Strength vs. Guilt – Battle of the Fourth Trimester

I have a friend who just had a baby and is adapting to her new role as Lord Ruler of All Things Baby-Related. The boundaries she sets for visitors, for instance, are clear.  If you want to interact with her baby, you must be a close family member, your hands need to be washed, and you need to have received a pertussis vaccine. It’s her home, her baby, her rules. She is finding herself surprised at the strength of her desire to protect her family bubble for the first few months. Equally surprising is her guilt for wanting people to stay away unless they are fully on board with her style of parenting. It’s the classic inner battle for women: strength vs. guilt.

When I gave birth to my oldest, it was a surprise to find that I had a Mama Bear instinct. I was floored at how strong it was. I felt, for the first time in my life, that my own intuition and feelings about what I wanted for my family trumped what other people might feel or think about my choices. The most important views about what was best for my baby belonged to me and my husband. I had never felt that important before. Hello, power.

Photo by Lea Wolf

Lea Wolf, my doula for my that birth, was essential in helping me understand that the first few weeks after birth are yours, your baby’s, and your partners. They belong to no one else and no one else can claim them, though they may try to. I understood this rationally, but not emotionally, with my first and made some mistakes in not creating a month-long safe space to honor that fourth trimester bond, find a rhythm, and heal from the birth.

It can be hard and foreign to explain our instincts to others in the face of their sometimes different expectations.   We need to start with our instinct as the starting point and create space for it. If we can find the strength to create that space, we are rewarded in so many ways. Because as we maintain our truth, it grows bigger and stronger. Crucial!

Your inner, intuitive voice may ring so loudly and strongly after baby is born, it may take your breath away in how certain and solid it feels.  Following that inner voice is the most blessed actualization of mother’s intuition.  It is as real and valid as your five senses, developed over generations of our ancestors fine tuning their ability to love, guide and protect their children and themselves.

So when an un-nurturing neighbor knocks on the door two days postpartum and wants to see baby, and you hear that inner voice saying “No.” — that “no” is there for a reason. So that the word can find your lips: “No.” It’s not right for you.

Social expectations can push up against this instinct and try and sway you toward a “yes.” You might think “It isn’t polite” or “I want to be nice” or “I don’t want them to think I don’t appreciate them.”  Part of listening to yourself is knowing that when you choose what’s right for you, it is quite likely that you will not please everyone all the time. And as far as I can tell, not pleasing everyone all the time, staying true to yourself, and accepting yourself for it…. is just the beginning of motherhood.

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