During the time between the birth of my second child and third child, I read a book called A Good Birth: Finding the Positive and Profound in Your Childbirth Experience by Dr. Anne Drapkin Lyerly. Lyerly is an obstetrician who surveyed more than a hundred women about what made their births a positive experience, whether it was a home birth, scheduled cesarean, or even a cesarean under general anesthesia. One of the most profound thoughts in the book is this:
Birth is a separation as well as a meeting.
For months, the gestational parent has gotten to know this tiny life inside. It has been a constant presence. In the early weeks, the presence might be ignored or temporarily forgotten, but by the end, it's impossible to ignore. People nickname their babies in utero (especially if they opt not to find out the sex) and the belly seems to have a personality of its own.
Here's a favorite quotation of mine from my favorite book series:
-Dragonfly in Amber
The separation began at birth, and I think our birth experience (hers and mine together) helped ease that transition. First, by letting her cord pulse as she absorbed the blood that had flowed between us for months. Second, by placing her immediately on my chest. I was not immediately alone. There she stayed for most of the first few days of her life. Only gradually did she spend more time out of my arms. It's only been two weeks, but she has started to spend some time sleeping on her own. It still feels strange. I can't imagine leaving her entirely at this point.
That brings me to my next point. I recently saw a meme about how in many places it's illegal to separate puppies from their mother before eight weeks, but we expect women to return to work at six weeks postpartum or even sooner. Twelve weeks should absolutely be the minimum time for families to adjust to the new family member. (I would argue that paternity leave and adoption leave should be held to the same standard, but that's a post for another time). It takes time to transition, and everyone benefits. If women were given time, space, and practices with which to make this transition gentle and gradual, I'd be willing to bet that there would be an improvement in maternal mental health. It starts at the moment of birth and continues through this fourth trimester. It won't solve all problems, but it would be a major step in the right direction.
To expectant parents and new parents: I'm not going to tell you to savor every moment. That would be exhausting and unrealistic. But when you have a moment of peace and quiet with your new baby, be conscious of it. Acknowledge the transition. Give yourself space to process how life has changed. It is one of the most dramatic and sudden changes in the parenting journey. You don't need to feel a certain way about it, or assign value to your feelings. Just be mindful of them.