Innate gratitude and pure joy sanctify good motherhood. For some the consumption is cushioned by sweet coos and newborn baby smell, and devotion is upheld by self-sacrifice. For others the deep-seated doctrine of good motherhood is brutally isolating- smothering new parents in insolation and despondency. Motherhood is not new yet the spectrum of postpartum depression remains taboo.
Time is long. The continual re-framing of success and defeat is exhausting, the persistent failures are stifling. The post-surgery scurry, football size baby in hand, off to grab a nursing pillow (breast is best!) when a ray of light exposes the Milky Way of dust encasing the entryway. It soon passes but casts a greater shadow of self scrutiny. Cries alarm, milk dribbles. Hours are endless yet work and homelife norms transform into unscalable mountains of grief. Much has disintegrated: identity, ideals, confidence. Shame and guilt settle in alongside thoughts of What have I done? A good mom would never!
Detached, I watch the light shift subtly throughout the days, months, year. “She’s a natural,” and “What a good baby” fog the mind. I have no right to be unhappy. Is it the hormones? When will this end? Will it end? How long has it been this way? Why can’t I do it all? What kind of feminist have I become? Can she feel my misery? It’s supposed to be natural.
Giving birth in May, 2020 (New York City), the avalanche of unknowns ousted any village of support. It’s impossible to decipher the reaction to new parenthood from what has been compounded by the pandemic. What has persisted is a greater grappling with motherhood and postpartum mythology- a slow and painful paradigm shift away from society’s (and my own) notions of what it means to be a good mother. These images reflect my own postpartum experience- the repetitive cycles of solitude, failure, and the struggle for self-compassion.
More to come.