You got hired for a new job. Congratulations! You’re told it’s the best, most rewarding job on the planet. You will be paid in things worth more than money, more than gold, things you can’t fully fathom yet. You get instant tenure, and your significant other is your co-worker. Many people want this job, but not everyone gets it. People have paid thousands and thousands of dollars to get this job. Some people spend their whole adult lives hoping for, wishing for this job.
You’re promised 40 weeks of training for this job, though you may wind up with a few more or a few less depending on your boss’ schedule. This training is not easy- it includes many challenges such as fatigue, extreme physical discomfort, financial risk, illness, mood swings, extreme weight gain. Some people enjoy the training, but many more hate it. Even more hate it but never say they do out of fear of judgement because the perceived “norm” is to love every moment of the training. Training includes a few classes, monthly visits with experts, books, literature, panicked late-night Google searches, and peeing your pants when you laugh. As the weeks go by, it becomes more and more clear that soon your training will end and you’ll be out on the floor, finally earning your new job title.
After many months, you’re given your final test, and lucky you: it’s open-book. All your hard work and studying are about to pay off, and you go into the test with a handy cheat sheet of your exact answers to all of the questions you studied.
Unbeknownst to you, some jerk switches the test out last minute for a different test, one longer and harder than you expected. You TOTALLY DIDN’T STUDY FOR THIS. And yet, you pass. You’ve earned your name badge, and the second your test is over, you’re officially employed by a tiny, screaming person that only you and your co-worker can please.
Only, your employer speaks in an ancient, mystical tongue that you can’t understand. You and your coworker proceed to spend every waking moment (and they’re all waking moments, aren’t they?) scrambling to decode this ancient tongue and figure out how to make your boss stop screaming at you. You find yourself exhausted, dehydrated, starving, and mysteriously bleeding heavily for weeks, all while feeling guilty for wondering why you ever wanted this job in the first place. You and your co-worker, who used to get along famously, barely speak for weeks and even months. You both trudge along, taking rides on an emotional roller coaster through moments of pure, unconditional love and pure, crazy-making frustration. The days are long, and to quote Melisandre from Game of Thrones, “The nights are dark and full of terrors.”
This is the initial postpartum experience for many first-time parents.
One day, you wake up and things are easier. And certain things keep getting easier, while others stay challenging and even increase in difficulty at times. You and your coworker slowly learn how to meet your boss’ needs while juggling your own (and each other’s). Eventually, you start to let go of control and begin the humbling process of admitting you have no idea what you’re doing. You do what works to get the job done, and throw away the rest. You do all the things you said you never would and bite your tongue when cheeky seasoned employees of other tiny bosses call you out on changing your plans. Your new normal is still a challenge, but when the joys start to outnumber the frustrations, your boss becomes the most amazing person on the planet, and obviously a smarter, cuter, better boss than anyone else’s.
And it really does get better, and all the people who you want to smack right now for telling you this with a pitying smile are right. And you will survive this. Ask for help. Demand help. Take breathers. Be patient with yourself. Kiss your partner. Kiss that baby. Drink lots of water. And know you are not alone. Somewhere out there at 3 am, there is a new mom feeding her baby in a dark room, just like you, staring out the window at a big world that she no longer knows how to fit into.
As in labor, in the postpartum there is an important difference between pain and suffering. Please don’t hesitate to use these resources if you need them and talk to your partner and healthcare provider about how you’re feeling. Please.