An ad depicting the harsh reality of postpartum life was banned from showing during the Oscars ceremony in America and my heart clenched. Rather than being disgusted, as broadcasters thought many viewers would be, I saw myself in her aching pain and vulnerability. This is the messy reality so many millions of mothers around the world face.
The version of women permitted on the Oscars stage seems to be one of gorgeously put together bodies, slim and all smiles, ready to satisfy the male gaze. Heaving postpartum bodies are not sexy, in the way that satisfies Hollywood.
Heaving postpartum bodies are not sexy, in the way that satisfies Hollywood.
Postpartum bodies are primal. Postpartum bodies are brave. Postpartum bodies are simultaneous so weak, and yet, strong enough to keep sustaining a newborn.
The reality of postpartum is this: messy, confronting and raw. I’ve been through childbirth and postpartum recovery three times, and each time, I look back and wonder how I got through it. (Hint: A lot of support from my husband, mother and mother-in-law).
After giving birth to my third baby, I was feeling very vulnerable and desperately wanted a wash before my two little girls, mother and mother-in-law came to see me. I was still shaking from the adrenaline that came with a fast birth (I arrived at hospital at 1 pm and my baby was born at 2:40 pm), and slightly dizzy from blood loss. I was already prone to low blood pressure anyway. Each time I got up from my hospital bed, I felt a fresh squirt of lochia into my gigantic pad. One slow step at a time, with my husband’s help, I made it to the bathroom. I may have leaked blood on the hospital floor once or twice.
One slow step at a time, with my husband’s help, I made it to the bathroom. I may have leaked blood on the hospital floor once or twice.
I wanted to wash the blood and baby poop from my exhausted body. My husband was outside with our newborn. I relished the scent of jasmine shower gel – a gift from my mother – and felt slightly better. I slowly moved from the shower area to reach for my towel. I closed my eyes. And then I fainted.
My husband came in just in time to help me. I had literally blacked out on the hospital bathroom floor. He had to help me slowly get up. As I slowly made it to my hospital bed, I smiled at my little girls who were delighted to finally meet their brand new baby brother. They had no idea I had fainted in the bathroom while they were outside. This is a conversation I will have with them, when they are older. I will tell them that motherhood, especially in the early postpartum stage, can both fill your heart with so much joy, and decimate you. And it’s okay to ask for help, even if it’s so hard to admit to that.
When I was pregnant with my third baby, I needed to have a day operation to get my internal haemorrhoids removed. They got worse with each of my pregnancies and births. Because I was pregnant, I couldn’t I go under general anaesthetic. So I lay there, on my side, clutching my baby bump, breathing through the discomfort, reassuring my kicking baby that I was okay. The surgeon said he could only remove my external haemorrhoids after I give birth. So I have that fun appointment lying in the future for me, along with the babysitting kabuki that has to happen so I can have surgery. As my close girlfriends know, I am a supporter of honest discussions about haemorrhoids and how to manage something so uncomfortable.
Coming back from hospital postpartum was another chapter. I was too weak and light-headed to even walk to the car, so I got my first experience of being pushed in a wheelchair by a very kind nurse. And even then, I attempted to pile my lap with stuff to feel useful. She very kindly and firmly stopped me, carrying it for me.
The nights were the hardest. My husband, mum-in-law and mother all took turns managing my then 1.5 year old and 4 year old. It was me and my newborn son, alone in our downstairs bedroom. At one point, I had a bout of diarrhoea – postpartum poop is a whole other level of pain – and my newborn was wailing. So I carried him into the bathroom with me. There was nobody else to hold him, and I couldn’t bear to leave him alone.
Let’s talk about how difficult it can be witness a new mother’s pain, and why. Let’s talk about the duality of motherhood, and how so much joy can exist beside so much pain.
Women are complex. So are our experiences throughout our life journey. The postpartum experience is no different. Instead of banning ads that speak so deeply to so many women – let’s talk about it. Let’s talk about how difficult it can be witness a new mother’s pain, and why. Let’s talk about the duality of motherhood, and how so much joy can exist beside so much pain. Let’s talk about how women how depiction of women in the media is often so harmfully reductive – blonde bombshell, femme fatale, frigid, to name a few.
Censorship side-steps the issue. It takes courage to face the taboos around postpartum, head on. If you’re reading this, remember you were born from a woman too.
Raidah Shah Idil is a mother of three, poet, writer, and dreamer. You can find Raidah hunting for patches of green in the city, playing puppets with her little ones, and writing when she really should be sleeping. You can follow Raidah on Twitter @raidahshahidil.