The Mommy Myth

Today I tweezed. While I waited for my son to wake up, I tended to the wilds of my eyebrows, knowing each hair could be my last. Yesterday, I managed to change the duvet covers and cleaned the shower.

Strange how these chores, these little things have become small triumphs in a day, how it’s these banal tasks that remind me of a life before baby.

As you know about six weeks ago, I had a little boy. He was two weeks early, natural, and drug free. I arrived at the hospital 7 cm dilated. I wore polka dot socks.

Those of you with children know how much your life changes upon their arrival. No, not changes, transforms. People told me, warned me. And in theory I understood. But at the risk of offending those of you who don’t have children, the reality is you can’t know how total the life change is, how painful, how complex it is until you’re in it, and while I could try to explain it, and you would get it in theory, practice is something else entirely.

I know I should tell you how adorable he is. About his chubby cheeks and tiny feet and little fingers. About his big soulful eyes and his cupid bow mouth and how I am filled with a new found joy. But the fact is I cried my baby blues. I mourned no longer being pregnant, mourned that now that I’d popped out the baby, I would no longer be able to ‘pop out’ to do anything else. I mourned my pre-baby freedom and looked with a kind of terror towards this new life where my life was now inextricably linked to another’s. I was afraid of my little boy because of how much I would fear for my little boy.

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I think my transition was made all the rougher by a rocky start to breastfeeding, by his low birth weight. Perhaps even the fact that I’d worked and yearned for him for so many years made the actual getting somehow oddly bittersweet.

Don’t get me wrong. I laugh as I discover the power of an exploding diaper, or as I’m standing helpless as he pees on me. I do the nights with quiet determination. I’m finding patience doesn’t become me, but it’s there. I’m using my corporate organizational skills to manage chores and baby and some rare commodity called sleep. I’m doing the job.

But the truth is the first few weeks when my mom came to help, I handed the baby to her because I didn’t know what to do with him after I’d fed him. I told a friend of mine, if she’s on the fence about babies not to do it. That you have to want this. That there are moments when I honestly wonder if it’s worth it, if I can’t change my mind and return to before.

I tell my husband I’m a bad mother. That on the richter scale of mommyness, I’m not scoring very high. How else to explain the wistful yearning I feel at times for my old life, for an unbroken stretch of sleep, for the need I feel every day to define myself against all this maternalness? Aren’t I supposed to be glowing with motherhood, full of unconditional rose-tinged love, floating along the hall at 2 in the morning, humming lullabies while breastfeeding, cooing with peace and comfort as I unwrap yet another mustard filled diaper at 4am? Should I not be a wave of calm against his repeated crying fury? Isn’t that what a good mother does?

The hall that I pace night after night

The hall that I pace night after night

My husband looked at me and asked who among all my mother friends was that kind of mother. Which is when I realized she doesn’t really exist, this maternal angel. Sure, she might voice an opinion on a mommy board, but I’ve never seen her in the flesh. Certainly, if I’ve learned anything these past weeks through the tremendous support of my friends is that every mom wages a little battle inside herself even as she kisses boo boos better and rocks her infant to sleep. And unless you’re watching a Hollywood movie or a commercial for diapers, I’ve come to the conclusion the unblemished mother is all propaganda. A myth. Bullshit.

Recently there’s been a few articles about how certain celebrity moms find motherhood so stress free, so much fun, how they can’t wait for more babies. I confess, it pisses me off the way they simplify and glossify the experience. Their management of motherhood must be different than mine (nannies? a busload of nannies?); there is no other way to explain their valium fuelled statements. And while it’s not like I put a lot of stock in what celebrities say, I find this kind of crafted mommy perfection (never mind that it’s coupled with a great post baby body and a soaring singing career) dishonest and unfair. Mit Schlag talked about the secrecy around announcing one’s pregnancy, the code of silence around miscarriage. Well, I’m calling out the secret truth of what motherhood is really like.

That selfless mother who doesn’t question her selflessness, I’d like to meet her. Pinch her, see if she bleeds. Ask her to stop making me look so bad.

