Last week I went to visit a female GP for my six-week postpartum check-up. It was weird. Even though she wasn't my regular GP (ours is a dude, but I wanted to talk female-to-female), I went in thinking I'd at last get a chance to talk to her about how I'm going physically and emotionally after labour.
But it turns out I either have warped memories or things have changed drastically since my last postpartum check-up, because that's not how it went down at all.
She asked me how my labour was, whether or not I'd required stitches, and whether we had decided what type of contraception we will use now that it's "safe" to start having sex again. Then she asked me to hop on the bed for a pap smear.
Afterwards, she asked me how baby was doing (answer: fine – he's feeding well, gaining lots of weight and his jaundice is clearing). Then she signed a letter to say I was okay to start exercising again, and bub and I were shooed out of her room so her next patient could come in.
That was the post-partum check-up, ticked off and "complete" in less than 15 minutes.
Except it didn't feel complete at all.
I don't know if she even asked me how I was going apart from the very specific post-labour questions above. She did ask me if this was my first baby, and I guess because it isn't I'm just supposed to be okay.
Which is stupid, because that's not how motherhood works.
People ask mums with new babies, "How are you going?" and we respond as well as we can. But the truth is, the answer changes depending on the day – and time of day! Sometimes I'm fine, and other times I want to collapse in a heap on the floor. Sometimes I feel like the luckiest woman in the world and other times I am certain there is no end to the cloudy, suffocating exhaustion that comes with being needed for someone else's survival. The broad spectrum of positive and negative emotions that come with mothering a new baby fluctuates all the time.
There are about a million layers beneath the answers between "great", "ok", "tired" or "struggling".
And it takes more than 10 minutes in a GP's room to really explain how I am.
I don't really know how to explain that while most of the time adjusting to having a new human has been a beautiful, love-filled experience, there are also times I feel so out of my depth and vulnerable because it hits me that I now have two people to take care of. And it scares the sh*t out of me.
Sometimes I'm celebrating how great I think I'm doing (the first time I got the two boys out of the house by myself I wanted a gold medal). But other times I'm mourning. Mourning the loss of energy. The loss of strength and control my body once had but doesn't anymore. The loss of time to just talk to my husband. The loss of independence that comes with leaving the house for work and spending most of the day with adults. The loss of doing things in my own time or on my own terms.
I know that in the grand scheme of life these are minor losses, that many of these are temporary, and I am being petty when there are bigger, more tragic things worth contemplating.
But right now my children are my world, and sometimes these losses feel enormous. And now I have to rediscover who I am and what my strengths are because, just like when my status changed from non-parent to parent, my status has changed from mother of one to mother of two. And while the change is not as monumental as the first time, it's a big change nonetheless.
So when someone asks how I am, I just say "good" or "okay" or "tired". It seems a bit silly to say "drowning" because I know I am doing more than just staying afloat (even though sometimes it feels like only just). It's just … I have yet to find the words to best describe the half-awesome/half-sad feeling of having gained and lost so many things at once.
Do people really want to know all this when they ask "How are you?" Probably not. I suspect most people don't have time for it. I did expect the GP to have time for it, but she seemed so insistent on getting me out. It bothers me, though, that she was more concerned about my choice of contraceptive than my emotional or mental wellbeing.
Lucky for me, I have a lot of fellow mums and non-mum friends who are checking in on me, who have lent a kind ear and are there to support me through this new chapter.
But not everyone is so lucky, and that scares me. We have to look after ourselves, and each other.