Leandra and Pandora Discuss Early Motherhood

On Sun, Apr 1, 2018, at 8:39 p.m., Leandra Medine wrote:

Can you believe our daughters have the same birthday? I’m still not over it! Exactly one month in, how are you feeling? Do you think motherhood has changed you yet?

On Tue, Apr 3, 2018, at 4:06 p.m., Pandora Sykes wrote:

I have another friend who also had her baby the same day. I’m just thrilled Zadie didn’t steal my birthday.

God, I just don’t know if I should be answering any questions on the subject of identity. Right now I hardly know my arse from my elbow. But yes, definitely. I thought I was really ambitious before Zadie came along. And then I just felt this primal surge of She. Is. It. Keeping her alive and happy is all that I care about. I can’t even imagine what it must be like feeling like that about two. My vagina’s work would be done in one fell swoop.

I truly don’t believe that a woman is only a woman if she has children — it’s so insulting to those women who do not — but I feel this seismic shift from who I was before I gave birth. Isn’t birth fucking NUTS?

On Tue, Apr 3, 2018, at 10:19 p.m., Leandra Medine wrote:

Laura was sent straight to the NICU because she is a diva whose exodus took 40 minutes longer than Madeline’s and there was some fluid in her lungs, but for those first 24 hours, I was really like: Who are these people??? Once we got home, I started to feel more comfortable. I mean, not without first crying hysterically for at least 20 minutes every day for the first five days — reasons still unknown.

I’m not actually sure if motherhood has changed me — fundamentally, I still feel like me. Selfish and all, but, I don’t know, like a fuller version of that? I went out for a drink the other night after pumping a bottle for the first night feed and had a conversation about something that wasn’t baby stool color, and it excited the hell out of me because it was a reminder that I still get to be me. Just (finally) no longer the restlessly trying-to-conceive me.

Also! Whoever said women lose their creative and professional drive post-labor had a very different experience! I have never felt as driven or creative! Trying not to act too much on it because I think maternity leave is an important and sacred time — and frankly, I want to honor it and set an example for the sake of the female employees of Man Repeller — but I do get pangs of really wanting to dive back in. Maybe it is all the space that is making me feel like this. I’ve never taken a break! Have you found this, too?

On Tue, Apr 10, 2018 at 3:57 p.m., Pandora Sykes wrote:

Well holy shit. You say you miss work. I say try going back to work less than five weeks postpartum (me RN) and watch your brain crank audibly into action. Case in point: It took me a week to remember to reply to this email. An entire week of forgetting why it was hanging out in my inbox. (People ignore maternity OOOs. Have you found that? I kind of hate it.) I think what’s been a really important lesson for me is that birth is not only a huge physical trauma but a mental one. You need to recuperate mentally as much as physically. It definitely feels too soon to be going back to work, albeit only by a little bit. (The High Low is back! Listen here!) Whilst I’ve been very much keeping up with my reading on maternity leave, actually articulating my thoughts has been so tiring….

Anyway, birth! My birth was pretty fast and all a bit of a surprise (we thought she would be overdue). I had a really positive experience — I worship at the altar of the National Health Service; my sister is an NHS midwife and we in the UK are so lucky to have it — although the forceps destroyed my pelvic floor. On that note: squeeeeeeeze.

I’ve felt very mentally strong throughout my daughter’s life so far. I have incredible support around me and I think it helped that I never expected it to be easy: I knew this shit was going to be hard, so I felt prepared in that sense. I’m naturally a worrier but I’ve found Zadie a very calming presence — even when she is screaming the house down (the six-week growth spurt is REAL, right!?). I’ve had a few physical setbacks, but nothing that’s made me want to stuff her back up inside me. Every day that I am not pregnant is a joy. I was so freaking uncomfortable. I still miss my pre-pregnancy body though. Postpartum bodies are political — I mean, all women’s bodies are a site for politics tbh. You’ve had some comments about how slim you are post-birth. Do they bother you?