Of course the conundrum is I know I could be a different kind of mom, perhaps one who delegates more, who doesn’t let herself get overwhelmed by all she wants to be to baby. But it turns out that’s not who I am. That the only mother I can be (at least right now) is one who feels a frightening and terrible responsibility for this little soul who has kindly agreed to nap in his mechanical swing while I write this. The mom who has hardly left the house in a month for love (and fear) of her boy. Who suffers sore nipples and chronic exhaustion for the love of him. Who takes comfort in tweezing her eyebrows as a stance of independence. Who despite all her whinging would not trade him for anything.

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Not even 9 hours sleep.

But it makes me a bad mom. A complaining, worrying, fretting mom who looks wistfully over her shoulder at times even as she shushes in her little man’s ear something she also hopes is true:

that everything is going to be alright.

PS: A warm warm thank you for all your well wishes on the arrival of our baby and Happy Valentine’s Day!

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18 thoughts on “The Mommy Myth

  1. This is how I picture myself as a future new mom. It is terrifying to me and now you’ve validated my feelings! I have to wonder your age and how long you’ve waited to have a baby (or how long you’ve had to wait). I think that makes a huge difference. The longer we wait, the more self-awareness, and independence we carve out. So adding a baby to the picture must be like Hurricane Sandy for the soul, but it doesn’t go away…but you don’t really want it to! How confusing! I do believe this is a natural way of feeling and I think I would feel very much the same. I hope you can begin to find comfort and identity in this new role. Hugs!

    • I am 36 and have waited and worked for this little one for a long long time. Perhaps that compounds the guilt, that I so deliberately had this child I feel the myth is even more compelling. I agree the more self aware, the fuller the life prior to the child, the more whirlwind the hurricane. Comfort and Identity. Working on it. Thank you.

  2. This is exactly what I imagine motherhood is like, and I’m grateful for your honesty. We are constantly bombarded with these ideas and images about motherhood–that somehow, the moment the baby arrives, we will feel this enchantment that blurs out all of the difficulties. I just can’t buy that a baby would suddenly turn me into someone who doesn’t begrudge (at least a tiny bit) the loss of sleep and social life. Of course I think it would be worth it and that maternal love would be powerful and life-changing. But to pretend that it’s not tough, that you don’t wish you could hand the baby to someone else for a couple of hours each day while you did some things for yourself, seems disingenuous. So thanks for taking down that wall and showing us what’s happening inside. It’s immensely helpful to other woman, both new mothers and mothers-to-be. That said, Congratulations on the birth of your baby boy! I’m sure he will bring many rich new layers to your life, and your writing. I wish you so much luck and love on this new journey.

  3. Thank you for your honesty and bravery in sharing what I see as the real truth of motherhood. I saw it exactly the way that you are seeing it now (including the amazing picture of the hallway you pace – we mothers all have our own version)! I don’t know that we can ever reach a time when new mothers can be without all of the doubts and conflicted emotions, but I do hope that one day we can stop feeling the need to apolgize for them. Keep being honest and and take a minute every day to confirm to yourself what a good job you are doing – because you are.

  4. Good mom – Bad mom. Your post is perfectly written and hits home for me and lots of other moms. You should know I shared your post on my FB wall and had replies from several moms who feel the exact same way as you. The truth is that nine years in I still feel like a bad mom much of the time. Not sure there is an easy answer for any of this. The thing that has helped me the most is to have a strong network of like-minded women who have children similar ages to mine. Every motherhood myth is pretty quickly debunked when you start talking to other moms.

  5. What I love most about what you’ve said here is perhaps a bit in between the lines– something about understanding who you are. Are you the same woman, now with a baby? Are you entirely different or new? Do you want to be? Do you have time or space in your brain to even figure it out? As you say, I can only understand what you say here in theory– and I must say that I am so glad that if or when I am a new mother, I’ll have these wise and honest thoughts to reflect back on.

