Postpartum Bliss

Don't worry, bliss can you make you feel guilty too.


It is surely a sign of enlightened parenting times that before I was even pregnant I had heard of things like nipple confusion, perineal massage, and postpartum depression. Not that I thought any of these things would apply to me.

It's almost as if knowing about something doesn't actually help to prepare you for the thing itself; it only plants a seed, hopefully, so that with any luck should you be having a strange feeling at some point, your brain will remember: "We've heard of this. It has a name. Let's find out more."

I thought of this when I went to my local new-moms group – once, and only once. My daughter was born at the end of the month, so most of these "March moms" had already gotten together a few times. There was a lot of talk about awfulness – the trauma of birth plans gone awry, the surprising difficulties of sleep-deprived life with newborns, troubles with breastfeeding, tensions at home. "Thank goodness we have each other," one of the mothers said. "Thank goodness we can talk about these feelings."

I nodded my head, because yes, it was refreshing to know I wasn't the only one who was already tired of changing diapers – and to hear it from the same women who cheerily updated their Facebook pages with unironically How Does She Do It? themed posts. The only problem was, I wasn't having anything like postpartum depression. I was actually having a terrific time, a fact I felt like I should hide from the more freaked-out mothers I encountered.

I knew, I know, that this was all dumb luck: my pregnancy was pleasant, birth was beautiful, breastfeeding had come easy, and my baby was an adorable love-grub content to ride around in the carrier for hours while I strolled around with iced beverages chatting with my other new mom friends. If anything I felt a kind of wild high, likely the result of nursing hormones and finally going back to caffeinated coffee.

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So why did I feel so guilty? At that March moms meetup, my newborn lay contentedly on her back, in deep contemplation of a ceiling fan. She seemed peaceful, I thought. Then, self-consciously, I realized the other mothers were all rattling finely-crafted wooden toys in front of their babies. Was my baby already under-stimulated because I was being lazy? Or – and this only occurred to me much later – could it be that, in moving towards acceptance of the complicated nature of modern motherhood, we've made it impossible to enjoy the simple, good moments?

It is a life-saving sea change, the way mothers now talk to one another about dark feelings, about blue periods, about how what we are doing is hard. You don't have to be swallowed by the scary swells of postpartum depression to have days when parenting is sucky. Now that my baby is nearly school-age (sniffle!), I wish I could say to myself back then: Don't feel guilty. Just enjoy it, and take this in: that some parts of this will be hard, and their difficulty will surprise you. If it's not immediately postpartum, it will come at some point. And know that it will be hard to share these feelings without wondering if they make you a crappy mother. But you can do it.

Should you be one of the lucky ones to experience Postpartum Blissed-Out-High, take my advice: Save up those moments of pure, narcotic love, like coins in your emotional bank, so that when your own personal difficulties come, they will be there to feed you and your family.