Monday, July 11, 2011

Feelings of loss post-partum

by FreshMD | Martina Scholtens

When Ilia was a few weeks old, Pete asked, and said it so casually from the couch where he was reading after dinner, "Do you miss our old life?" The relief to hear it said. I did. I missed the old routine, driving in to Vancouver in the mornings with four-year-old Ariana in the back seat, CBC on the radio and a day at the clinic ahead of me. Yes, there will be a similar routine in a few months, with an infant in the car and a graduated return to work, but those other days, the particular way they were, are done.

"I guess you'll never have another son-baby, hey, Mom?" asked my six-year-old son cheerfully as he ate his after school snack the next week. I could have cried. I saved all my kids' clothes in anticipation of this possible fourth, and now that she's here I have boxes of corduroy pants, sneakers, little ball caps to set afloat. Somehow my daughters' infancies seem preserved through Ilia wearing their hand-me-downs, but I can't kid myself: my son's baby days are over.

And then I overheard Ariana greeting her little sister. "Good morning, Ilia," she said seriously. "It's your medium-sized sister." Saskia's still the oldest, and Leif's still the only boy, but the crown of youngest child has been passed from Ariana to Ilia, by my choice. Then, after church an elderly woman tugged on my arm, admired the baby and confided, "Mothers have a very special relationship with their youngest daughter." At that moment Ariana came into view, long dark pigtails, thin legs in purple boots making their way across the room to the gardens outside. There she was, the daughter with whom I would have had that extra special relationship - except I'd taken that from us and given it to this newest baby.

Those first two months, I missed my bodies. The one before this last pregnancy. The one before I had ever been pregnant at all. The pregnant one, even, that at least looked purposeful. A week post-partum, sitting at the breakfast table, Leif gestured at my paunch with his spoon and asked, "You know why that looks like that? Because all the equipment is still in there."

Most of all, I've struggled with the (temporary) loss of my identity as physician. At the little good-bye party over cake in the chart room in February, I asked the clinic to please just stagnate until I returned. Of course they will forge ahead and do all sorts of interesting things while I'm away, and I hate to not be a part of it. Some of my patients requested six-month supplies of medications to tide them over until my return. I didn't comply, but I understood. I'm grateful for my locum, but I'm jealous of her, too. I miss the collegiality of the clinic, the focus on others' lives, the escape from my own head, the sense of contributing to the community, the academic stimulation. I'm back to work in the fall, but in the meantime, I feel a little unmoored.

This is my daughter:


How I love this little face. I marvel that someone I couldn't have imagined months ago could feel so inevitable, could have an entire family happily orbiting around her.

Don't mistake this for ingratitude. It's simply an acknowledgment that for this new mother, mixed in with the bliss of those first six to eight weeks, were feelings of loss and grief. Surely I'm not the only one.


  1. You never cease to amaze me : such a well-written post, very orderly, when there seems chaos in the thought. Also, so very poignant, & true : i have felt the same for my own children, body & relationship, too.

    So lovely, this post.
    Thank you.

  2. Beautiful post (and baby). Temporary loss of identity but morphing into new identities, that is our path in life. Please be well and breathe it all in.

  3. Thanks for being such a good writer. I love hearing your heart in the midst of a familiar dance.

  4. As our life changes ebb and flow over us, and we move from one stage to another, change always has me feeling a little out of body also. You summed up this feeling in regards to this change very well. Thank you for describing it and making those of us who feel the same not feel alone.

  5. When I saw freshmd had authored this post, I got excited- and you did not disappoint.
    Such a comforting and honest post. And beautifully written, as always. (beautiful girl as well!)

  6. Cute baby.

    Look at it this way. At least you can HAVE children.

  7. Kellie (general surgeon)July 12, 2011 at 1:51 PM

    To Anonymous: that is pretty much uncalled for. I had great difficulty with getting and staying pregnant (about a ten year journey to my son). If you don't want to read about children, possibly a blog about "MOTHERS in Medicine" is not the blog you should be reading.

  8. Kellie (General Surgeon)July 12, 2011 at 1:53 PM

    To FreshMD: Your post is heartwarming and clearly tells the feelings that all new mothers (whether first child or fourth) have. There is always a feeling of loss of control. I know that I felt that. She is a beautiful baby!

  9. Kellie,

    If I didn't want to read about children I would have to hole up in my house, disconnect the internet and phone, and become a hermit. But you knew that, you just want to appropriateness police.

  10. Thanks for the comments.

    @Anonymous: Yes, I am grateful that I've been able to have children, and I don't take it for granted. I sat on this post for months, in part because I didn't want my admission of some sorrowful feelings upon the arrival of a newborn to be hurtful to those who long for a baby. (In the same way that blase comments from pregnant women stung when I had just miscarried. Maybe in the same way that a previous poster was criticized for 'complaining' about dermatology, a coveted specialty.)

