Sunday, August 21, 2016

More about Postpartum

So a few days weeks months (cough, cough) ago, I wrote about postpartum life; and I fully intended to follow that post about the physical, practical aspects of postpartum adjustment with this post about the mental, spiritual part of it.  I guess I am following it, but I didn't intend for so many other topics to get written about in between!  ;-)  From that, you should learn--if you haven't already--that just because I say that I'm planning to do this or that on my blog does not necessarily mean it will really happen that way.  Take my intentions with a grain of salt!  ;-)

Despite my delay in writing about it, I still vividly recall the deeper aspects of this particular time of adjustment after adding another child to the family (and the things I jotted down when I first intended to write this post are helping my memory!), so without further delay, let me write out these thoughts before they flit away.  :)
In the sometimes tumultuous days and weeks following Benjamin's birth, I swung like a pendulum, back and forth between two extremes.

On the one side, I felt joyful, energetic, and filled with hope.  "This is the first day of the rest of my life!" was my mantra as I settled into my role as a mom of six.  Since Benjamin is our last baby (as far as we know), I felt like if I could learn how to successfully mother these six while still juggling all the other roles I have, I would be ready to conquer the rest of my life.  As I looked around the house, I sometimes felt dismay at the things that were dropping by the wayside; but on my bright days, I was not overly discouraged.  I felt great hope that, even if I couldn't get to a particular task on that day, before too long the day would come when I would be able to; and the lessons I was learning and the things I was accomplishing each day were setting me up for victories during the second half of my life.  How sweet it was to soar emotionally!

But on the other side loomed a sense of failure.  "The pit is drawing nearer" ran through my head when discouragement rose within me, which doesn't make much sense because technically, a pit can't move; but it felt like one was getting awfully close to me!  It feels a little strange to be writing about this 10 or 11 months down the road because looking at it in the rear-view mirror makes me wonder what in the world was wrong with me.  What pit?  Why such a sense of failure?  We all survived, right?  And nothing too terrible happened during that time.  Why did I get so worked up about it all?

But let me tell you, don't underestimate the power of postpartum hormones.  They can make the world seem upside down and can make an otherwise calm woman feel completely crazy.  And so, you can see why, in the weeks following Benjamin's birth, I at times had this image of a scary pit drawing closer and closer to me until I wasn't sure I was going to be able to avoid falling over the edge.  Stress and lack of sleep were, not surprisingly, big contributors to this, so when I started feeling like I was going to lose it and fall in the pit, I tried to pay attention to things that were specifically adding stress to my life and figure out ways to reduce the pressure on me--plus, find ways to get more sleep.  And that made that nasty ol' pit move further away from me, instead of closer.  :)

I'm thankful that, during that sometimes chaotic period of swinging back and forth between the two extremes of "this is the first day of the rest of my life!" and "the pit is drawing nearer," most of the time was spent in the former mindset.  :)
Another phrase I often heard in my head was this: "Not a word of complaint."  It is so very easy to slip into a complaining spirit, and during times of upheaval like adjusting to a new baby, perhaps we do it more than we realize.  The lack of sleep alone can seem to justify many words of complaint.  And yet, I felt like God impressed upon me more than ever before that I was not to give in to that.

I've known the verse "do everything without complaining or arguing" for quite a long time (and have, in fact, taught it to my children to help nip complaining and arguing in the bud).  But I've never taken it as seriously as I did during this postpartum period.  I felt so overwhelmingly blessed--and so very determined to not let a word of complaint slip through my lips.  I can't say that I succeeded 100%, but making an effort towards this got me closer to the goal at least!

It was interesting though--having this goal of zero complaining brought up a question I've pondered before: what's the difference between simply stating something difficult in life and complaining about it?  If I'm not interested in grumbling, neither am I interested in falsely portraying everything as being perfect and wonderful.  Is it possible to admit to the hardships of life without committing the sin of complaining?

The person that I was most tempted to let down my guard and complain to was Jeff--not because I wanted to complain about him, but just because he's the listening ear that hears more of my junk than anyone else.  But when he would ask me how I was, I would sometimes not know whether to tell him all the things that were challenging in that moment or whether, if I did so, it would be complaining.

