I have had two pregnancies, deliveries, recoveries, and children. The two experiences could not be more different from one another. There’s lots of room and acceptance for women to express the wonderful feelings that are sometimes associated with these experiences. There is FAR less room and acceptance when we express anything less. I am relieved and encouraged to see and hear stories about the darker sides of motherhood.
From celebrities to comedians to politicians, there is a new wave of honesty when it comes to parenting. Ali Wong, Chrissy Teigen, Kimberly Harrington, Meaghan O’Connell, and Anne-Marie Slaughter, are just a few women who are keeping it real. Aptly named shows like The Let Down and Catastrophe are very real life tellings of fictional parenting.
It is an isolating experience to feel or express anything other than warm, magical sentiments about motherhood (particularly when your children are BABIES.) Other mothers look at you with horror, pity, or disgust should you admit ambivalence, reluctance, or resentment. God forbid you to share any of these feelings with an expectant mother.
During my first pregnancy, I spent months reading, attending classes, and preparing for labor delivery as well as the technical care of the baby once we were home. Nearly all of that preparation went unused as I delivered a 10 lb baby, at 43 weeks, after days of labor. We returned home after narrowly avoiding a blood transfusion for me and significant time in the NICU for our son. As we brought home our huge, sick, colicky baby, I could have put all of the books I read into a pile and burned them. The light they shed from the fire would have been greater than the light shed from the advice shared in their pages.
As underprepared as I was for having our baby, I was even more unprepared for the way motherhood would change my identity–as a worker, a spouse, a friend. It never occurred to me to ask about these aspects of motherhood, but few people, including my closest friends, were volunteering this type of information.
I had naively assumed motherhood would be so intuitive. After all, I am the oldest of four children–a natural mother hen. I have a Masters in Social Work–specializing in adolescence. I have always worked in education–another natural fit. This assumption couldn’t have been further from the truth. Between nursing failures, sick kids, financial stresses, and the physical recovery, an otherwise confident person can feel like a real failure. I certainly did. When these feelings are a surprise, it can get quite dark.
The fact of the matter is, when you are pregnant, nursing, and postpartum you are a wild animal. You are covered in hair, have given birth to live young, and produce milk. You likely do not feel well and are running on far less sleep than needed. This is the situation if you are having a healthy pregnancy and baby—best case scenario.
If the rest of your life isn’t perfect, let’s say you or the baby are not well, your partner is not pulling their weight, or your employment is in jeopardy, it’s a whole other ball game. Chances are, the rest of your life is not in perfect condition. Because whose is? It is pretty difficult to function in a world, where despite the fact that you are in your WILDEST animal state, you are expected to wear a shirt, keep it together, and, most of the time, especially as a working mom, compute for 10 hours a day.
- Know if you are feeling this way, you are NOT alone. You are NOT crazy. Sometimes motherhood just sucks and it WILL get better.
- If you have a friend that is feeling this way, support them! Encourage them! Sympathize! Don’t dismiss or judge them. Not every mother feels this way, but these feelings are acceptable and real!
- If you encounter another woman on the edge, bring them coffee. Offer them three hours of free babysitting—where you come to their house. Let them take a nap.
- Having kids is amazing! You are allowed to think that and still admit the parts that are less than amazing.
Being a parent means gaining, AND giving up far more than I ever imagined possible. The experiences are extreme and so are the feelings. Make room for all of them—the good, the bad, and the ugly.