I’m sure you’re wondering, “what could be too gross to share on social media?”
Gobs of hair. I’m afraid to wash my hair because every time I do, my shower wall looks like this. It’s like I might go bald…
…And when I saw my hair like this today, a lightbulb went off in my head and it felt like ancient wisdom. Something so true that even though my life feels like a crazy tornado of events and also like I’m not doing anything at all, it could not be lost.
The ancient wisdom of women losing their hair after birth. Hear me out. Before I had Oliver, I’d go to the grocery store and everyone would know I was carrying a child in my belly because it’s physically obvious. Big bump. Penguin waddle. “Oh, congratulations!” They’d comment before they offered to help me with my bags.
Now, he’s out of my belly but still very much attached to me. So what does that make me? A postpartum mama.
Here’s the thing. Postpartum mamas do not get treated the same way as pregnant mamas. The day we have our child, we’re supposed to go back to our normal lives pre-baby. Pre-baby body. Getting back to work. Getting back to the same routine. But…we are so different. So different than we used to be.
I see my hair in clumps on the wall and it reminds me that a new me was born the day Oliver was born. I am new, and I am fragile, and I am also a queen. Let me try to explain with a story from this morning.
The one thing I’ve missed most about my life before Oliver is swimming. I love that its one requirement is to put the phone away and just be in the flow with only myself. The feeling of swimming is like no other, for me at least. Matt (my husband), knowing that not swimming was the one thing I was really forlorn about in my new role as a (postpartum) mama, implored me to get out of the house and swim this weekend.
So this morning, I told him I’d be gone for 130 minutes (I know exactly how long it takes to finish my swim routine) and went to the gym to swim. Heyyy-o! It’s been four months since the last time I swam laps (I went swimming the day Oliver was born), and I can’t tell you how incredible it felt to not be needed for 60 minutes. I was free. I had no responsibilities. The only thing I had to do was relax my mind and swim. I. LOVED. IT. I’d take an hour of swimming over a spa treatment any day.
As soon as I got out of the pool, I got a call from Matt, which surprised me since I was swimming in a basement pool with terrible service. “Where are you? He’s screaming like crazy! I think he’s starving and I don’t know how to get the milk for a bottle.” He angrily huffed into the phone. “Dude, it’s my only two hours off and you’re angry with me because you can’t put a bottle together like I’ve shown you?” I wanted to say. Instead, I went with the less aggressive approach. (We spoke about this and he’s apologized–said he was frustrated with the baby crying and felt helpless…I get it! It happens to me almost daily.)
“I think he’s tired, but I’m on my way.” I hung up the phone and pulled my dress over my dripping wet bikini, threw my workout backpack over my shoulders, slipped my feet into my Havianas, and rushed out the gym door. I made it back home in seven minutes.
I walked into the door, stripped my dress off to peel off my wet bikini top and bottom until I looked like a National Geographic tribal mama. (Sorry, I forgot to get a picture of this, but it would have been great.) I walked into Oliver’s room butt-naked and picked him up out of his crib. I stuck my still-salty-from-the-pool boob in house mouth so he could eat. And he ate. He was hungry. Matt was right.
After seeing that Oliver wasn’t tired,, I took him to play on my bathroom floor so I could shower and wash my hair…and I saw Matt getting dressed for the gym. My heart sank. I really thought today was going to be a day where I could do some things for myself. Like swim. And wash my hair. And eat a homemade lunch. And write a blog post while the baby napped. 🙂
So I asked Matt, “Are you going somewhere?”
“Yeh. The gym. Is that okay?”
“Well, I really thought today was about ‘me.’ I thought I would get some time to collect myself for the week ahead, and renew myself. Do you mind making me a salmon salad before you leave for the gym?”
“Sure.” He generously replied.
I took a hot shower while Oliver waited patiently on his elephant cushion on the bathroom floor and Matt put together a fresh lunch for me. I combed through my hair with my fingers and pulled out gobs and gobs of hair. (Hair loss is a common postpartum side effect.) It seemed like my hair would keep falling out the more I combed it. And it’s probably true. I’d probably go bald if I kept brushing it.
Anyway, this got me thinking about my Earth Suit and how I am not my physical body, but yet it is so closely tied to my identity. How does my physical body know that my soul was born again when I became a new mama? How does it know to make milk, shed my old hair, and completely rob me of my old identity so that being a mama is all I can remember/think of? Our Earth Suits must be intertwined with our souls, like a strand of DNA, at least while we’re in our physical bodies.
So two thoughts occurred to me today.
New mamas are just that. We are new. As new as our babies. So please, treat us gently, as you would a baby. Please be forgiving and use gentle, kind words with us. We are doing the best we can, because we’re doing all we know how to do, since we too, were just born.
I can barely recall the old Emily, and yet I am her to most people. Old Emily seems like that woman I look at in the reflection of my mirror. I know she’s me, but she’s not real and I can’t find her. I am new.
Also, we are queens. Our old physical self had to die in order to be reborn as a mama. New mamas, we have lived multiple lives in one lifetime (and the mamas with two or more children have been reborn time and again). This process of dying and being reborn is a beautiful, sacred one. One that only women can journey down. The pregnancy and postpartum journey is a vortex–like a mysterious black hole that sucks us in and spins us around like a washing machine where we come out on the other end anew.
It takes a mother f*cking queen to be a mama. (Thank you, Mom and Nanny.)
My second thought echoes an earlier comment about my Earth Suit. As I was nursing Oliver this morning in the dark of his nursery, I thought, “I am not my physical self and yet my physical self is tied so closely to my identity.”
I died and was reborn a mama. My physical self prepared for my new life and my babies in an instant (if that’s not a miracle!!!). I shed my hair. I forget my old identity. My body shifted around to create a second life. I am anew. I might be bald, but I am a queen. Be gentle with me. I am a newborn mama and a newborn’s mama.
I recognize the fragility, strength, and energy it takes to become mama in an instant. I see you. I notice your thinning hair. I see your warrior stretch marks, or C-section scar, or softer tummy (or nothing at all). I see the dark circles and cup of coffee. I see you as the new you and I won’t ask you to return to your old self. I’ll be gentle with you and I’ll hold plenty of space for your sacred strength and ancient wisdom that you carry. I see you, queen.
For the record, new Emily is an awesome life. Just as I finished this post, Oliver started crying in his crib because he realized his Paci had fallen out. I went into his room to put it back in his mouth, and he held my hand tightly to his chest while he drifted back off to sleep.
I love to be needed. And I love to be free. Motherhood is such a beautiful, wild dance. (Gotta go–he’s crying again.)