I gave birth to E2 nearly 18 months ago and, to all appearances, that birthing process is long over and finished. She is a lively little girl now, toddling about under her own steam and babbling in her own language to anyone who will listen. That I am no longer pregnant is obvious, that I am no longer post-partum is simple arithmetic, and I’ve even lost most of the weight (of this last pregnancy, at any rate). To most people’s perceptions, the whole process is an event in the past.
But, in reality, it’s still ongoing, and my body reminded me of that today: it is finally attempting to return to normal cycles. It’s been so long, I’d almost forgotten what it was to experience the ordinary rhythm of being a woman. When I look back and tally it up, it’s quite shocking to realise that, between three pregnancies and the subsequent breastfeeding, I’ve experienced only four or five cycles in well over four years. But it is clear my body is presently creating a surge of hormones, and I am feeling the effects.
It is an enormous strain on a body (and a mind) to breastfeed a baby and work through these hormone spikes — and then get only broken sleep at night — all at the same time, and the result is that I am experiencing that same indescribable exhaustion that overwhelmed me at the beginning of each of my pregnancies. Back then, I fell asleep anywhere — on the floor, standing up, once (terrifyingly) whilst driving, and once very nearly, on a bench in the gym whilst resting between sets lifting weights.
Back then, I understood why this was happening and I could revel in the joy of it, even as I bemoaned the inconvenient weirdness of it. But this past week, I’ve had no idea why I was overcome with exhaustion. All I knew was that I seemed to be getting absolutely nothing done day after day — in this week when I’ve had so much insurance-organising to do — and time seemed to disappear in a haze. All week I’ve been always aching aching aching to go to my bed and, when I did manage to sleep, it came as heavy as if I were drugged and I found it almost impossible to rouse myself to waking again.
And so I am educated again in what an enormous and all-encompassing endeavour this making babies is for my body — it is not merely one of the things it does, it is the thing my body is designed to do — and that it puts every single resource it has into doing that job, at the expense of every superfluous thing that I might want to accomplish. I was reminded today that no process that produces a whole new person — a whole new life from scratch — can ever be over so quickly, so neatly. It would be easy to look at the mother of a child as old as E2 and assume that everything is long finished, that everything is back to normal — that she is back to normal — but there is so much more going on under the surface than we ever really appreciate. This process which began over two years ago is still working its way to its slow conclusion, and I am still feeling daily the strain — the incredible drain — as it does.