Almost two years ago, my daughter was born, several days after a hurricane hit our town. Even though my water broke, and I was given Pitocin to induce labor, I still had to have a C-section. I had a fantastic doctor, and a complication-free recovery.
But I still felt terrible. Awful. I couldn’t cough or laugh or sneeze normally. I thought I’d rip my insides (and my outsides). It was difficult to lay down and to get up. It was difficult to shower. It was difficult to put on clothes. It was difficult to move around. I couldn’t bend down. I couldn’t pick anything up.
The worst part was that I barely felt like myself, physically or emotionally.
I wouldn’t change anything about my delivery, because my daughter wasn’t coming out any other way. I’m also grateful that my body has completely recovered.
Yet for a long time I felt terrible about feeling terrible.
Other moms who also had C-sections talked about how relatively fine they felt, and how quickly they recovered. One mom started driving well before the two-week requirement, because she felt ready. Another mom said she didn’t need to take pain medicine, because she barely felt anything. Even other people had commented on how amazing it was that she could walk without being hunched over just days after her procedure.
I wondered, What’s wrong with me? Why did I have such a rough time? Am I too sensitive? Why am I so sensitive?
I started questioning my own experience. Was it really that bad? Do I remember it as it was? Am I exaggerating? Am I just really weak? Why am I so weak?
I listen to many mom-hosted podcasts, and so often they breeze through their delivery and recovery. Yes, it was not easy, but they talk about it in a fairly linear, non-messy way: I had a baby, I took some time off for maternity leave, and then I went back to work. Yes, they discuss the emotional changes and logistical challenges. But I haven’t heard much talk about the sheer physical pain, the healing, the messiness.
We know that everyone is different. We know that the experiences of others do not negate our own.
Yet, when it seems like everyone else has had an opposite experience, we automatically assume we’re wrong. We blame ourselves. We second-guess (and third- and fourth-guess) ourselves. Clearly, we must be inadequate. That’s the only thing that makes sense, right? That must be the only explanation, right?
So we hurl insults. Weakling. Wimp. Coward. Idiot. Loser. And we believe them. We internalize them.
Today, when I feel this way, sometimes a different thought enters my mind: If my daughter felt different from others, would I want her to feel ashamed about that? Would I want her to invalidate her own experiences? Would I want her to feel terrible about feeling terrible? Would I want her to dismiss herself, to stop listening to her body?
In her powerful, practical book Strong as a Mother: How to Stay Healthy, Happy, and (Most Importantly) Sane from Pregnancy to Parenthood, Kate Rope writes, “We are all human beings, and we will have different and complicated reactions to different phases and experiences of pregnancy and parenthood. That is not only okay, it is beautiful.”
Sometimes, we feel like we’re the only ones who are experiencing certain circumstances, or emotions or thoughts. First off, we’re not. We are not alone. We are never alone. It’s interesting because it’s much easier for me to write this for the readers of this post, than it is to say it to myself. But either way, it’s true.
Secondly, the best thing we can do for ourselves (and our kids, if we have them) is to listen to ourselves. For whatever reason I felt more pain than some women. This doesn’t make me inadequate. This was simply my body’s reaction. It was a valid reaction, whether anyone else seems to feel the same way or not. And it’s an important signal. My body was trying to tell me what it needed: medication, rest, comfort, slowing down.
Maybe you’re wondering why it’s taking you longer to get over a loss than others. Maybe you’re wondering why you’re having a harder time in class or at work with understanding certain concepts. Maybe you’re wondering why motherhood seems more challenging for you, or why you’re so anxious or sensitive.
And you worry that there’s something inherently wrong with you. Clearly you must be flawed. When you think this way, remind yourself that it’s not true. Remind yourself that you are entitled to feel the way you do. Remind yourself to refocus on your needs, and how you can best meet them.
And remind yourself of Rope’s words: Our reactions are complicated. That’s OK. Maybe even beautiful.