Writing a letter to my vagina-- it’s an exercise that I do periodically and suggest…
Prefer to listen? Click here to hear Alissa explain how your baby isn’t the only newborn in the house on her podcast Myth of Motherhood.
From the moment I met my son Everett, I could sense his wise little soul. He knew things. A lot of things. Things I can’t wait to hear from his mouth. At the same time, this life and this world were brand new to him. So, while he knew things, he had to learn a lot too.
As he gathers all of this information about himself and the world — how to eat, how to poop, how to speak — my husband and I are there to support him.
To comfort him when it’s scary or when he stumbles. To cheer him on when he’s being brave and hold his hand as he learns how to climb higher. To make sure his body has the fuel it needs to grow and flourish. The body that I made with my body.
This is probably why Everett approaches life with such curiosity. It’s not hesitancy, it’s curiosity. He knows that he doesn’t know everything. Which is also why he always celebrates what he does know. And is curious, patient, and exploratory with the things he doesn’t know. He knows without a doubt that it is safe for him to not know things. It is safe for him to take his time, explore, make mistakes, and learn.
We want to empower him to find his place in this world. He can do this freely because he knows we are always there to help if he needs us. And we will give him space if he doesn’t.
I recently gave Everett hard boiled eggs. He’s never had them. But he knows what eggs are and loves scrambled eggs so he tried them. When it’s something brand new, like raisins, he touches them, looks at them, smells them, feeds one to me to see if I like them and then he tries.
Turns out he loves raisins. And prefers scrambled eggs. And this continues. Until we become adults.
By 18, we think we know everything. By 25, we know we know everything. So, we stop being students of life. We lose the curiosity and exploration for…everything! Because we know it all. Unless something happens that knocks you down to a place you’re not sure you will ever get back up from.
For me, that was my divorce. The entire life I planned and envisioned disappeared. The same year I thought I would be having my first baby, I was instead signing divorce papers. I had to let go of and mourn the life I had built and rebuild from the ground up.
And you know what? It was worth it. I grew into a stronger, more resilient, embodied version of myself that was ready to meet Jeremy so we could have Everett.
So when I gave birth and my entire undercarriage split in two, it felt like everything I had rebuilt was now demolished. The version of me I had spent so much time nurturing and exploring was quite literally ripped apart. I was back at the drawing board building from the ground up.
And while my muscles were expertly sewn together again. And I never farted or pooped out of my vagina, emotionally I was still torn.
The before and after are so clear. And not just regarding the tear. Before and after Everett. I’m his mom. And he’s my son. In SO many ways I knew I was never going to be the same again. The old new me expired in that delivery room at 11:55pm.
In that moment, the duality of motherhood came crashing down on me. I was sad. I knew I would never see that old version of me again. But I was also exhilarated. Because this was not the first time I had been reborn. And while it is scary, and uncertain, and uncomfortable, and cold, and lonely, in the deep dark night, I knew I’d see Paradise By The Dashboard Light when I came out the other side. (How could I not quote Meatloaf?).
I think for a LOT of women, certainly not all, becoming a mother is the first time our life gets flipped turned upside down. (Any other Fresh Prince fans reading?) But seriously, we’ve all encountered change before, but this whole becoming a mother thing? This is…deeper.
This transition breaks you. It straight up breaks you. And if you’ve never had to pick up the shattered pieces of yourself and your life and start sorting the edges from the middle to piece yourself together again, you don’t know where to start.
I’d been here before. And I’d made it out the other side stronger than I could have imagined. Dreaming dreams I didn’t know I had. Or that I could have. Everett’s birth was MY third birth. Not my third time giving birth, but the third time that I, Alissa Alter, was born anew into the world.
Third time’s a charm, right?
Because when a baby is born, so too is a mother. And so I approached my recovery, my life, my baby as a newborn myself. I told myself the same things I told Everett. It’s ok to be scared. We are learning this together. We are not alone.
Comforting him comforted me. We figured it out together.
Which was really helpful for me because I didn’t feel like I had support. I had people around me who wanted to support me, but were waiting for me to give directions. I fully understand that I’m usually the person people come to for help. I’m the one who is on top of everything. I get it.
But I couldn’t give direction; I was traumatized.
I’d lost a lot of blood. I don’t remember a lot of what happened because I kept losing consciousness. I didn’t know what was going on and kept dreaming that Everett was drowning in the sheets and my fourth degree tear was opening up again. I was dreaming that my ex husband and his family came to my apartment and tried to claim Everett as their child/grandchild.
I was a hormonal/anxious/traumatized newborn mom. Jeremy watched me hemorrhage on the table as they tried to get the bleeding to stop and sew me back together. Jeremy was incredible. He did everything he could to support me.
He was traumatized too. And sleep deprived. And having his own rebirth too. We needed what Everett needed. We needed skin to skin to help regulate our nervous systems.
We needed nourishment at regular intervals.
Soothing sounds and dim lighting.
Soft voices and affirmations.
We needed to be held and cared for. But in those early weeks I was drowning. I was desperately trying to hold the pieces together because I was scared I would fall apart. I was furious and disappointed that so many people were so eager to come and care for Everett and no one wanted to come care for me.
I was a newborn too.
I was scared. I was cold. It felt dark and lonely and I needed to be held and comforted and cherished. Told that I was a blessing, a gift, a dream come true. As it became more and more clear that no one cared about me, I took to caring for myself.
Am I angry at the people who disappointed me? Yes and no.
Yes because wtf?!
I will never forget the people that came into my home or who I saw those first months greeting me, “I don’t need to see you, I’m here to see the baby.” Especially women in my life who’ve had children. THEY KNEW how messed up it was. They knew how hard it was.
I will never understand how people I love completely forgot about me. How they couldn’t see past my panicked smile and see the pain inside me. Didn’t they notice I couldn’t sit or stand straight?
While part of me wishes they could have seen me. That we could have shared those intimate moments and deepened our relationships. I knew that wasn’t part of the deal. If I look at this objectively, everyone showed up exactly as they are. And I don’t know that it’s fair to them or me to have expected anything different.
So I’m not mad at them. That and I wasn’t truly alone. Everett and I were in this together. We would recover physically and emotionally together. We cried together. We were comforted by each other’s heartbeat, breath, and scent.
I make sure to thank Everett for letting me know when he needs something. It gives me the opportunity to actively love him in a way that he needs. I let him inspire me to do the same for myself. I’ve started asking for what I need. And also noticing who can meet my needs and who can’t.
I assured Everett that every day was a new opportunity to learn and explore. It’s ok to have a hard day. We could learn from it and try again tomorrow.
I’m new at this too so I give myself the same space to learn. And so every day Everett and I meet ourselves where we’re at. Sometimes happy, sometimes cranky, sometimes hungry, sometimes teething, or with a fire in our bellies.
And we explore what it’s like to be in the world that day with those feelings.
We were and often still are both scared and flailing in this big, new world. And learning every single day how we fit in, what works, and what doesn’t.
Learning more about the world and ourselves.
Growing up together.