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Stop Feeling Guilty for Taking Time to Be a New Mom

11/19/2013 09:20 am ET | Updated Jan 23, 2014
Kate Fridkis

I was still bleeding, by the way, eight weeks after I had my baby. I know everyone was wondering, that's why I'm mentioning it.

No, I'm mentioning it because I just read this really good piece about postpartum care, and how the U.S. is shitty about it. In attitude and in practice. Not a huge shock, really. When are these articles ever like, "U.S. fantastic in treatment of new mothers! Surpasses all other countries in respect for women and their vaginas!"

So, the article was pointing out that in a lot of cultures, everyone expects women to take a couple months to heal. Other people, usually women, help out around the house a lot, and the new mother just focuses on breastfeeding and lounges around and eats and stuff. Maybe takes bubble baths. Possibly gets her nails done.

I'm using words like "just" and "lounges" because I am an American, and I'm deeply steeped in this keep-it-going culture, and I can't apparently manage to describe recovering from birth and caring for a newborn in terms that make it sound like a big enough deal on its own to fill two whole months.

"Wait," my descriptions imply, "So, like, she's not also running a business? So, she must be working from home at least... Maybe developing some sort of app? Plotting her next novel? PLEASE tell me she's at least cooking dinner and running errands and working out? ARE YOU FREAKING KIDDING ME? Well, what is she even doing then??"

Because I kind of felt that way, secretly, even though I did basically nothing in addition to caring for my baby for the first two months of her life.

In the piece, one woman mentions that women are literally still bleeding, long after they're expected to "bounce back" and reclaim their old lives and be totally self-sufficient. Our bodies haven't finished healing, and we're supposed to look and act as though nothing even happened here, it's all good. It's all just the same as it was.

But I was still bleeding. And I was still a very new mother. She was still a very new baby. And even when she's not and I'm not, all of this is still a big deal. It's still a lot.

It's not just postpartum care, really. It's the way we think about life in general. There never seems to be time in it to take time off from the regular routines. Work can look like a narrow path with high concrete walls on either side, and it goes straight into the horizon. Productivity is essential and specific (it never looks like finally doing the dishes), and it's important, above all, to be climbing towards the next ledge. To keep going. To do as many things as you can at once.

What about illness? Even morning sickness, like I experienced. What about just stepping aside to collect yourself? The natural pauses -- figuring out what you want to do for a career, transitioning, retiring, recovering from the death of a loved one, coming home? It feels so basic, to want to have something to report when someone asks, "What's been going on?"

"What else have you been doing?" someone asked me a couple of weeks after Eden was born, after seeing her for the first time. "I mean, besides the baby. What else are you going to do this month?"

It's like those people who are always asking about your job when you just graduated and you don't have one yet.

These gaps in the routine, they're where some of the most critical stuff happens. Wouldn't it be nice to not even have to justify them?

In a restaurant, the Chinese waitress exclaimed, "A new baby! How old?"

"Seven weeks," I said, proudly.

People always complimented me on taking her out so soon. A guy said, "It's good to break them in like that. Teach her it's not all about her."

The waitress looked startled, almost alarmed. "Seven weeks!" she said. "And you're taking her to a restaurant already?"

I took her to her first restaurant at two weeks, I thought. And I walked a mile to get there. Damn right you did, says the proud, blustery, American pioneer woman voice in my head. And you'll walk five miles next time! Gets the old heart rate up! You've got to push yourself!

I nodded at the waitress. Yes. Obviously. I'm here, aren't I?

She raised her eyebrows. "Alright," she said. "Such a little baby!"

None of your damn business!
said the cowgirl.

But actually, interestingly, I was a little relieved. And when Eden started crying a lot, I had everything packed up and just left without making a huge effort to get the situation under control. The waitress gave me an understanding smile.

She was just a little baby, after all. And I wanted to go home and rest and maybe give my mom a call.

Kate's new book, Growing Eden, about her pregnancy and the birth of her baby, is available from Thought Catalog Books.

This piece was excerpted from Kate's blog, Eat the Damn Cake

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