This isn’t a post about bottles or diapers or bouncers. It’s not a post about late nights, or finding a babysitter. Those things are pretty important, but you’ll find information about them practically everywhere. Instead, I’m going to let you in on the crappy side of becoming a mom. The baby advice I wish I would have received before having a baby, but most books and blogs gloss over. I may have also ignored some of it completely, because who wants to talk about the negatives when they’re about to give birth?! I sure didn’t.
But now I wish I had.
When I was pregnant I read a lot. It’s kind of what I do: I research the shit out of whatever I’m doing. It helps me calm some of the anxiety I feel over approaching anything new. So when I got pregnant I bought a lot of books. I signed up for forums, followed blogs, and pinned a bajillion things on Pinterest. I soaked up as much information as I could.
And I was still drastically unprepared for my actual transition to motherhood.
I’m not sure anyone is every really prepared to become a parent for the first time. And adding postpartum depression and anxiety into the mix certainly doesn’t help. But one of the biggest problems I experienced was the story society tells about becoming a mother.
Social Messages Are So Messed Up
Society tells us that becoming a mom will be hard, but wonderful and rewarding. That childbirth is a beautiful miracle. That when you first see that wrinkled little creature everything will suddenly be worth it. That you’ll fall instantly in love. That you’ll heal in a matter of weeks, and learning to live with a newborn will be like a comedic montage set to some perky pop song.
We all know, logically, that most of that story is complete BS. But that doesn’t change the fact that this story is deeply ingrained in us. It doesn’t change the fact that, when things don’t go that way, we end up feeling like there’s something wrong with us.
I Want to Change the Social Conversation
I want to normalize the negative experiences with childbirth and becoming a mother. Now, I don’t mean that I want everyone to have a negative experience. I want you all to be blissfully happy, I really do! But I want the negative experiences to be seen as normal, so that we don’t end up feeling so lost and alone when we do have them.
That’s why I’m writing this. These are the things that I really needed to hear before becoming a mom. And in all honesty, they’re things I still need to hear sometimes. Because I still struggle with the fact that my version of motherhood doesn’t look much like the social expectation.
And I’m willing to bet yours doesn’t either. That’s how social messages work. Very few people actually experience the story like they’re “supposed” to. But it remains the “right” way nonetheless.
So let’s tell a new story.
Becoming a Mom Sucks (Sometimes)
1. This is going to be one of the hardest things you’ve ever done, or will ever do, in your life.
People don’t give moms enough credit. I’ll admit, I’m totally guilty of this. I had no clue what moms have to put up with, or how hard it is to make such a big transition.
This isn’t to say that people without kids don’t go through tough shit. They absolutely do. But society treats the transition to motherhood kind of like flying a plane.
If you know how to drive a car, you should have absolutely no problem hopping in a cockpit and executing a perfect flight without any instruction whatsoever, right? And everyone you love is strapped in back. Oh, and the autopilot function is totally broken.
And it’s just not that easy. Being a mom is freaking hard. It’s emotionally draining, physically exhausting, messy, and monotonous.
And you signed up for this, so you better not complain. You are absolutely entitled to your complaints because everyone complains at some point when they’re doing something difficult. Everyone thinks about giving up, or questions having started in the first place. It’s a normal part of learning.
2. It’s okay to be “selfish”.
Taking care of your baby does not, and cannot, mean neglecting your own care. If you don’t take time out for yourself, you are going to break.
In her book Fat Girl Walking, Brittany Gibbons uses another airplane analogy to illustrate this:
If you are traveling with children, or are seated next to someone who needs assistance, place the mask on yourself first, then offer assistance.
Even in a life-or-death situation, we are told to first secure ourselves in order to better help others. It makes sense. I mean, I can’t put a mask on a baby if I’m passed out.
You need to take time to shower, and eat, and SLEEP. You need to take care of yourself, or you won’t be able to take care of anyone else.
3. You don’t have to ___________ to be a good mom.
You don’t have to breastfeed, babywear, be all-organic-all-natural, make your own baby food, or cloth diaper. You don’t have to be healthy, well, or able-bodied. You don’t have to spend every moment with your baby. You don’t have to do everything yourself, or sacrifice everything for your child. And so on.
All you really have to do is make sure your baby’s needs are met.
Notice I didn’t say you have to take care of your baby. Sometimes good mothering means recognizing that right now you can’t, and letting someone else step in. You are still a good mom.
That leads me to my next bit of advice…
4. You don’t have to fall instantly in love with your baby.
WebMD reports that “about 20% of new moms and dads feel no real emotional attachment to their newborn in the hours after delivery.” It’s completely normal for bonding to take some time.