Also, a few women have written to me saying that I make motherhood look easy. I’ve really wrestled with portraying a more “rounded” view of the ups and downs, but then I kind of think, I don’t owe anyone the intimate details of my birth or my early days of motherhood. It’s not easy, but I want to put out a positive view. You?

On Wed, Apr 11, 2018, at 1:54 p.m., Leandra Medine wrote:

In the week that has passed since I last wrote you, I want to retract about 65 percent of my stated drive to go back to work. I may have pushed myself a little too hard because I am TIRED. And also, having intellectual/adult conversations — really any communication with a human who is not six weeks old — has proven really challenging! I have a lot of thoughts, and it’s my nature to express them, but the words just don’t come out as easy. I think this is what you’re talking about too re: having trouble articulating? I tried to record an episode of Monocycle yesterday, for example, and found that every time I completed a sentence, I forgot what I had just said and couldn’t come up with the follow-up thought.

I’ve gotten a lot of, “You make motherhood look so easy!” too — such is the tried and true sheen that social media brings to real life, right? To be honest, it has felt easier than it probably is for a lot of people because I have help! My mom, a night nurse, my husband…but right now, for example, Madeline is crying, so it’s taken me like 35 minutes to actually complete this paragraph.

AND AS FOR MY BODY: I am floored by how comfortable people are asserting their opinions on the state of my body, particularly because it runs so fundamentally counter to the body acceptance movement. That’s actually part of the reason I’ve been posting selfies with reckless abandon. I don’t love how I look. I’m very much committed to gaining some weight, but this is what I look like right now. I am not dieting. I am busting my ass to be able to nurse twins.

The whole experience of being told that I am a bad mother, that I’m not caring for my children’s health and — this is my favorite — that I “used to be pretty, what happened? Why so slim?” has been hard. I’m self-aware enough to know it affects me because I am so vulnerable that I almost believe it. Who knows if I’m a good mom? Certainly not me. I’m still so new at it, so if the internet shrieks, “BAD MOM!” I take it in.

So, that’s that. But back to the kids for a second: Do you feel like you’ve learned anything you may not have known about yourself in becoming a mother? I feel like I have finally, genuinely learned what it means to surrender because every day — hour! — is so unpredictable and you just have no choice but to take time as it comes, as opposed to planning it and expecting it to live on your clock, and fuck, Pandora, it is so emotionally freeing.

On Tue, Apr 17, 2018, at 3:53 p.m., Pandora Sykes wrote:

I got in trouble — in that I was “gently reprimanded” — this week for using the term “baby brain” on The High Low, because it’s apparently a reductive and misogynistic term. And I can see that, but it’s also the only way to describe how difficult it is to articulate and activate my brain right now. I also feel it’s my right to use terms that feel applicable to me, without censure.

I’ve arguably returned to part-time work way too early. I have to be honest, it really aggravates and stresses me out that people are chasing me about coming to an event whilst simultaneously emailing me saying, “I hope you are having a restful maternity leave.” RESTFUL? Only people who have not had a baby could even think to write that. I do not mean this to be a rant, but I just wish people were cognisant of the magnitude of having a child. I want to reply and say, “No, I cannot come to your event because my breasts are leaking and my stitches still hurt.” My co-host of The High Low, Dolly, likes to joke that I’m busy drinking cocktails whilst wearing a party hat because some people have this really skewed idea of mat leave.

I also have help — divine help; I want to marry all the women who are helping me, even when one of them is my own mother — as I’ve been easing back into work that is, well, impossible without help especially with a newborn. But whichever way you cut it, new motherhood is mostly an exercise in sleep deprivation.

Onto the positives! The first SMILES! Are the girls smiling? Zadie is breaking my heart with the farts and grins. The irony is that my daughter herself is no stress at all. I find her really great, and I know I am so lucky to have bonded with her so quickly. I am having a really good experience of motherhood so far. I feel like you are, too? I am very conscious of framing it in a positive light, not because it isn’t really hard sometimes, but because there are people who are very close to me in my life who have never been able to have children, so I don’t want to whine. That’s not to say I don’t love those who are honest about it, because I do. You don’t just “have a baby” and then life carries on;life ends and then a new life begins. The cliche of something being “life-changing” has never been more applicable than here.

