The Picture I Don’t Like to Remember
by Sharon Tjaden-Glass
Here it is.
This was taken at 10 days postpartum.
And, yes, I am a hot mess.
What’s even worse is that I was actually really trying to make this a good picture. I put on a clean, non-covered-in-spit-up dress. I brushed my hair.
But here I am. My face drained of color. My eyes red and puffy. My body bloated and broken. My left arm still has the bruises from the IV during labor.
The only redeeming quality of this picture is that beautiful, tender baby on my chest.
At this point, I had been sleeping for about 1-2 hours per day for the previous 10 days. I was still trying to breastfeed, but failing miserably. When I wasn’t nursing, I was hooked up to a pump, scarfing down more food to help with milk production (sometimes both at the same time), changing diapers, cleaning bottles, or staring off into space while my thyroid went bonkers and kept me awake even when I had 30 minutes to sleep.
I didn’t pass by mirrors much, but when I did, I shocked myself.
Who the hell is that? I would think. What has happened to me?
This picture reminds me of how difficult it was to be a new mother to a newborn. I can see it written all over my face.
My face screams, I’ve never been so exhausted before. I need to invent a new word to describe this level of exhaustion.
But I was also thinking,
I love my child. I’m so happy this child is healthy. Still, it’s really hard to be thankful right now.
So I’m going to smile because this is what new mothers do.
I’ll avoid mirrors so I don’t have to think about how terrible I look right now. Instead of looking at myself, I’ll look at my baby.
Everyone says that this time passes so fast, but honestly, I don’t even know how I’m going to get all the way through to tomorrow. Because tomorrow is six feedings from now. Six.
But I kept these thoughts to myself. Because I thought expressing them would make me seem less motherly. And I already didn’t feel like a mother. I had only been one for a few days. Instead, I felt like an exhausted, aching, leaking, sleep-deprived hospital patient that just wanted to get some rest so she could finally focus on doing the hard work of being a mom.
Which is exactly the point–that was the hard work of being a mom.
Doing everything despite all the physical pain and exhaustion.
I share this picture with other new mothers because, girlfriend, I have been there. I have been anchored to a nursing child or a breast pump for hours on end, watching the world pass me by, my jealousy mounting at everyone else who was lucky enough to sleep three solid hours at a time.
If you feel like no one else in the world could possibly understand how tired you are at this very moment, know that someone else does. Just look at that picture.
This one’s for you.
As I write this, I’m reminded of the Fourth Trimester Bodies Project, a photography project that is “dedicated to embracing the beauty inherent in the changes brought by motherhood, childbirth, and breastfeeding.” A colleague shared this website with me after I gave birth to my daughter and it made me feel so… understood. Welcomed. Like someone was saying, “Yes, it’s hard. Yes, it changes you forever. But isn’t it beautiful?”
It is beautiful. I’m not denying the love and beauty that wrapped around me in those moments in the darkness when it was just me and my daughter, rocking away as I hummed.
But, God, it’s also hard. So hard.
And sometimes you look like hell.
And sometimes you feel like hell.
And that’s the truth.