Imagine you’re told you were getting a new best friend. You’re shown a few blurry photos of this person, but you never actually get to talk to them. Then, approximately 9 months later this person shows up on your doorstep, just as you’re coming down with the flu.
That’s what having a baby is like for some people.
So how long does bonding take? The maddening answer is, it depends. C-sections, postpartum mood disorders, and post-delivery exhaustion can all get in the way of bonding. I had all of these. I also wasn’t able to breastfeed (something that helps for some).
I don’t remember how long it took for me to feel bonded to my baby. It happened so gradually, that one day I looked at her and just thought, “Oh! I kind of like having you around, Little Bit.”
Be patient with yourself. It will happen.
5. It’s okay to quit.
My experience with breastfeeding included a hungry, screaming newborn, hours spent pumping instead of feeding or playing with my baby, nipple skin peeling off, multiple emotional breakdowns, and a whole lot of guilt.
I was miserable. I felt like I was failing at one of the most fundamental duties of a new mother. And I felt trapped, because “breast is best” and so many of my friends and family breastfed successfully, and all the judgement swirling in my head.
It was my mother-in-law that outright told me: “It’s okay if you don’t breastfeed.”
And while her words didn’t completely drown out the protests in my head, a few days later I told the Medic that I was done. I quit pumping, and packed away all of my breastfeeding paraphernalia.
Breast is not always best. What’s best is for your baby to be fed. However that happens.
The moral of this story is that it’s okay to quit. It’s okay to try whatever baby-raising strategy you want, and to decide that it just isn’t going to work for you and your baby.
It’s even okay to not try at all, regardless of what the baby experts of the moment say.
6. You can’t prepare for everything; you don’t even need to try.
When I was pregnant I spent hours watching diaper bag packing and unpacking videos on YouTube.
(Yes, they really are a thing, and yes, I really do mean hours. My OCD makes me super focused on tiny details of planning, so I blame it on that.)
Hours spent choosing just the right diaper bag. Figuring out exactly what I wanted to pack in it (most of those videos pack waaaaay too much unnecessary shit) and just how I would pack it. This all helped me feel more prepared. Like if I could have a perfectly packed diaper bag, I could handle this motherhood thing.
And you want to know what? I probably only used my fancy (and not inexpensive) diaper bag a handful of times. I’ve always been a lot more likely to toss some diapers in a tote bag and call it good. Most of the preparation I did was completely pointless (unless we’re counting the sheer enjoyment I got from appeasing my diaper bag obsession).
I think that’s how a lot of parenthood goes. No matter how much you prepare, you’re probably preparing for the wrong thing, or in the wrong way. There’s always going to be something unexpected. Something you thought you’d absolutely need and you don’t use at all (diaper bag). Something you thought was a dumb investment and wound up being a lifesaver (like our baby swing!!!).
You’re going to be unprepared. And that’s okay.
7. Grief, adjustment, and healing don’t have time limits.
Even when not accompanied by a postpartum mood disorder, having a baby involves at least a certain amount of loss. Loss of old routines, comfort, certainty, flexibility. Loss of personal space, time, and disposable income. Loss of yourself, in a sense, as you transition into your new role.
And with loss comes grief, and mourning. Yes, even for things.
During the Victorian era mourning practices were strictly governed by social expectation. This included the amount of time that a person should be in mourning. Widows were expected to mourn their husbands for two years, while parents or children of the deceased mourned for one year. After that time they were expected to “re-enter society”. Only then could they attend parties, court a new love interest, and generally engage in social shenanigans.
Modern grieving periods are much shorter, and far less defined. People are encouraged to “get out there”, to engage in society as a source of distraction. We’re no longer allowed an extended period of time to adjust to our new circumstances. And people get impatient if you take too long to get back to your normal self.
As if by three, or six, or 12 months postpartum you should be all better. You should have this parenthood thing down, and should have “gotten your pre-baby body back” (I’ll address that BS in another post). Everything should be happy sunshine and daisies.
Grief, adjustment, and healing take as long as they take. Your journey will not look like anyone else’s. You can’t gage how you’re doing based on your best friend’s experience, or national averages, or what some rando on the internet says.
I understand that you want to know when this will be over. But no one else can tell you that. It will take as long as it takes. And don’t let anyone make you feel guilty for that.
8. You are needed, you are enough, and you are going to be okay.
No matter what you are able to do, it is enough for now. Even if all you can do is take care of your own most basic needs, it is enough.
What your baby needs from you right now is to take care of yourself. To get better, whatever that takes. You will have plenty of time to bond with your baby, and to create memories later. This is not going to last forever.
It may not feel like it at the moment, but you are, and will continue to be, needed.