When I gave birth to my amazing daughter in the fall of 2006, there were a lot of feelings swirling around I didn't understand. Pregnancy, labor, and delivery are so complicated, and my hormones dipped so frequently, I was unable to decipher most of what I felt physically and emotionally. It was all new, confusing, and wonderful in the same breath and still, something was missing. I just didn't know what. There's a lot of reasons why I felt empty after my baby was born. Turns out, with my son five years later, that feeling of complete emptiness was more intense.
The biggest difference, I've realized, is that after my daughter arrived I was diagnosed with postpartum depression (PPD). It was severe and, yet, I'd somehow talked myself into believing it was nothing. It actually wasn't nothing and, eventually, I'd have to seek help if I wanted to be the kind of mother I dreamed to be. Then, after a completely different experience having my son (pregnancy and beyond), I realized the two births were more similar than I first thought. The initial feeling of having my body back to myself was sort of jarring and unsettling. Honestly, it all left me feeling pretty lonely, which was something I wasn't prepared for.
Aside from the physical departure, giving birth set off a string of emotions I hadn't anticipated. With both children, I wasn't always sure what I felt after birth, except that I knew I was empty. Here are some of the reasons why:
All The Attention Shifted Away From Me
I don't mean this is a negative way, but more like once I had both babies I no longer existed. While relieved to be done with labor and delivery, no one seemed to care much about how I was doing anymore. As if my body had only been the carrier for our new bundle and I was no longer an "issue." I'm sure no one meant to make me feel that way, but there's no other way to interpret it, really. I was someone before my baby, and would be after, but the grand gestures of people swarming to hold this new person while ignoring me was triggering, and (I know now) contributed to my initial bout with PPD.
The Baby Was No Longer Just Mine
Through nine months of pregnancy hell, my babies were mine and mine alone. There was no sharing of anything with my partner, friends, or family. Each experience was from me to baby or baby to me. That all changed once I delivered and I had a hard time adjusting to letting my babies go. They weren't "mine," or anyone else's really. They were their own people now. Yes, I had to care for and provide for each of them, but not in the ways my body did when I carried them through pregnancy.
There Was No More Dreaming, Just Doing
Pregnancy (especially the first) meant I usually spent my time thinking about what life would be like. It all feels surreal and whimsical through thoughts, but reality is so different. Getting into the nitty gritty of the "doing" part of parenting made me feel empty, only because it was no longer about the cutesy baby shower or neatly folding tiny onesies. It was about getting spit on and crying in the bathroom and the emotionally raw state of knowing I'd become a mother.
It Was Difficult To Connect My Pregnancy To My Baby
In the first few days after my first delivery, my mind had a hard time accepting the baby in the room was my baby. I still felt (somewhat) pregnant and everything was disconnected. This, of course, was the "calm" before my postpartum depression storm, in which it took on a life of its own.
Everything Became About The Baby
Along with everyone pretending I didn't exist outside of carrying my babies to term, all energies turned to those newborns. Not only was it not about me at all anymore, it really wouldn't be for quite awhile. I didn't even credit myself, as everything I had was poured into mothering and that, alone, is an isolating, terrifying, and lonely feeling.
My Hormones Shifted
Even if you don't suffer through a severe postpartum bout of depression and anxiety, hormones are still finding their way back to normal. After my son, I was only mildly affected by hormonal shifts, so instead of peeling myself off the floor during a deep depression, I was instead so infatuated with my baby boy I never wanted to leave him. The hormones felt different but the base of emptiness remained, because I wasn't in charge of anything happening to me. Especially those hormones.
I Missed Being Pregnant
At the bottom of all the reasons, I missed the pregnancies themselves. Not the awful bodily changes, morning (read: all day) sickness, or acne. Not the food aversions, hypertension, hair breakage, or stretch marks. What I missed was the feeling of each baby growing inside of me. The kicks and punches coming from the place where only I could feel their fluttering movements.
All those nights I'd place my hand over my belly and talk to both my daughter and son are gone now. They're in the world, trying to find their footing. Sure, I felt empty when they left my body and in the days and weeks after. But now, I can hug them and when I tell them how much I love them, they say it in return.