Dear future postpartum Emily,
I am writing this because I’ve been thinking about you a lot lately. I know that sometime in the next several months you’ll be up at 3:00 am nursing or pumping or just generally not sleeping, and there is nothing you’ll need more than a pep talk and a hug. Maybe you’ll remember that I wrote you this letter, and maybe it’ll help. I hope it will.
Look, I know I have been a seriously emotional wreck during most of this pregnancy, but through all these tears, I’ve been gazing at this gorgeous, funny, charming, almost-2-year-old of ours and thinking back to a time when I envisioned myself scooping her up in her receiving blanket and, in one graceful motion, tossing her out the window. In my mind, it looked almost beautiful, like a choreographed ballet move. One swoop, and that shriveled, squealing thing would be out of my life. Sweet relief.
Surely you remember. Two-years-ago postpartum Emily was a disaster. Weepy, greasy, insecure, wavering between regretful and hopeless. It is not a period that I look back on with pride, but I can’t say I’m exactly ashamed either. A lot of women go through this. It’s one of the many shades of postpartum “normal.” It was something hard that I went through to get to something really fantastic (really tiring and sometimes exasperating but overall pretty great), and I can confidently say that it was all worth it.
Ok, I get it. “It gets better” might not mean too much when you’re mere days into an unknown number of weeks or months of being awake and unshowered at ungodly hours. I know a lot of women might not agree with this (but we’re not worrying about everyone else right now), but the newborn phase might just be something to get through. Put one foot in front of the other, keep your head down, and trudge through it. I give you permission to do that. In fact, I’m going to give you a free pass on a lot of things…
I give you permission to cry. Please cry. You’re doing one of the hardest things you’ll ever do, and you’re exhausted on top of it. Don’t try to be brave or hold it in. It’s not the time for that.
I give you permission to feel like you’ve made a mistake. You’re not a horrible person for feeling this way, it’s just your hormones talking. And that baby crying. One day soon, you won’t feel that way anymore.
I give you permission to eat unlimited Stouffer’s mac ‘n cheese. You’ve got the rest of your life to lose the baby weight. Delicious hot food from a box might be the highlight of your day today, so enjoy it to the fullest.
I give you permission to depend on others. You married an amazing guy – let him pick up your slack. And those people showing up at your door with food and reaching out over the internet to give support didn’t have to do it. They’re showing up for you because other people once showed up for them. This is your village. Take full advantage.
I give you permission to breastfeed or pump or not. This kid’ll be alright no matter how you end up feeding her, and no feeding method is worth sacrificing your mental health. I promise that in 20 years you won’t wonder if it was that formula you gave her as an infant that drove her to get that tattoo you hate.
I give you permission NOT to enjoy every moment. In fact, I give you permission to hate many moments. It’ll become easier every day to find the small joys. Savor those.
Look, this having a second baby thing isn’t going to be easy. You already know that. But we got through this once, and we’re in such a different place this time around. Just remember, you once wanted to toss #1 out the window, and now you enjoy her hot breath in your face in the middle of the night. It’ll all be worth it. You’ve got this, mama.
All my love,