Nearly a year later, I still don't have this "honestly talking about hard stuff" v. "sinfully complaining" situation figured out!  If you do, by all means let me know the difference!!  :)

Adjusting to life with Benjamin was a good exercise in the area of giving myself grace.  Sometimes when I would be feeling stressed at all that I wasn't accomplishing, I would ask myself how I would deal with someone else if she were in my situation.  Would I get all upset with her, or extend grace to her?  Would I tell her she should be ashamed of her dirty laundry pile, or would I assure her that snuggling with her baby was much more important in that moment than laundry?  When I started asking myself those types of questions, it became fairly obvious what choice I should make.  :)

At times, I caught myself thinking, "Life will sure be easier when Benjamin is on a more consistent sleep schedule," or "Oh, I am really looking forward to when all the children are potty-trained" or other similar thoughts.  And then a voice in my head (I sure was having lots of voices in my head back then!!) ;-) would pipe up and ask, "What are you in a hurry for?  This time of your life--really, the next five years--are probably going to be the best five years of your life.  Don't rush them!!"  That's not to say that I expect everything to fall apart in the year 2020, but by then Josiah will probably be going off to college, and the years of having all six children here at home together will be coming to an end.  As I write this, that thought makes me want to throw back my head and howl mournfully; it can't possibly be true that these precious ones that I love so dearly will grow up and leave home, right??  But when I think about it, it reminds me to appreciate with extra fervor the next five years.  Well, four years now, since the first year of that five-year period is nearly gone!

Another thing I noticed during the weeks after Benjamin's birth was that, for both Jeff and I, it seemed like the pressure was off.  I, of course, was released from the build-up to a birth and the endless wondering about when labor would start and how things would go and am I really able to do this crazy act of giving birth again??  Having the very high hurdle of the unknown about the birth behind me led to a welcome level of relaxation for me that I had not had in the weeks leading up to the birth.

Jeff's stress, on the other hand, came more from our financial situation; it costs money to have a baby, and we didn't know exactly how much.  After it was over and after we paid all the bills, Jeff's stress level came down significantly.  For both of us, it was as if we were pressure canners and the heat had been turned off, allowing the heightened pressure within us to escape and returning us to a normal relaxed state.  There was a palpable difference I could sense--in myself and in Jeff.

One last impression that stands out strongly in my mind from this newborn phase with my youngest son: I felt such a kinship with Rachel in the Bible.  The fact that Rachel had Benjamin, and we named our baby Benjamin, gave us something in common, of course.  ;-)  But the key difference between her and I is that she died giving birth to her Benjamin and I didn't!  In a strange way, I felt like the love I was lavishing on my Benjamin is what she would have done for hers, had she lived; and the intense delight I felt in the presence of my Benjamin is what she would have experienced in the presence of hers (especially since she had longed for children--and remained barren--much longer than I had).  It probably sounds kind of weird, but I felt like I was honoring her memory by loving my Benjamin well; and I felt SO blessed that I was given the opportunity to be the one to care for be around for his first smiles and soothe his feed his hungry clothe care for his every need.  Somebody else had to do that for Rachel's Benjamin.  How grateful I am that I got to do it for mine.

Even when the adjustment to having a new baby was a roller coaster of intense whiplash-inducing highs and lows, I still made an effort to consciously appreciate each day, knowing all too well that the time goes so fast, and the newborn stage is over in the blink of an eye.  On one day, for example, when Benjamin was 11 days old, I jotted down the following note:  "Thought about putting him in bed for afternoon nap,but held him and napped together on the couch instead - so precious."
Precious indeed.  Those days, those snuggles, that tiny little baby...

Precious beyond words.

In those days of intense first love, it's hard to imagine that he could become even more precious to me; but now that he's nearly a year old, I can testify that it's true.  I love him more now than I did then, and I'll love him more tomorrow than I do today.

That love will never, ever stop...

 ~ photos taken during the early weeks of Benjamin's life...he was wearing a super-soft, cozy sleeper that our friend Elizabeth gave us after his was perhaps my very favorite sleeper for him :) ~

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