    But then I read another blogger's post with similar sentiments:

    These feelings among post-partum women aren't unique, and I thought it might be useful to others to articulate my own observations. I know for myself, it can be a relief to have experiences normalized.

  11. this was a great post. for me, i was a wreck post-partum. i thought it a great idea to have a child july of intern year, move, and start internship 3 months late. i had pie-in-the-sky ideas about what motherhood was going to be... and i love my son, but i felt as if everybody else had it together and i was the only one struggling with all of the changes that had taken place. i feel that many times, women aren't candid with one another about what motherhood can do, both positive and negative, maybe because there's always that competitiveness driving us to be better moms, better women, better whatever. anyhow, i'm rambling, but i appreciate your post.

  12. Lovely postFreshMD, you're right - you're not alone when it comes to post-partunm. Women
    are very likely to have mixed feelings after childbirth no matter how many times you have been
    through it. I would suggest you have a look at
    Pulse Learning
    you can further research and understand more about what your body may go through in these
    times by looking through various related modules and frequently asked questions about issues
    such as postnatal depression. Hope this helps :)

  13. Kellie (General Surgeon)July 13, 2011 at 10:16 AM

    Anonymous, true. But you don't have to SEEK out blogs that clearly deal with parenthood. I certainly stayed far away from blogs that dealt wtih parenthood. Mostly read infertility blogs and when they got pregnant, often had a hard time continuing to read them. You shouldn't deliberately seek to read blogs that might and often does have hurtful information, albeit unintentional.

    Fresh - this IS a blog about mothers in medicine. I believe that New mothers often have those feelings. Going through so many years of IF, then having a child and during the first couple of weeks wondering what the HELL did I get myself into and where could I return him, I was torn up inside.

  14. @Ashley - Yes. I find my candid mother friends refreshing.

    @Amy-Beth - Thanks for the link. Bookmarked. I agree that feelings of sadness/guilt post-partum should raise suspicions of post-partum depression, and should be raised with one's physician (ideally screened for BY physician). But I do think that some feeling of loss is a natural part of change, and not pathological.

    @Kellie - You're right. This should be a place where mothers can be upfront about the good and the bad. It's difficult to be sensitive to one's audience when you don't know who they are.

  15. Thanks for the lovely post as usual Martina. Pre or post partum I think it's completely normal to go through these feelings of loss. I am pregnant with my second boy, and I can't help but feel a little melancholic in thinking that my soon to be 3yr old son will not be the only one we pay attention to. I don't know how I can make 2 children feel loved equally, though I know it's possible. I'm excited he'll have a playmate and a brother (that's why we wanted another) but he's been the centre of our lives for 3yrs and I feel like I'm going to take that away from him.
    But I know this happens..and I certainly know these feelings are natural :-) Both excited and scared at the same time.

  16. I just wanted to add that I feel compassion for both Anonymous #1 and Fresh MD.

    Anonymous, it's terrible to yearn for children you don't (yet) have. I totally understand why you might come here. Kind of like picking a scab even though you know you shouldn't.

    Fresh MD, you seem like a very kind, empathic person and touching writer. I think you should be able to express yourself as long as you're not hurting anyone, and I really don't see malice or carelessness in your words. Thanks for writing, as always.

    I hope there's room for all of us at MiM.

  17. Made me cry. And I'm not even in medicine!

  18. Great post! It reminded me of this poem I read while pregnant with my 2nd and I thought I would share.

    Loving Two
    I walk along holding your 2-year-old hand, basking in the glow of our magical relationship. Suddenly I feel a kick from within, as if to remind me that our time alone is limited. And I wonder: how could I ever love another child as I love you?

    Then he is born, and I watch you. I watch the pain you feel at having to share me as you’ve never shared me before.

    I hear you telling me in your own way, “Please love only me”. And I hear myself telling you in mine, “I can’t”, knowing, in fact, that I never can again.

    You cry. I cry with you. I almost see our new baby as an intruder on the precious relationship we once shared. A relationship we can never quite have again.

    But then, barely noticing, I find myself attached to that new being, and feeling almost guilty. I’m afraid to let you see me enjoying him, as though I am betraying you.

    But then I notice your resentment change, first to curiosity, then to protectiveness, finally to genuine affection.

    More days pass, and we are settling into a new routine. The memory of days with just the two of us is fading fast.

    But something else is replacing those wonderful times we shared, just we two. There are new times – only now, we are three. I watch the love between you grow, the way you look at each other, touch each other.

    I watch how he adores you – as I have for so long. I see how excited you are by each of his new accomplishments. And I begin to realize that I haven’t taken something from you, I’ve given something to you. I notice that I am no longer afraid to share my love openly with both of you.

    I find that my love for each of you is as different as you are, but equally strong. And my question is finally answered, to my amazement. Yes, I can love another child as much as I love you – only differently.

    And although I realize that you may have to share my time, I now know you’ll never share my love. There’s enough of that for both of you – you each have your own supply.

    I love you – both. And I thank you both for blessing my life.
    Author Unknown


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