It was a rainy, gloomy night. My husband and I had finally been released from the neonatal ward of US Naval Hospital Yokosuka with our perfect newborn son. We drove to our home and settled in with our 3-day-old. My good friend, Ashley, followed shortly with homemade dinner. Dinner and emotional support. I sat there with my baby, who was perfectly calm, well-fed, content. But as soon as realization sunk in, I panicked.
Ashley. I don’t know what I’m doing.
This is a BABY.
What if I mess up, what if I mess up, what if I mess up.
The good friend she is, she calmed my anxieties, spoke tenderly to the capable woman I am, and encouraged me that feeling this way was perfectly normal. I wiped my tears, put my big girl pants on, and made it through the night. Then I made it through a few more, my confidence growing secretly and silently. I learned life with my son, through outings and nap time and my husband’s deployment when our baby was only 3 weeks old.
But I struggled. Ooooooh Lordy, did I struggle. I think I had mastitis a time or two, though I never bothered to get properly diagnosed. When my husband was home over the holidays, he saw in me the ugly but distinctive “symptoms” of extended sleep deprivation that he knew so well from life as a Junior Officer. Our house was never clean. I tried to get our baby to nap on his own for more than 7 minutes, then quickly surrendered to the rocking chair nap time. And I painstakingly waited for my body to feel better, to be back to normal. It took months.
And the thing is, I had everything I needed for a smooth transition. I had a natural delivery that was very simple. My baby was healthy. Of course, I was 6,000 miles from my hometown with no family and little presence from my husband. But I had support. The women in my life – the other Navy wives – understood. They got it, and they rallied. I was brought meals 3-4 times a week for 6 weeks. I had women – Ashley in particular – checking in and coming over regularly so I could shower. I had the emotional support of a bible study full of women who blazed this trail for me and taught me so much about kids and family before I even got pregnant. I had read every book there was to read while I was expecting. I had made decision after decision on how to care for and raise my child. People would have told you: I was a pregnant woman with a lot of conviction.
I had the head knowledge and the supportive community. And even those things didn’t quite prepare me to withstand the P word.
Now, when I say “postpartum,” I mean the period of time after having a baby. I do not mean the unfortunate depression associated with this phase. Not all women who give birth go through postpartum depression, but all of them do experience a postpartum phase. It can be a smooth and easy transition, or the most difficult thing a woman goes through. This phase initially meant – for me – a month or two. I now believe it can take 9 months or so for a woman to feel like herself again.
Although I didn’t go through anything as difficult as having a NICU baby or experiencing actual Postpartum Depression (though I think I dabbled with the baby blues), it was hard. It was really hard. I think it’s wonderful that after you deliver your baby, there’s so much focus on how to care for them and keep them safe and healthy. But there is little emphasis on what the mother needs. I don’t know why this is – probably because the difficulty is hard to understand. It’s not so tangible. It doesn’t always make sense. But when we become mothers, we have needs. For some reason, we’re uncomfortable with that. We may feel guilty for focusing attention on ourselves, or we are anxious to get back on our feet to prove to the world that we’re superwomen – when in fact, we already are. Childbirth is, as my husband says, a “daring evolution.” It’s a big deal! It requires an actual recovery. It beckons rest, an intentional diet, and a sort of steady rehabilitation.
Ever since I had my first postpartum experience, my husband and I have felt that there’s something missing in the realm of womanhood and motherhood. Since families have become more sprawled and communities became something to work for instead of something that just happens, women aren’t able to easily take the rest they need after childbirth. He and I have always had a vision of seeing to that need and building a formal network that ensures new mothers have their needs met.
But I suppose first I should tell you who we are.
My name is Carrie. I married my husband, Curtis, when we were both twenty-three and adventurous. He had been commissioned into the Navy the year before, so the week after our wedding, I moved to Yokosuka, Japan, where he was stationed. We spent 4-and-a-half years there, building our marriage and eventually starting our family. Both our sons were born in Yokosuka (though not on dual-citizenship, as many people have asked). We were then transferred to Bangor, Washington, for shore duty. Here we had our first stateside baby, who is also our first daughter. This year – 2018 – we parted from the Navy and moved our family of 5 to our native Minnesota. Initially, we thought Curtis would look for a job or we’d end up buying a business. That is, until our dreams slapped us in the face and said, Hey, look at me!
So here we are. Wide-eyed and ready. Scared and jazzed beyond belief. Searching out what it is that mothers need. Delving wisdom from the people we know, and from some that we don’t. Eager to talk about newborns and sleep deprivation and breastfeeding and – hell – postpartum nutrition! Hungry for discussions on how to promote community and support the new mothers around us.
That said, we hope you’ll stick around. Because it certainly takes a village.