Guilt. This is one of my lasting memories of my first few hours of motherhood. That’s right. The first few hours. This is one of the things I often tell other mamas—how I so vividly remember feeling guilty and inadequate in the first moments holding my daughter, who is nearly 7-years-old now. There were so many other feelings, too. But in that moment I was surprised by this one. As it turned out, it was a feeling that permeated my new role as mother.
The night we brought her home, I remember thinking, “what do I do now??” I was uncertain where to even begin with raising this tiny bundle. Everything that I thought I would be as a mom—I wasn’t. I felt overwhelmed and I had no control over this tiny human being whose cries, sleep, and need to breastfeed ruled my life. I constantly compared myself with other mothers (thanks, Facebook!), always coming up short. I was obviously the only person on the planet who had a baby who refused a schedule and was terribly terrible at sleeping. My anxiety and worry about this was so high that I spent so much of my time working to get her to sleep. When she finally would fall asleep I would lay her down, at which point she would promptly wake right back up. Clearly, this was a statement on my ability to mother. Everyone else could get their babies to sleep in their cribs, on a schedule. I made myself crazy thinking about and fixating on this. I worried there was something wrong with her. But there was really something wrong with me. Looking back on this now, I think about the wasted time. The time spent worrying and obsessing. The endless hours I spent working toward something that seemed so important at the time but in hindsight was not going to have a significant impact on my daughter’s personhood. But, control.
Did you know that perfectionistic tendencies are a risk factor for postpartum depression? No? I didn’t either. I’m a control freak, totally Type A. I don’t think I’ve ever admitted this out in a public forum before, but anyone who knows me well knows this about me. When I had my first child, I was completely unprepared for how this was going to hit me. There were so many things I didn’t have control over; when the baby wanted to eat, when she cried, when she blew out of her diaper, screaming in the car, waking up every hour at night, cluster feeding, my relationships with my spouse and my friends changing, my hormones, the guilt.
On the outside, I managed to keep it fairly together. But it got to the point that I was isolating myself and having a hard time leaving the house when not necessary…even when my husband suggested we get out as a family and do something fun or run errands. I simply couldn’t bring myself to do it, and then came my old friend, guilt. I felt like I was disappointing my husband. I felt overwhelmed with all of the responsibility…how is possible for anyone to be a wife, mother, employee, friend, family member, AND still be able to keep a piece of themselves?? This fed my feelings of inadequacy. I longed for my old life. Then more guilt for wishing my daughter away. I returned to work full time when my daughter was 7-weeks old. Guilt. When I was at home, I spent all of my time with her and felt so guilty leaving her that I felt as though I was ruining friendships. Guilt. I couldn’t get away with my husband very often (Read: at all) because I was too nervous about leaving the baby (guilt) and didn’t have extra milk. Guilt. I had a hard time leaving to visit family, because even if I had enough motivation to push through the desire to stay home, the baby would scream in the car for the majority of the trip, and I had no ability to make her feel better in those moments. Guilt, guilt, guilt.
All of that inner turmoil, inadequacy, frustration, anxiety, fear, and distress. And you know what? No one really knew. All of this was happening inside my head, which led to me feeling more misunderstood and alone. I was convinced that something was very wrong with my previously rock solid marriage. Later, I learned that this was mainly my perception of things, and did not necessarily represent reality. My world became very small, and I was focused on my immediate surroundings, which led me to look very critically at my relationship. But, I digress…I could write another entire blog post about this!
I was lucky—I had a supportive therapeutic relationship in place already prior to having my daughter so I had a soft place to land. Being able to process what was going on (and utilizing medication) was imperative to my recovery. I know I’ve painted a dreary picture here, and trust me—it wasn’t all bad. There were so many great moments of joy, happiness, and overwhelming love. Overall, I loooooooove being a mother (so much, I did it a few more times!) But it’s so important that we discuss the hard times. When we don’t, and we only focus on the good, it perpetuates the notion that motherhood is all sunshine and rainbows and if we are “good moms” we need to be grateful for our children at all times. The reality is, sometimes motherhood is really freaking hard and we need to cut ourselves (and each other) some slack. Take care of you, mama. You’re doing it right.