The feeling was most intense in the bleary-eyed early days of mothering my newborn. There were times when I whined to my husband, “I liked her more when she was in my womb.” Even things like walking into my obstetrician’s office, where I went often during those nine months, would make me feel weepy. Adjusting to motherhood was hard, and I missed her kicks.
Being pregnant also allowed me to feel beautiful in a way I never experienced before — and haven’t felt since. My body positivity was at an all-time high. I may have been at my heaviest, but I proudly put my growing body on display. You wouldn’t have caught me dead in a body-con dress before I was pregnant, but as long as I had that bump, no dress was too tight. Once the misery of the first trimester wore off, I was convinced I had the fabled pregnancy glow and reveled in it.
If I’m being really honest, I loved the attention. Our culture cherishes pregnant women. People scrambled to hold the door for me; flight attendants went out of their way to make sure I was comfortable and hydrated. Once my baby arrived, though, I felt invisible (and at times wanted to be). Despite what it has accomplished, I don’t feel proud of my body — I just feel fat. Only six months into motherhood and I’ve already lost track of the times people have watched me as I clumsily tried to open a door while pushing a stroller.
I’m not saying that being pregnant was all roses. Although I was fortunate to have an uncomplicated pregnancy, I was still riddled with anxiety for the first half of it. And at 35 weeks, I distinctly remember flipping the “Over It” switch. Climbing upstairs with a seven-pound bowling ball in your stomach isn’t easy. But it’s easy to look back at my pregnancy and miss all the comforts that came with it.
I know I’m not alone. I’ve spoken to other new moms who pine for the excitement and anticipation of pregnancy, who recall unusually kind co-workers or cozy family moments. So I spoke with Elizabeth O’Brien, an Atlanta therapist who specializes in postpartum issues, about why women long for their pregnancy after the baby arrives.
“The piece we don’t talk about [regarding child birth] is that combination of gaining and losing, loss and gaining. We gain a baby and we gain this relationship, but we have a loss of the pregnancy, sometimes a loss of containment and control,” she says. “It’s this really unique period of holding both the gaining of these experiences and the mourning of these other experiences all at the same time. It’s intense.”
As new mothers, we also battle feelings of inadequacy. When I was pregnant, I drank water like it was my job and went from having five cups of coffee daily to one, max. I was good at being pregnant. I didn’t know what to do with the newborn in front of me crying inconsolably. “In this learning place, there’s not a lot of confidence initially for anybody,” O’Brien says. “And so it is being comfortable being in that place of vulnerability and really working through that.”
In this hazy transition from Pregnant Goddess to New Mom, we aren’t culturally set up for success. While new mothers in other countries are given additional support, here we’re thrust back into the world without training wheels. “You could argue that mothers with little babies probably could benefit from more support than even what you got during your pregnancy, because it’s you and this vulnerable new baby,” says O’Brien. “And we in our culture unfortunately have lost that kind of reverence of the new mother and taking care of the new mother. And so I think that feeling of loss of pregnancy is mixed up in all of that.”
To work through these feelings, I take O’Brien’s advice to heart. “Be willing to talk about it with safe, nonjudgmental people,” she says. Because it’s not something our culture acknowledges, I selectively share these feelings with friends who have also recently had babies. I often find that they’re empathetic and can relate. The person in the store gushing over my babe probably doesn’t want to hear me sighing over my pregnancy days, but even if a fellow new mom can’t entirely relate, she gets that the postpartum period stirs up emotions that can be uncomfortable. Most importantly, O’Brien says, “it’s something to acknowledge and to find support about, but know that you’re not alone and to know that this is a phase you’ll move through when you’re ready.”
While I still miss being pregnant, the intensity fades each month as my baby becomes more and more her own person. When I do feel that familiar longing, though, I remind myself that’s okay and part of the process. Although it’s not something we talk about as new mothers, many of us feel some degree of nostalgia for our pregnancies. “Have compassion and normalize the experience to know that you are not alone,” O’Brien says. “Pregnancy and postpartum comes with gains and losses. That is normal.”
Lia Picard lives in Atlanta, where she’s learning the ropes of motherhood with her daughter and best baby friend, Abigail. She also writes about food, interior design and travel. Keep up with her work and the snapshots in between on Instagram at @liapicard.