I recently “treated” myself to a spa service (an underarm wax). As I was laying on the table, half dressed, the esthetician noticed my nursing bra and asked if I have a baby at home. In the 15 minutes it takes to get ones hair ripped out of her arm pits we learned that our babies (her first, my second) were about two months apart and we discussed their feeding and sleeping habits. Normal stuff. And then we both admitted that we found motherhood to be quite challenging, quite unexpectedly so. The esthetician then told me that motherhood for her, was not what she believed society told her it was going to be. It made her sad. And she wondered what I had wondered before, why had no one told us how hard it was. And we wondered, if they had told us, would it be easier? It’s my second time having a baby at home, my second time wearing a nursing bra. I no longer have these overwhelming feelings, but I remember them. I remember feeling so unsure.
A month or so after that experience, a co-worker of mine had a grandson born. Her daughter had a long and difficult labor. The daughter told her mother she’s not sure if she can do it again, that this is just not what she expected. It was really hard.
And, I cannot tell you how many times I asked my husband and closest girlfriend, “Why didn’t anyone tell me it was going to be like this? Why don’t women just talk to each other about this stuff?!”
The truth is, the above feeling are likely what most new moms (and dads too) are feeling. So, why is it that we don’t share this with other moms? Here are my thoughts:
1) Before someone gets pregnant: We don’t want to scare the child-less women of the world into not having children and single-handedly be the cause of ending humanity.
2) Once they are pregnant: Whether you are having a good or bad pregnancy, you are still in bliss at the new baby growing inside of you and the joy and awe that your baby is already bringing you. It would be evil of us to burst that bubble and end even a fraction of that happiness.
3) Once the baby is born: You may find that a few women do tell you they went through hard times too and what you are feeling is normal but it somehow sounds like a foreign language. It’s hard to intake new information in the partial wakefulness and hormone surges you’re living in. You may also find you really don’t have time to talk much about important things between the feedings, the diaper changes, the loads of laundry. And as new moms will even cover it up. Before our visitors come over, we will wash our hair for the first time in 3 days and find a clean shirt. And in our heads we will think it’s obvious that we look and feel like crap. But it’s usually not so obvious. So the mother in #3 becomes the reason in #1 and the circle continues.
Right after I returned to work from maternity leave the first time I was on a (small) crusade to share the challenges with pregnant moms: to one mom I said I found new motherhood very overwhelming so please call me to talk. Another future mom who was due in May was convinced she was going to spend her summer with the baby at a local amusement park. I told her she wouldn’t. She would be too busy and too tired. I told a few other expecting moms things like this but eventually stopped. My words were not heard.
And when I really sat down and thought about it, I realized I had moms tell me too. I have 2 friends with their first born about the same age (older than my first). I don’t know the details but I know they told me it was hard and there was a lot of sleep deprivation involved. I think I remember them saying they were never doing it again. They both have second children - and no, they weren’t accidents!
And now that I have had almost 3 years to process it, I really think the reason the challenge of motherhood is so unexpected is because it’s simply like nothing you’ve experienced before. It’s the same as when you tell someone you’re tired when you’re pregnant. They say, ‘Okay, so you’re tired when you’re pregnant. I’ve been tired – I know what that means.’ But until you experience the intensity of pregnancy fatigue, you really don’t understand it. And a woman cannot truly understand the challenges we are faced with of being a mother until you are one.
And there will be challenges. During pregnancy, labor or birth. Breastfeeding will take learning and may not come as easily as you thought. You will lose the previous version of yourself (both physically but also in who you are and what you do). You will lose the previous version of your marriage. You will lose sleep. Your baby will get ill. Your toddler will hit and scream and may even reject you at times. You will feel a love that is so intense that the love, in and of itself, will be overwhelming. And this is just the beginning. I now realize that I can’t even begin to know the parental challenges that still lie ahead for me. And my challenges will be different from yours. But there is someone out there that has experienced the same thing you are experiencing. And she was out there thinking, “This is really hard. This is not what I expected. Why didn’t anyone tell me this?”
So let’s just do this. Let’s talk about it. Let’s lean on each other and support one another. Not to frighten, not to burst bubbles. Not to ignore or hide from it. But to share and to help. Let’s talk.
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