As a new mom, it took me several months to find my mothering stride. I remember the moment when our now-2-year-old daughter was around 8 months old, and I turned to my husband, a smile spreading across my face, and said, “This is just the best it has been.” What I really meant was a) Look how cute our offspring is in that outfit, and b) At this moment, I FEEL the best I have since before I was pregnant.
We tend to detach our feelings, as women, from how the whole mothering thing is going. Well-intentioned friends ask, “How is motherhood!?” and we respond, “Great! The baby is great. She’s sleeping 4 hours a night now and smiling after she poops. We’re so lucky.”
It usually doesn’t even occur to us to answer with how WE are doing. And I mean how we’re actually doing.
If that was the case, I would have had days when I said, “It’s touch and go. Some days I cry for no reason (thanks, hormones), and I haven’t had a moment alone with my husband in weeks. The baby cries. A lot. I hope there’s nothing wrong with her. Sometimes I worry she has a rare disease that we won’t find out about for years and then I start to cry all over with the thought that anything could ever happen to her. Some days I miss my old social life and am consumed by doubt and loneliness. That being said, I’m confusingly happier than I’ve ever been and every time I look at her squishy little face, I’m convinced my heart may burst.”
This is only the beginning of the journey a new mother unknowingly embarks on to achieve society’s ultimate prize: selflessness.
Mothers don’t talk about themselves; they talk about their children. Mothers don’t pay attention to how THEY feel; they usually don’t even know because they haven’t given themselves permission to feel those things since their kids were born. “How am I doing? I don’t have time to think about myself! But I’m fine—I’m downing a bottle of wine each night to get through the days, but I’m a mom. That’s just how it is right now.” I get it. I’m a mom. Who has time for self-care and sanity when you’ve got KIDS!
But have you also noticed that we, as a society, are more comfortable with women who sacrifice it all for their children than mothers who seek personal fulfillment? “You have beautiful, healthy children. You should be grateful. What else could you ask for?”
Um, I don’t know. How about sanity or time alone without the guilt? Possibly an identity that’s all mine that makes me proud and maybe even some FUN? Yes, I desire fun. I want adventure. I want to feel sexy and fulfilled and like my life is an epic journey that includes being a mother to an amazing tiny human.
As someone who has been touched personally by the death of a loved one, my health and that of my family is not something I take for granted. On the contrary, it is something I am grateful for on the daily, which is precisely why I feel the need to treat my one life as the precious gift it is. I thank the universe for my healthy family every day, and then I snuggle my toddler, clean the kitchen and get back to work on my hopes and dreams and the future I’m building for myself and my family. Because “mom” is one of the many roles I play, and it does not define me.
I didn’t always used to think this way. There was a time, almost two years ago, when I went through the motions and tried to fit a former mold of myself that I’d outgrown. Then postpartum depression hit like a ton of bricks and every single sacrifice I made for my family felt like another burden piled onto the already-heavy load. I was on that hamster wheel and I was running for my life, feeling like if I hopped off for one second, I’d be crushed under the weight of 1,000 bricks. The faster I ran, the heavier the bricks. The crazier I felt, the more my relationship with my husband suffered, and the less connected I felt to my newborn daughter. By the time I quit my corporate job two months later, I remember telling my husband I didn’t have the energy to take care of his needs because my sanity was hanging by a thread.
Pardon the dramatics, but the memory is still fresh, and it was that serious for me. I was living a life that didn’t make me happy and taking crappy care of myself. No one really knew how I was feeling because (surprise, surprise) I didn’t tell them.
I was the iconic martyr, and ironically, in the end, the one thing that saved me was choosing to put MY feelings, needs and desires first.
Trading sanity for selflessness was not only the best thing I ever did for myself, but also for my marriage and for my child. Quitting my job cost us some money and saved me my health and happiness (worth quite a bit, wouldn’t you say?). It helped me to form my own motherhood mold that allows me to be the woman I am meant to be while setting an example for my daughter.
In case you’re curious, if you asked me now, “How is motherhood?” here’s my official answer: It’s the most life-changing, heart-expanding experience of my life and my daughter fills me and my husband with more joy and purpose than we ever thought was possible. Also, it’s freaking hard, and there are days when I tap out and send in backup, because anyone who tells you that talking to a toddler for 40+ hours a week won’t make you feel a bit cray cray is lying. I am proud that my daughter’s mere existence has taught me to take care of myself so I can continue to nurture her needs and my husband’s. The stakes are higher, and I feel more pressure to be an incredible mother, but more than that, an exceptional human being, and I practice being patient with myself as much as I practice patience with said toddler. I wake up every morning and love my life, and I am grateful each night for my health and my happiness.”