Stories to Soothe a Postpartum Soul
After I gave birth to my daughter last October, I temporarily misplaced myself. Throughout my pregnancy, I'd grown accustomed to sharing my body with another person and existing in perpetual discomfort, but giving birth transformed my physical self into something I didn't recognize. The first time I looked at my postpartum body, I wept—not, as you might suppose, from a place of vanity, as I've never thought particularly much of my appearance, but from a shocking, unexpected fear. I felt like I'd lost my grip on who I was in all the fuss and bustle, and as the days passed in a cloudy blur of pain, exhaustion, and anxiety, I started to worry I'd never relocate it.
Would I ever take a trip again? Would I ever make it to the store again? Would I ever be able to lose myself in a novel again? Would I ever write again? Would I ever enjoy anything again? These seem silly in hindsight, four and a half months (and many, many restful nights) later. Maybe to you, they seem a little selfish. But in those early days, when my maternity clothes were too big and my regular clothes were too small and the simple act of pouring a cup of coffee required a pep talk, a little selfishness helped me remember that I, too, was a person. And it reminded me that one of the best things I can do as a mother of a daughter is exemplify individuality in the midst of a family unit—I am her mother, and her father's wife, but I am also just Olivia. That's important, too.
As the weeks progressed, my daughter's days and nights righted themselves and we discovered that, to our delight, she was quite accomplished in the art of sleeping ten hours in a row. She stopped crying as much as, over the weeks and months, she realized we (or someone who cares for her) will always be there to make sure she's fed, warm, clean, dry, and comfortable. And somewhere along the way, I found myself again and remembered who I was. And since I'm a writer and a lifelong devourer of the written word, it makes sense that stories played a big part in that.
Here are the stories that have helped me come to terms with motherhood, pull myself together, and establish a new, wonderful, hectic and happy normal. There is no rhyme or reason to this collection, other than that I happened across them during a time where I was in desperate need of healing. I hope they inspire and comfort you, as well.
Call the Midwife (Television Series, 2012-)
I found Call the Midwife one night not long after bringing our wee babe home from the hospital. Those first couple of weeks, she would not sleep at night unless one of us held her, and even if she had slept, she still needed to eat every 2-3 hours. I was so exhausted, I worried about drifting off with her in my arms and dropping her, so I turned to our Netflix watch list. Call the Midwife had been there for a while, and it seemed as good a time as any to indulge. From PBS:
Inspired by the memoirs of Jennifer Worth, Call the Midwife follows the nurses, midwives and nuns from Nonnatus House, who visit the expectant mothers of Poplar, providing the poorest women with the best possible care.
I think if I'd watched this show any sooner it would have horrified me, but it was oddly therapeutic to watch rather graphic, often traumatic birth scenes in the weeks following my own easy, uncomplicated experience. Beautifully done with incredibly talented actors presenting an array of stories both cheerful and tragic, this show simultaneously warms and breaks my heart, and makes me incredibly grateful for how far both society and medicine have come in their treatment of women. I watched all six seasons currently available on Netflix during my six weeks of maternity leave.
The Mindy Project (Television Series, 2012-2017)
A single-camera comedy, starring Mindy Kaling, that follows a skilled OB/GYN navigating the tricky waters of both her personal and professional life, as she pursues her dreams of becoming the perfect woman, finding the perfect man and getting her perfect romantic comedy ending.
I found The Mindy Project in a search for something light and short to watch during feedings, and as a fan of The Office (U.S.), and therefore of Mindy Kaling, I wanted to give it a try. It's not my usual taste and I stopped watching somewhere in season three, but it served its purpose well. I enjoyed watching a workplace comedy with a strong, independent, goofy female lead. I had many a good laugh while watching, and as we all know, laughter can be medicinal.
Wonder Woman (Movie, 2017)
Moana (Movie, 2016)
Hidden Figures (Movie, 2016)
These movies have all been so buzzy, I'm going to assume everyone has seen them, or at least knows the basic premise. I didn't discover them postpartum, but I did revisit them. During those early weeks of recovery when something as simple as putting on a pair of jeans or taking a walk felt like a Herculean task, I needed to see Strong Women Doing Hard Things, and these movies delivered.
Uncommon Type by Tom Hanks (Book, 2017)
I've been a fan of Tom Hanks for as long as I can remember (he was in Toy Story, so I can honestly say that), so I thought this collection of his fiction would be the perfect way to start reading in earnest again. The stories aren't perfect, but they are comforting in a way Tom Hanks always seems to be—familiar, predictable, and masterful.
Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance by Ruth Emmie Lang (Book, 2017)
This book was purely delightful. I don't want to say much, for fear of spoiling, but I do credit it with getting my creative juices flowing again and inspiring me to start working on my current project (which I hope is half as whimsical, melancholy, and heartbreakingly lovely as this masterpiece).
The Chemist by Stephenie Meyer (Book, 2016)
This book was a total departure from my usual reading habits, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. Given my anxiety disorder, thrillers aren't my go-to for obvious reasons, but the situations in this book are so over-the-top I was able to enjoy the twists and turns while giving my own worries about real life a rest for a bit. It also falls into the Strong Women Doing Hard Things category, which is apparently a must for me after giving birth.
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (Book, 2014)
This book is a strange, melancholy take on the post-apocalyptic genre that focuses on more than survival. The Traveling Symphony's motto, borrowed from an episode of Star Trek—"Because survival is insufficient"—speaks to me deeply as a writer and as a consumer of art. The idea of people risking their lives to perpetuate art, history, and philosophy while life as we know it disintegrates is incredibly moving.
The City of Brass by S. A. Chakraborty (Book, 2017)
The magic, mysticism, drama, intrigue, and beauty of this book proved a worthy exercise in escapism while at the same time provoking deep, philosophical contemplation. I regret only that I have become so invested in a series before all the books are available to read.
The Parasol Protectorate by Gail Carriger (Book Series, 2009-2012)
This series is delightful in its silliness, hilarity, and melodrama. Steampunk + paranormal romance = a great amount of fun.