After Hazel was born and my body began to readjust to not being pregnant, I realized that I had a common postpartum “condition” of diastasis recti, which means that my abdominal wall had separated, vertically, leaving my muscles a good 2 inches apart. It’s common for women to experience this as the body does what it needs to in order to accommodate growing a human. There are some good core and breathing exercises that were recommended to me by my physiotherapist and the strict instruction NOT to do any sit-ups (not sad about that one!)
Somehow, as life often does, the experience of having separated abs after having a baby became an important metaphor for me in the weeks and months that followed- and it also gave me new appreciation for the power of breath, but more on that another time.
After Hazel was born, I found myself feeling more tender and raw. Not raw in a bad way, but it felt as though my joy, my emotions and my worries were closer to the surface, more exposed. I couldn’t listen to the news without feeling…well, feelings! Truthfully, because the news is often so devastating, I mostly felt sadness. Tragedies involving children gutted me in a way that they previously hadn’t before. Stories of young moms dying from cancer led me to worry what would happen if Hazel were to grow up without a mother.
As a midwife and the wife of a therapist, I know the signs and symptoms of postpartum depression and what I was experiencing wasn’t that. If anything I had some feelings about the darker realities of life as a human, rather than just thoughts. I am person who has historically been more comfortable in the realm of thoughts than feelings. I tend to lean on the more pragmatic side, with less variance in my emotions. For better or worse, I am usually steadily content. This experience of suddenly feeling everything more was so surprising. My husband and many of my dear friends are ‘feelers’ so it was interesting experiencing a different way of being in and understanding the world. It also made me feel more vulnerable and for lack of better words, closer to the surface of myself.
This is where my separated abs come back into the story. At night, as I’m laying in my bed thinking about my day, praying, resting–I feel my pulse beating in the soft spot where my abdominals used to shield me. This new softness, this exposure to feelings- joyful and sad- is new to me. I notice this new tenderness and I think about how my body has been stretched and changed to grow new life and I know that my heart or soul or whatever you want to call it has been changed too. It’s the one thing that I couldn’t have predicted about being a parent or maybe birthing a baby. I’m not sure which, but I know that the process has changed me in ways that I can’t articulate but somehow deeply understand as I lay there at night feeling my heartbeat pulse gently in the soft spot of my body.
I don’t know what it all means yet- and maybe I never will. I’ve changed and been stretched and now I feel things more deeply, perhaps more fully. I worry a little bit more about the state of the world, about hungry children, about racism and poverty and injustice. I worry about my family, their wellbeing and health. I walk around feeling like I have it all a little bit less together, a little bit less cerebral and that is taking some getting used to. There’s no nice bow or concluding thought to tie this all together yet because I don’t know the outcome or how my exterior life will be different- I hope that it will look like growing in empathy, in compassion and in love. I think that’s what it feels like, anyway.