Keep this in Mind when Managing the Postpartum Transition

In the four temperaments, an ancient theory of personality, the choleric is generally the absurdly active one. One challenge after another, the moment things develop some rhythm I find myself engaging in some new enterprise. There is something about the thrill of adjustment. Like the fear that grips the roller-coaster rider before the big fall, there is something in the stress of the unknown, the question of how to make it work that gets me going.

If I have had enough sleep.

Stella Chiara Casey was born 12 days early in the wee hours of a Sunday morning. Feb. 11, she was baptized. During a small reception following, I sat in the sun with three other mothers and we discussed, among other motherly things, sleep deprivation and success.

Is there anything that can rock a household like a newborn?

Photo of sleeping newborn girl
Stella Chiara

So, although I have scarcely borne it with grace until now, in the effort to write this column, I am going to consider what it will take to do what it takes.

First, and foremost, coffee.

Coffee is a morning ritual, a feast for the senses, a stimulant for the brain. No one needs coffee to exist and exist well, but there is a certain pleasure in telling ourselves we do. Coffee is my reliable partner, the one who can motivate us in the morning, making us ready to face the day. It is a safe harbor when the rest of the morning is up in the air.

Maybe for some, it’s a piece of chocolate after lunch, for others a cup of tea in the afternoon. When we can keep these little culinary rituals within their proper place by not over-indulging, by indulging just enough, then they can become a real aid in the process of wild life-transitions.

Second, a way to feel human again.

Cover of A Year in Flowers by Erin Benzakein

You might feel completely and totally absorbed in caregiving, to the point that your personal life seems to have dissolved into a vat of dye, making it unrecognizable to you now. For myself, if I can weasel the baby into some unsuspecting adult’s arms, I can rush outside, grab the hula-hoe and go to town on the overgrown winter weeds, revealing the ranunculus I planted in a rush last September.

My preordered copy of “A Year in Flowers” by Erin Benzakein arrived at Yesterday’s Books on Feb. 11, and by Feb. 12 it was in my hands ready to be devoured the moment I accepted my mothering fate by hoisting this infant into a sling so I can use both hands to write this column and turn the pages of a hardbound book. I already know the photos will delight me, the text inspires me, the ideas give my imagination wing for the next round of festivity.

These, along with reading and writing, bring me back to my core where all the swirling elements of life can be organized. They made sense of and arranged such that they will eventually have a place that makes sense.

Third, to maintain a connection with those around me.

Photograph of a picture book
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

My time, arms, energy and sleep are all devoted to this newborn. But having to feed and house the other children meeting a reasonable standard of living means a balance I have not found during this first month (and perhaps no mother can really find, the season just changes). We need to be intentional about time together.

My plan is to pass this baby onto that same unsuspecting adult (he thinks he’s holding her just for a minute), and instead of rushing outside or hustling my hands over dishes, I will escape into one of the bedrooms with a stack of library books and spend the next thirty minutes reading.

Three things.

Three simple things that take a lifetime of transitions to implement. Coffee, that is, simple rituals for stability; gardening, that is, activities that energize me and make me feel more myself; and reading picture books, that is, maintaining connections with existing relationships.

No formula will be simple or easy, but that’s the richness of the game and the thrill of the chase when we dare mighty things.

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