What I wish I'd known about becoming a Mother
Being a momma is way harder than I ever imagined it would be. Why is that? How did I become so disillusioned? I was raised by a multi-talented momma, she had great friends and when I was old enough, I participated in my fair share of babysitting. We each have a unique-to-me story of how we came to be a momma; this is but a part of mine.
I had an amazing first pregnancy - no swelling, minimal discomfort, short-lived morning sickness, average weight-gain, passed all the clinical tests that are administered at each prenatal visit - I felt like my best self. My second pregnancy was a lot less comfortable and my birth was anxiety-ridden. Since giving birth twice and surviving a maternal mental health disorder, I am inspired to share the perspective I have that might help future mommas better prepare themselves.
That I needed to prepare well beyond a birth bag.
I was smitten with the whole idea of being pregnant and becoming a first-time momma. I was showered three times and surrounded with enthusiastic love and support. So I figured I had thank-yous to write, a nursery to decorate, a birth bag to pack and a childbirth class to take. Turns out I should have re-prioritized my efforts. Notice I didn’t say “done more”... just re-prioritized my approach so that I could have improved my odds of morphing into motherhood. Here’s a few things I could’ve given fewer f*cks about: intricately decorating a nursery that in the end felt like a beautiful prison cell, registering for a bunch of stuff that I assumed would make me a better mom and my baby happier, scrutinizing everything I ate and drank.
That there was something much darker than baby blues.
I vividly remember just before walking out of my recovery room at the hospital, the nurse reviewing a packet of discharge paperwork with me. The last page was about the possibility to experience something known as “baby blues”. This could consist of crying and a general sadness for a short time following birth. I also remember thinking to myself, “Yeah, I’ve heard of that before. That won’t happen to me.” While it’s certainly not a laughing matter, the joke was on me. I did experience baby blues, but then it lasted longer than 10 days and bled into the weeks and months following birth. That’s known as “postpartum depression”, which I had also heard of before, but it was defined as a synonym of baby blues. This is a huge misconception that must be dispelled because it can be devastating during such a critical time of life. More research is underway, thankfully, to better understand how and why postpartum affects 1 in 5 birthing mothers. I sought help for my maternal mental health disorder through therapy and medication and I survived, but not without damage. It stole a lot from me, but there are also many mothers who don’t survive their maternal mental health disorders.
That the proverbial “village” was just as under-prepared as I was.
My mom moved in with us for the first 5 weeks to help us adjust and she was such a steadfast help in countless ways. She would mother me as I mothered my new baby. But I couldn’t help but wonder once she had to leave, where the heck was this “village” everyone talked about that helped “raise a baby”? They were there for the bump body, for the baby showers, a few visited and stayed too long, some brought food in dishes I had to clean and return, but they weren’t there. They weren’t there sitting beside me as I felt hopeless next to helpless (i.e. my newborn). Obviously that isn’t realistic, but that’s what I realized I needed more than anything - a sense of community. I had taken that for granted during the baby showers. I had taken a sense of togetherness for granted when my husband and I lounged carefree in the house together awaiting baby’s arrival. He was now back at work after only a week of paternity leave with me and our newborn. I needed encouragement, help around the house, reassurance, sleep, a break from worrying. None of these blankets, toys, burb cloths, swings, nursery decor, or sound machines were going to do that for me. I stared blankly past the sleeping baby next to me wondering how to “bounce back”. All I was going to get from the village was front-loaded by centuries-old traditions like baby showers and meals, while I navigated a dark new world I felt ill-prepared for and, yet, was ultimately responsible for. The village did what they knew to do - give gifts and send congratulations and let me be.
That I, too, would be (re)born.
This realization came much later in my postpartum journey. I remember days after giving birth feeling so angry that I couldn’t focus long enough to check my email. I was in denial that my life would never be the same, the way all the advice had been pronounced. My expectations had to change, I was going to change. I would need to let go of my life before baby in order to settle into this new identity. I would need to meet my new self and get to know her while caring for my tiny human. My maternal mental health disorder made this an extremely difficult process, but it’s true that when a baby is born, so is a mother. It doesn’t mean she need only define herself as a mother, but that by way of giving birth she will re-identify herself with her baby, separate and together, from now on.
This is the type of story no one shared before the 21st century. The story ended after birth, and picked up again once mom was up and running again. At Baby Boldly we're on a mission to change the narrative on how growing families experience pregnancy, birth and postpartum in America. We must speak up about what our individual and collective experience was like once baby was born and we went home. Because that experience matters.
Have you ever told your postpartum story? #babyboldly