From One Postpartum Mom To Another / by Joellyn Hoekstra

It happened, and it was exactly like it has been every time. I even warned my husband weeks ago that this would come up eventually. Super Mom Syndrome caught up to me, and I had my usual post-baby meltdown. I desperately want to save you and others from becoming a victim of this harmful condition. We are not doing ourselves, other new moms, or our precious children any service by showing them that we don’t need to slow down to heal our valuable bodies after birthing humans beings out of them. This “Super Mom” mentality, especially in the postpartum period, is annoying at best and life-threatening at worst. It just doesn’t sit well with me.

So here it goes. My meltdown sounds a little bit like this (insert crying sounds and 40 minutes leading up to the discussion where I am slightly catatonic and displaying the silent treatment until I am finally convinced to talk about it):

 “I am completely overwhelmed. I don’t want to complain, but I feel like if I don’t mention it from time to time no one will remember that I really shouldn’t be doing all of this yet. Why am I entertaining in my house? Why am I out and trying to keep up with All. The. Things? I am literally keeping small humans alive with my body. I’m leaking from every single part of me. My hormones are completely out of whack. I need a shower. I smell bad. I just want to sit and smell my new baby. She’s already getting bigger. Can she stop changing so fast? I am missing it. I can’t do it all. I am not taking care of myself. If no one looks out for me I will not stop this insanity. Please see me, acknowledge the work that I am doing for us and help me to remember that I need to rest.” 

One of my favorite artists, Sara Groves, has a song in response to Chaka Khan’s “I’m Every Woman.” It’s called “Finite.” The opening line is, “I’m not every woman. It’s not all in me…I come to an end.” I love that. It’s good to know our limits. I admire women who know when they need to call it and who aren’t afraid to do so. I’m not that way. Just because we can do All. The. Things. doesn’t mean we should. It isn’t healthy, and I’m not living well when I choose to ignore my transitioning body and family. I love the newborn phase. I have a great support system, and I have an especially kick-ass husband who helps out a ton. Therefore, my conclusion is that if I have felt this, you probably have too. 

Please allow me to go a bit extreme and nursie on you for a moment. I won’t get too technical about it, but we here in the USA are not doing so well in the area of maternal morbidity and general postpartum health. Do some basic research on it if you want to get a little freaked out. Some of the things that strike me as particularly concerning in relation to this topic are postpartum hemorrhage, uterine prolapse (uterus falling into or completely out of the vagina), postpartum depression and stress incontinence (accidentally peeing a little when you laugh and sneeze). I cannot completely separate these conditions from the overwhelming pressure on mothers to jump up and right back into their pre-pregnancy jeans. Is it worth it to be the “Super Mom” that we seem to idealize and praise? 

Historically (and presently, in some cultures) our society has protected the postpartum period with much more diligent concern and respect. Today, a mother is given an EDC (estimated date of confinement) when she discovers that she is pregnant. The name was created at a time when the birth of a child would mark the beginning of a confinement period of about 30-40 days. No going out, no heavy household chores, eating a special diet, being forced to rest while the other children are tended to, etc. The medical world has actually considered changing the term since this is no longer our standard practice. We need to remember that a woman’s body is vulnerable for a period of time. This should not be forgotten.

I have made it a life goal to serve new moms when I am not keeping a tiny baby alive myself. To try to do this now would be too “Super Mom-ish" of me. I’m thankful to have women in my life who have done this for me, and I want to care for others in this way. My plan is to hunt down young moms, force them to get back in bed and take their toddlers on long tiring walks until their naptime. Feed her. Find out what day she wants to go grocery shopping and show up to keep her little ones entertained at home. Better yet, I’d just go get the groceries for her. Fold laundry. Smack her if she offers me water when I come to visit, and find the refrigerator to get her some water as she is becoming dehydrated trying to keep everyone alive with her gigantic, engorged boobs.

Don’t get me wrong. I adore my children. I want 100 kids (see previous post). I am just saddened by the current standard for moms who have recently given birth in the States. I want to give myself (and moms everywhere) permission to take it easy and rest. It’s just a few weeks, and we will never get this time back. Let’s allow our bodies to recover. Open our hearts to wrap around the new little creation in our midst. Provide our older children a moment of rest for their sweet souls to transition as well. Keep our uteri way up high in the pelvis where they belong. Encourage our hormones to settle down into their rightful balance. I want to give us the gift of looking back on our baby’s first days and weeks with less stress and more fondness.

I confess that I am guilty of giving into pressure and trying to do too much too fast. I have even turned down people who are willing to help (insanity). I know that I need to be honest about what I can and cannot do in these first few postpartum weeks and beyond. Busy mom does not equal better mom. Together, we need to get rid of the lie that the mom who “has it all together right away” is who we actually want to be. Let’s be the mom who shows her girls how to value and protect her beautiful and changing body. Let’s show our sons how to care for and admire a woman who has sacrificed herself to bring new life into the world. Let’s show each other compassion and sacrificial love as we support one another well in this vulnerable, fragile time. That’s a real “Super Mom,” in my opinion.