In my years of practice I have always made sure to let every mom-to-be know about the phenomenon called the “baby blues.” My training taught me that the subject should not only be discussed but that I should be prepared with informational materials on postpartum depression, and that I should show the partner how to look for signs of depression.
Once, during an appointment with a client, I was going through my spiel on what to expect after the birth when divine intervention revealed something to me: what if we renamed the baby blues, (removing the baby from the concept) calling them something closer to their purpose? That would be, opening of the heart.
What really happens in those weeks and months that follow birth? Why are we teary, emotional, and sensitive? I suggest that our hearts open wide when we hold our first true love in our arms. Sure, we have loved a man (or two) deeply in our lives. Some of us experienced true love for a brother or sister, or for our parents. But as we grew up our hearts closed up a little bit each and every day.
They may have closed up for self-preservation, after our first break up; or because we have been hurt by a family member, or because a friend (or someone we thought was our best friend) hurt us. We have even shouted to the heavens, “I will never fall in love again!” by way of attempting to lock those doors and throw away the key.
Then we allowed our partners in. We may have made a conscious decision to have a child, and in so doing we cracked the doors of our hearts slightly ajar, or even a lot.
Yet, when our baby, the fruit of our loins, was placed on our bosom the gates of our heart flew open. We became enchanted with how much we could feel. Of course we cried often; we became emotional and sensitive.
But what people call the blues was in essence a very ancient feeling, one that shocked us and even overwhelmed us. We asked ourselves, “Is it possible we are truly able to love this much? Can we bear it? Do we deserve it? Are we good enough to be mothers? When did we feel like this before? Did we not love our mom as much when we were first born? Did we not cry to be in her arms?”
We wondered if our mothers felt the same as we do right now. We felt a longing to be loved that way again. This opening of the heart sometimes permits hurt feelings from the past to surface, to clamor for our attention. We remember losing our innocence, after something hurt us terribly. Our unconscious could no longer hold these buried memories, these secrets. We felt a fog waft over us, mixed with fear and for some even terror. We hoped and prayed those feelings would soon go away and not develop into something more serious. We allowed ourselves some stolen tears but were careful to control them.
Once I went to visit a client who had just had a cesarean. Laden with bags full of groceries, I set to making her a vegetarian feast. She had an overactive let down and was producing a lot of milk. As a consequence, her baby spit up a lot. I saw that her baby was very fussy and that she was at the end of her rope. Showing her a few tricks to calm her baby down, I placed the now-sleepy bundle in her arms and invited her to sit down in the kitchen and tell me about her birthing experience.
Feeling safe, she proceeded to tell me how lonely she felt, and how having her baby spit up all over everything made her feel inadequate. When she was told that the baby had acid reflux she concluded that she was doing everything wrong. She asked me to, “please, just listen,” for she had so much information swimming in her mind that she just couldn’t hold anymore. She began to pour her heart out, tickled by the scent coming from my cooking pots.
Towards the end of the day and after a good meal she said, “today I was driving with my boy and thought, maybe I can just drive myself off a cliff and all this would be over … mind you,” she added with a forced smile, “I’d never do such a thing. But I just thought about it.” I asked for her permission to embrace her, and told her that, “I think it’s time you talk to someone.” I explained the opening of the heart concept and asked her to consider making an appointment with a professional. She smiled; someone finally had given her permission to express and even feel, her feelings.
That evening her husband called, very worried, “Are you sure this is not temporary? This is not what you call the blues?” “No,” I responded gently, “this is not the blues. Your wife’s heart has opened up! It is wonderful that you can hear her and help her to get the help she needs to explore her feelings.” They made an appointment and she was in therapy for nearly nine months.
By allowing her to truly feel and to express what was going on in her mind, she was freed to seek help. Stories from her past had surfaced after childbirth, and they demanded her attention: NOW. Grateful that someone had allowed her to open heart and clean her emotional house, she learned to enjoy my Italian cooking, motherhood and breastfeeding.
What if we were to embrace this opening of the heart and rejoice in feeling deeply that which presents itself, permitting this sensation to last as long as it is needed before we close ourselves up again in self-preservation? Yes, some of us will go through a period of depression, but that is precisely nature’s wonderful way of saying, “It’s time you heal these wounds. Get some help now, and you’ll be an even better mother for it!”
But wait, we said, there is no time! I have things to do and people to see. I have to be the mother, the protector, the caretaker. I have to be strong for my baby. I cannot fail. Breathe in! There is no failure here. Remember that you are in love: have you forgotten the first love? Do you not remember day dreaming more then taking care of business? Embrace your feelings, spend time day dreaming with your bundle of joy at your breast. Let your bed become the island of love for your baby moon (remember your honeymoon?)
I suggest that you prepare and organize yourself so that for the first few weeks post partum you do nothing but live this love. The few weeks that follow the birth should be dedicated to self-care.
If you can, go outdoors and breathe deeply God’s clean air, ask for help, eat and sleep often, cuddle in bed and let people care for you, Slow down: it is ok for the dishes to be dirty, the floor unwashed, the mail unopened and telephone unanswered. Write in your journal, talk to a trusted friend or a professional. Find a postpartum doula, or someone who can come and help you, someone who does not need to be entertained or cared for. Knowing what to expect and what steps you can take towards self-care will insure that once the doors are open you need not struggle to keep them closed anymore, for you have to learn how to create healthy boundaries to protect your open heart.
Excerpt from Painless Childbirth: An Empowering Journey Through Pregnancy and Birth by Giuditta Tornetta