Postpartum Rainbow, Part Three
Is there a typical change of awareness in newborn time? The answer is yes. What many parents experience is a shift away from intellectual, logical thinking, toward a more "right-brained," intuitive mode. The new state of mind may last for weeks or months, seldom longer than a year -- but it can open the door to lifelong changes.
This feels like such a radical thing to say! It seems safe enough to acknowledge that our emotions can change in newborn time, but when we admit that our minds may work differently, we're getting dangerously close to undermining a belief held by many -- the belief that we can always be efficient and productive in the same way.
The bad news (from that point of view) is that in newborn time we may really be more prone to certain kinds of mental glitches, mistakes, and inefficiencies. It just might not be the best time to be piloting a jet plane or filling out your tax forms. The good news is that the mental shift can open our hearts and introduce us to a level of mind that has been out of reach, hidden below the surface level that works so well for utilitarian needs.
I like to think of the shift as a melting of boundaries, allowing deeper levels of the mind to blend into the everyday mind we're used to. At extremes, this opening to the deep mind can lead to delusions or cause us to misinterpret the world around us -- "interpreting everything as a symbol" as one woman said. It can give us wonderful creative insights and fresh ideas, melt our inhibitions and allow us to express the artist within. Or, more simply and more typically, it can help us tune in to our newborn baby's consciousness, her nonverbal wide-open awareness. It can reawaken a part of our mind that we haven't used much since we learned to read and write and think logically.
Looking back, I realize that for me this mind-shift began in late pregnancy. "I suppose the two sides of my brain are competing," I remarked a few days before the birth, as I found myself beginning to stutter, and not wanting to read as much as usual. Instead, I spent hours dreamily winding my yarn collection into balls, luxuriating in their colors and textures.
For weeks after Devin's birth, I was in a condition I described to myself as "my natural state of consciousness." It felt as though a new area of my brain was awake. I had an almost physical sense of functioning from a whole and balanced awareness. On the other hand, I could never remember to put away the leftovers, and had to post reminders on the bathroom mirror: "Stove turned off? Thermostat turned down?" My husband was in a similar state for the first week. "This parenthood makes you stupid," he said, "because all your head goes to your heart."
The altered awareness is perfectly practical for being with a baby, but it can make coping with the "outside world" surprisingly tricky. Laurie recalls the weeks following childbirth: "I felt different than the other people out in the hustle bustle world. I felt very safe and secure at home but like I almost couldn't handle things like driving in traffic. I had to force myself to concentrate on the traffic while driving - like I was operating on some other plane. My only accident ever and my only ticket ever both happened a few weeks after I gave birth -- different babies. I could anticipate my babies' every need but the outside world seemed so nuts."
I was lucky in being able to stay wrapped up in my newborn for a long time. Though my pre-baby work as a yoga teacher was not very demanding, I would have found it hard to change focus and give full attention to my students. (On the other hand, when I recorded an audiotape for them during the postpartum time, my altered awareness flowered with new interpretations of poses I'd been teaching for years.) But my husband, like most new fathers, soon had to divide himself between job and family. It was difficult for him. Another man, after helping care for his newborn for the first two months, announced that he wasn't able to function at work, "so he stopped helping," as his wife ruefully recalls.
If we don't realize that we may be in a very different frame of mind after our child's birth, we are likely to commit ourselves in advance to all sorts of stressful activities. We may find it hard for a while to deal with the typical demands of our pre-baby life. Kelly recalls: "Having been a fairly aggressive woman, able to speak my mind, good at problem solving and mathematics, I was very surprised to find that I was unable to visually count up more than ten objects without losing track and that even simple mathematics was impossible for almost a year. Since I was in the middle of building a house and attempting to be the contractor coordinating all the ordering of materials, subcontractors and so forth, the loss of my mathematical and planning abilities was difficult."
This mental shift can be a surprise for those of us who have identified mostly with our analytic, rational side. And the change in us can be disturbing to our partners, creating an unfortunate stress in the bonding time. Joan, a woman with two Master's degrees, says that the shift made her a better mother, but caused her husband to have less respect for her. "He is opposed to having a second child because of it," she adds.
Anara echoes the same dilemma: "I hope that your project can encourage acceptance of other states of being without closing doors to women again. I felt like my husband was startled -- and disappointed -- to find me so nonintellectual in the months following each birth."
A little advance knowledge about the changing mind of newborn time -- some reassurance that the change is both temporary and useful -- could help couples relax and appreciate its many gifts. This "altered state" is tailor made for nurturing our children and ourselves through the first months of a newborn's life. It eases the transition into parenthood. Focusing in the present moment makes it easy to be patient. As Holly says, "I just watched what happened and if I felt a need to act or react I would, if not I just let it go. I felt I was becoming more in touch with myself and the ancient rhythms of the earth."
Even when the changes of newborn time have faded, we may find we have gained a new ability to live in the moment and savor it. Elizabeth describes her experience of this timeless quality of awareness: "I became extremely dependent on my husband, which I had never allowed myself to do in the past. But my actions were unconscious -- natural, as were his. My head quit talking to me, 'You should do that...Don't depend on others...' The old voices stopped. There was no future and no past except for the birth. People would come and go and I would have to try to bring myself back to this plane where they were and where I used to be. Then they'd leave and I could relax and be in reality -- that place where even today seems more real than anywhere I've ever been. I could just BE in the shower. Feeling the water, smelling, hearing, tasting the moment."
After a month of so, says Elizabeth, "This feeling started to go away, because it was as if I had to make it go away -- and it was painful to do that. I was planning for the future... worrying about babysitters, work... I cried a lot because going back to the 'other world' wasn't where I was meant to be and yet I felt that that was where I had to go. Eventually this present world I'm in now took over and it doesn't feel as right. Yet I have learned to integrate the post-baby life more. It feels good now to have experienced the other and strive to balance the two, because I wouldn't be able to cope in today's society in the other place. (I find that a little sad.)"
In newborn time we can experience an older, deeper level of mind. As Susie says, "We lose touch with linear time, as we wake and sleep with the baby. We even adapt our consciousness to theirs so that we wake when they need us, and so we plug suddenly into a more intuitive, primitive facet of our nature."
But this changing consciousness can be a hazard for those of us who must go back to jobs within days or weeks of a child's birth. In the utilitarian world of work, one type of efficiency is valued at the expense of other kinds of awareness. That world believes it has no place for the altered awareness of the bonding time, and so we are subtly pressured to deny its power and act as if we're mentally unchanged.
Perhaps it would be wiser to make room for the changes, allowing generous time away from the demands of "business as usual" so that this side of our humanity can have its chance to unfold. Both mothers and fathers need time to experience the intuitive, non-linear consciousness that is a natural part of parenthood. This consciousness, though it may be temporary, is a source of nurturing and healing -- not just for newborn, mother, and father, but for our whole out-of-balance world.
Do you have insights and experiences you'd like to share on this subject? Please do! Send your thoughts by email to Elisabeth.
Postpartum Rainbow Introduction
Part 1 "Connectedness"
Part 2 "All My Senses Were Heightened"
Part 4 "The Sea of Emotion"
Part 5 "New Spaces in our Psyches"