    • Yes! This is exactly right. Am I the same woman with a baby or am i different or am i new? i don’t know myself. And whatever little time i have to dedicate to this question, amid sleep fog, and baby brain has yet to solve the riddle, which plagues me and will probably plague my writing for some time. thank you for reflecting that back.
      i’d like to still be the same but different, but it’s hard finding myself these days.

  6. Although I believe you are being honest, I have to mention that I am seeing only one part of the picture. Motherhood is hard, of course, but also more rewarding than anything else. For me, at least. But I also found that the hardest part of having a child wasn’t about giving birth to a baby, it was the metaphorical rebirth of me into a mother. And that takes a lot longer than labor, and you are still quite in the middle of it. If you are anything like me, and every mother that I know, the way you feel will vary a great deal, across the hours, days, weeks and months. You are going through huge changes – mind, body and soul – so, of course, that is true. It is good to be honest, but sometimes, when we share one side of things, that is the side people come to expect of us and we put ourselves at risk of tuning out the other sides because it is not what people want to hear. That can happen with both the good stuff and the bad. I worry that your commentors seem to believe this is the only truth – that the hours of bliss, staring at a tiny set of toes or eyelashes, isn’t also true. The hardest part to explain is that so many of these feelings are true at the same time.

    • I appreciate this. yes, the metaphorical rebirth into a mother is the hardest part (though the delivery wasn’t really a breeze either, i confess). You are right, I am in the middle and I know it’s a dynamic process, ever changing, that what I’ve written reflects only this moment in time and that I may look back with different feelings. That is okay for me because I want to remember it all. It isn’t the only truth, those toes and eyelashes are hypnotic and compelling but it is a truth and perhaps a lesser known one, a dark one, one not found on a greeting card. Everyone knows about those little fingers and toes they can create a rather high wall to surmount. But we agree, it is almost impossible to explain how all these feelings get mixed and muddled, how they swim and change like currents. thank you for writing.

  7. I’ve been so grateful to you for your honesty as you walk this path. I’ve watched a few women become mothers now. And in thinking about it, each one tends to stand more in one camp than another, but they rarely express both. The mom who complains to me about scattered toys and exploding diapers doesn’t often say how much she loves her babies, though I can see it when she hugs them. And the glowing mom who will only ever talk about how much she loves her babies doesn’t share the tough stuff or glosses over it. What you and other comments have identified is what a mixed bag it can be. Which gives me new insight.

    Hang in there! One mom told me she finds comfort in the knowledge that everything is a phase. Each one may bring new and different problems (and joyful discoveries) but none of them will last forever.

  8. I read this back in February, but I’m astonished now by the clarity in this — both of the writing (through extreme lack of sleep) and the thoughts behind it. As I get closer to this phase, I am fearing this double-sided experience: intense, devoted love, and my independence lost. You write about both so well, so unashamedly. We need more of this b/c these pictures of easy breezy early motherhood only serve to make the ones who don’t feel that way hate themselves, no? Thank you for writing this and posting.
    x

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  10. Okay, I’ll be honest, since you are being so. I bucketed you with the others, BEZ. I thought now that this life-consuming formation of your genetic material was Out, you’d be all consumed, and I would chalk you up to being just-another-“you-don’t-have-any-idea-what-it’s-like” women that I am surrounded by. And guess what. You are.

    But the difference is this: you are strong about your vulnerability in the process. You’re still very much the same woman as I knew before. You just have a new, life-long, wholly complex and everything-on-the-line project, and it’s weird because your son is both your boss and your subordinate.

    I don’t get it. I know I don’t, because every single one of my friends who doesn’t have kids tells me all the time how much I don’t get it. But I love the fact that you write about your struggle with getting it too. Although this continues to solidify my resolve not to have children, it does make you one of my more human friends; and more like BEZ with child, as opposed to Mom-who-used-to-be-BEZ.

    I’ve missed you, and thank you that you’ve been there all along.

  11. Pingback: Why Moms Don’t Talk About Anything Else | Mother Sugar

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