I was not prepared for this.

I recently read the article in the Boston Globe and, while I feel like I knew everything in there intrinsically, having medical professionals and the media confirm my experience was so powerful. Please go read it (it's long but worth it) because it's really wonderful, though I will quote from it quite a bit here.

So here's the thing.  I remember being annoyed as hell before having kids about women making claims to the effect of not knowing the fullness of womanhood until they had kids. As an empowered feminist I fully believed (and still believe) that a woman doesn't need to have kids to be whole.  But what I didn't understand about what those women were saying is that you DO change significantly, both biologically and psychologically, when you have a kid.  You legitimately become a different person, to some degree, because your brain actually changes after having a kid.

I was in the midst of the most rapid and dramatic neurobiological change of my adult life. The unmooring I felt, and that so many new mothers feel, likely was at least in part a manifestation of structural and functional brain changes, handed down through the millennia by mothers past and intended to mold me into a fiercely protective, motivated caregiver, focused on my baby’s survival and long-term well-being.

We spend all this time obsessed about women's bodies, weight gain, spider veins, stretch marks, saggy boobs, when the biggest change actually occurs right inside her skull.  "Entering into motherhood is 'a major event' for the brain, says Jodi Pawluski, a researcher at University of Rennes 1 in France who focuses on what she and her colleagues call the 'neglected neurobiology” of the maternal brain. “It’s one of the most significant biological events, I would say, you would have in your life.'"

Holy shit.

But also, I feel that.  This feels like the most significant biological and neurobiological shifts in my life, possibly more unsettling than puberty.  Everyone prepares you for puberty, it's thoroughly discussed (though even then, tween and teen girls are NOT given even close to a complete understanding of their fertility and cycle.  It wasn't until I started tracking my own cycles well into my late twenties as a natural contraceptive method that I learned truly how my fertility and menstrual cycle worked).  But the shift you experience in motherhood is not something I was prepared for at all, from any medical professional.  And having not anticipated such a huge shift, it was frightening to say the least.

In my prenatal and postpartum care (the latter of which was unexpectedly minimal) postpartum depression was definitely discussed, but never in much specificity.  So when I found myself at 7 months postpartum, screaming with unbridled rage at my own mother over some small disagreement, I didn't recognize it as a possible symptom of a larger issue which was slowly percolating to the surface.  

What would happen if we gave expectant mothers even a basic understanding of how and why their brains change? Would it help them to cope with the unfamiliar emotional experiences that very often are part of a healthy experience of new motherhood? Might it open a door for women who experience more problematic symptoms to talk with their loved ones or their doctor? Could it even help some women to feel empowered by their own biology?

The culture we have is shifting, slowly, but we still live in a time and place where the gritty beauty of real womanhood and motherhood is feared. "The truth is, it’s easier to talk about decorating the nursery than about the gripping fear that sends you into a full-body sweat the first time you take baby to the grocery store. It’s more comfortable to debate baby names and stroller brands than to discuss the depth of loneliness that can come at 2 a.m. when you are awake again with a crying baby." It's scary to talk about the rage you feel all of a sudden when your baby won't stop crying.  It's scary to admit you sometimes feel like just getting in the car and driving away forever. People don't yet know what to do with that kind of admission, but every single time I've admitted to feeling those ways, I hear a chorus of other mothers echoing me, confirming that my experience isn't unusual.

When I was pregnant, I didn't have much in the way of fear surrounding childbirth itself.  What I feared was life after childbirth. What it would look like, how life would change, and that I would miss my life before kids.  And for me, those things did turn out to be much more challenging to deal with than my comparatively easy and quick labor and delivery.  But what I didn't expect to change was me. My brain. Not recognizing yourself is one of the most frightening things to cope with, on top of having this little human you're charged with turning into a thriving member of society (or at least not a serial killer). 

“We want to keep this facade that motherhood is everything we’ve ever hoped for and pregnancy is blissful. . . . We feel like we are raining on people’s parades and dramatizing our own struggles and scaring people, and we don’t want to do those things. Yet, we do need to talk about this."

We need to talk about this.