start having sex again (Answer: We don’t use contraception, we practice natural family planning. No, that doesn’t mean we intend to have another child next week.). Then she asked me to hop on the bed for a pap smear. Now for a couple of people who barely exchanged words she seemed completely comfortable sticking a pair of medical-grade tongs up my vajayjay, which, by the way, was not on my agenda for the day and hurt like hell.
Then she asked me how baby was doing (Answer: Fine. Yes, he’s feeding well; gaining lots of weight and his jaundice is clearing). Then she signed a letter to say I was ok to start exercising again, and bub and I were shooed out of her room so her next patient could come in.
The post-partum check-up, ticked off and “complete” in less than 15 minutes. Except it didn’t feel complete at all. I don’t known if she even asked me how I was going apart from the very specific post-labour questions above. She did ask me if this was my first baby, and I guess because it isn’t I’m supposed to be ok.
Which is stupid, because that’s not how motherhood works.
People ask mums with new babies, “How are you going?” and we respond as well as we can, but the truth is, the answer changes depending on the day (or time of day), and sometimes I’m fine, and other times I want to collapse in a heap on the floor. Sometimes I feel like the luckiest woman in the world and other times I am certain there is no end to the cloudy, suffocating exhaustion that comes with being needed for someone else’s survival. The broad spectrum of positive and negative emotions that come with mothering a new baby fluctuate all the time. Sometimes I go from one end of the spectrum to the other within the space of an ad break. I am constantly riding an emotional seesaw and sometimes I want to get off.
There are about a million layers beneath the answers between “great”, “ok”, “tired” or “struggling”.
And it takes more than 10 minutes in a GP’s room to really explain how I am.
I don’t really know how to explain that while most of the time adjusting to having a new human has been a beautiful, love-filled experience and I feel like it’s easier because we’re familiar with what needs to be done plus this time we’re getting a ton of help from my in-laws, there are also times I feel so out of my depth and vulnerable because it hits me that I now have two people to take care of. And it scares the shit out of me. Sometimes I am celebrating how great I think I’m doing (the first time I got the two boys out of the house by myself I wanted a gold medal). And other times I am mourning. Mourning the loss of energy and loss of opportunities to recoup said lost energy. Mourning the loss of strength and control my body once had but doesn’t anymore. Mourning the loss of time to just talk to my husband. Mourning the loss of opportunities to eat together as a family. Mourning the loss of independence that comes with leaving the house for work and spending most of the day with adults, having adult conversations. Mourning the loss of doing things in my own time or on my own terms (like going to the toilet, eating my lunch or writing anything longer than a text message or Instagram comment – this post has taken me six days to write because I have to keep leaving it).
I know that in the grand scheme of life these are minor losses. That many of these losses are temporary, and I am being petty for mourning these when there are bigger, more tragic things worth contemplating given the state of the world. But right now, my children are my world. And sometimes these losses feel enormous. Like I have lost lots of little things that make up me, or at least some sense of me. And now I have to rediscover who I am and what my strengths are because, just like when my status changed from non-parent to parent, my status has changed from mother of one to mother of two. And while the change is not as monumental as the first time, it’s a big change nonetheless.
So when someone asks how I am, I say “Good,” or “Ok,” or “Tired,”. It seems a bit silly to say “Drowning,” because I know I am doing more than just staying afloat (even though sometimes it feels like only just). Besides, I have two kids who need me to be their anchor so drowning is not an option. It’s just… I have yet to find the word(s) to best describe the half-awesome/half-sad feeling of having gained and lost so many things at once.
Do people really want to know all this when they ask, “How are you?”? Probably not. I suspect most people don’t have time for it. I did expect the GP to have time for it, but she seemed so insistent on getting me out that I felt like asking if this was normal would overstep the boundaries. It bothers me, though, that she was more concerned about my choice of contraceptive than my emotional or mental wellbeing. Lucky for me, I have a lot of fellow mums (as well friends who aren’t mums) who are checking in on me constantly, have lent a kind ear and are there to support me through this new chapter. Not everyone is so lucky, and that scares me.
How was your post-baby GP check up? Who was your go-to person when it came to debriefing/peeling the onion layers of mum life?