I had my third and final child two weeks ago, and I expected a lot.
The horrendously painful, dignity-destroying drama of labour (think epic pooing, bloodcurdling screams and shameless begging for a too-late epidural).
The unique, beautiful wonder of finally meeting the tiny being that had tumbled and kicked and squashed my kidneys for nearly ten months.
The dreamlike, soul-numbing first week, where emotions ran high, maternity pads ran thick and sleep unhelpfully did a complete runner altogether.
The second (and third, and fourth…okay, and fourteenth) day blues, the highlight of which was the morning I cried because my husband was taking too long to make my decaf coffee despite my barking orders at him like the gestapo.
I expected it all, and for the third time was reminded that actually, newborns tend to do everything except the expected. But amongst all these expectations, I experienced the one thing I hadn’t prepared myself for: grief.
It hit me during my first shower at home, where I found myself blissfully alone for the first time since giving birth. No baby sucking ferociously at my breast, no small brother or sister peering at my cracked nipples with horrified fascination, no midwives, no husband, no visitors. As I felt my shoulders relax under the pressure of the steaming water and all my body had been through over the past twenty four hours, I was surprised to feel the weight of something else. Or rather, it was the absence of weight.
I gazed down at my strangely deflated, wobbly stomach and suddenly felt bereft, deserted, alone.
My tiny daughter’s body was no longer safely enveloped in mine. My blood would never again throb around her, my insides would no longer cocoon hers, the cord connecting her to my core had been efficiently, brutally cut. She was gone—not far, in fact bare metres away in the safe arms of my husband—but from my body she was gone and I missed her with a rawness that shocked me.
I sobbed as I grasped ineffectually at my stomach, coveting the taut roundness of only yesterday, my fingers searching for the smooth, uncomfortable wholeness I would never feel again.
Despite knowing exactly how lucky I am to not only have had the experience of pregnancy but to have carried a healthy, thriving baby to term, I took that shower as my time to grieve my pregnant body and thank it for the beautiful, complex and oftentimes painful process of growing a child within.
After a while, I turned off the tap and stepped out of the shower, breathing in the cold, steamy air. It was time to close the door and return to where my body was needed, holding my new daughter from the outside now.