As for bodies…. it sucks that strangers sees it as their right to tell you that you are, or aren’t, feeding your twin daughters adequately — or that you are no longer as pretty as your pre-pregnant self. I’D STILL DO YOU.

I admire you for continuing to post selfies in the face of adversity. Bodies are wildly different, irrespective of whether they’ve given birth. I’m keen to return to my pre-pregnancy size, but it’s the difference between my wardrobe fitting and my wardrobe straining — because I REALLY MISS my clothes, they are FUN. But I don’t envy you the brouhaha.

Can we talk about how farcical maternity leave is in the U.S.? If I worked in an office, I’d take six months minimum. Most of my friends take one year. In the U.S., it’s frowned upon to take more than three months, right?

On Fri, Apr 20, 2018, at 2:33 a.m., Leandra Medine wrote:

Yeah, our maternity leave policies generally suck. It’s like a double whammy because post-birth you are such an open wound. To think that you’re supposed to feel COMFORTABLE and READY going back to work after three months compounds how tough I know it will be because of that dreaded “should” — I “should” be ready, I “should” feel energized. Here to say you SHOULDN’T feel anything but what you do feel.

You know, every time I think I’m ready to re-integrate (because several times over the last three weeks, I have felt varying degrees of professional hunger), I do one thing (send an email, schedule a meeting, leave home) and realize I’m wrong. I’m still so emotionally open! My daughters still don’t know the difference between me and them; I’m not sure I even know the difference yet! This is a new observation for me. I spent the weekend pumping bottles and not feeding directly from the boob anticipating a feeling of liberation, but what I found is that I woke up Monday morning depressed as hell. It was the clearest indication that I’m not ready to go back to work or separate from my kids.

But this dichotomy that new motherhood sets up is wrapping my brain in puzzles I am dying to solve! I feel like a walking contradiction. Some minutes I LOVE being home with them, others I just want to put on boss pants and run a conference call. Do you find yourself teetering back and forth between in love with BABYZEN — the bubble of maternity leave — and so ready to move on from it?

On Fri, Apr 27, 2018, at 5:37 a.m., Pandora Sykes wrote:

I hear you on the “open wound” — I’ve been suffering a bit from the baby blues in the last week (in part due to introducing formula for inescapable reasons, but I still feel a bit sad).I’m finding being “available” in a work context emotionally tough (brings me back to my point about how maternity leave is for the mental recuperation as much as the physical). I’ve actually, for my own sake, become super strict with social media. If anyone who doesn’t know me makes judgement calls or questions my mothering, I block. I’m too much of an open wound, still, for negativity surrounding my new role as a mother. I just want to be cosseted away, but sadly my job doesn’t work like that. I’ve been doing a couple of days a week since the first month, and as of June, I’ll be doing three days a week. How do you feel about going back full-time?

BTW! This is a great piece. Very honest.

Are you feeling okay about the negative comments? I crumble in the face of them.

On Mon, Apr 30, 2018, at 9:08 a.m., Leandra Medine wrote:

You know, at first they really upset me because I had no clue who I was/am as a mother, and you know how spongey the first weeks (months? years?) can feel. So I was in a vulnerable enough position to believe them, which I think I mentioned earlier on in this email thread (which, by the way, I just re-read — I can’t believe how much has changed, both with the kids and with how I feel in the past 30 days). I’m regaining my ground and feeling considerably more confident about my agency as a mother and the connection I have with those girls (I don’t think I bonded as quickly as you did), so mostly I don’t even look at the mean comments anymore — I mean I look at them but I don’t SEE them. You know?

On Mon, Apr 30, 2018, at 9:23 a.m., Pandora Sykes wrote:

Thank you so much for your email.

I had a baby in March and am taking a maternity leave of sorts, so please do expect a delay in my reply.

For anything The High Low related, please email [email protected].

Collages by Edith Young. 

Leandra M. Cohen

Leandra M. Cohen is the founder of Man Repeller.

More from Archive