Walking to Woolies in 38C degree heat with a newborn strapped to your chest, pushing an unweildly stroller heaving with an overtired toddler, should be avoided under normal circumstances, let alone weeks after an emergency cesarean.
But dinner had to be cooked and the family car had been prioritised for breadwinning purposes.
I remember finally hobbling to a bench seat outside the supermarket. My lower back, without the assistance of my recently surgically-severed abdomen, was in excruciating pain. My back had begun to boycott holding me up, and I sat there staring at the oversized cut-out of Jamie Oliver and other Fresh Food People merchandising near the checkout thinking how on earth I was going to get a thrashing toddler into the trolley while carrying babies and bags.
Then I got up. Then I felt dizzy. Nauseous and dizzy. The vision of Jamie Oliver and friends started blurring and bleaching. I was sure I was going to lose consciousness. Fearing I’d topple over with my baby, I removed the baby sling and placed her underneath the bench seat where she would be safe.
As I did, I became aware of how much I longed to lose consciousness. I imagined the paramedics arriving and being taken to an air-conditioned hospital where someone would take the baby away, someone would make sure I was drinking water, feed me, cook, clean. LET. ME. SLEEP. Let my body heal. I imagined the doctor explaining to my partner and family how much I needed to take it easy.
“How long do we have to leave her to rest, Doc?” my partner would ask from behind my UV drip of Very Nice Drugs.
“You’ll have to take care of the housework and children for weeks. Months even,” she would reply.
Alas, as I fantasised hospitalisation, Jamie Oliver came back into focus and the wave of nausea left me — along with possibility of rest and recovery.
Fuck it. I gently put the baby back on my chest, coaxed my vertebrae into action and asked a Woolies trolleyboy to place my toddler into the trolley. I did the shopping. Hobbled home and cooked dinner.
I’ve never told anybody about this ‘near rest’ experience until now. And looking back, years removed from that life stage, I can’t quite believe I had such a low level of self-worth and that I didn’t advocate more strongly for my health and wellbeing. I guess I was scared of admitting I wasn’t coping. I feared I’d be labelled a whinger.
But if someone had a car accident which required abdominal surgery comparable to a cesarean section, they would be made to rest and recuperate. If someone presented to an emergency department, delirious, explaining they hadn’t slept in weeks, they would be prescribed medication and given a mental health plan. But for some reason, being a new mum means you get none of those privileges.
In China, for example, new mothers practice ‘sitting month’ where they are expected to sit around in pajamas for a month to recover from childbirth. While weeks of solitary confinement may not be for everyone, the tradition does at least acknowledge that the post-partum period should be simply about mum and bub. The rest of the tribe should be picking up the slack, caring for older siblings and walking to the supermarket in searing heat.
No one should have to faint at the supermarket to justify rest or access to the family car. It’s time to stop normalising the unfeasible physical and mental expectations of the isolated new mum.
We can do this by speaking up about our needs and taking new mums seriously. It’s not a sign of weakness to admit it’s all a bit too much. There is strength in telling it like it is — for yourself and for the next woman who finds herself failing to faint outside Woolies.