To be able to embrace motherhood, you need to mourn the loss of the person you were before you had kids. This is what I say to every pregnant woman and new mom I talk to, because it is the single most important piece of advice I’ve ever come across about parenting. I stumbled upon this wisdom through a blog post by Renegade Mama when my daughter Julia was a little over a year old and it changed my world.
No matter how much you talk to friends and family, read books or consume media on the subject of parenting, there is literally no way to truly know what it is actually like day in and day out. There certainly must be those who are better prepared. I’d imagine the oldest sibling in a large enough family to have been deeply involved in the taking care of a newborn might have some idea. Or perhaps labor and delivery nurses who see weepy new moms on the daily.
I wonder, and hear me out on this for a second, if women who have been to prison might actually be the best equipped of all. I’m not trying to literally compare being a new mom with the terrible experience of being incarcerated. But I remember thinking to myself a lot in the early days of motherhood that I was in “baby jail”. From the moment you become a parent, your life is no longer your own, which is what I imagine life is like in prison.
Women are having children later in life than ever before which in theory brings a greater maturity to the table but also a much longer time to have lived a life that they defined. Taking care of a newborn strips you of that freedom. Sleeping is not under your control. Nor is the crying (the baby’s or yours – the hormones are intense). Even going to the bathroom requires making decisions – do you carry the baby while you go? If they are crying, is it OK to leave them in the swing or crib to go pee? Brand new babies sleep a lot (for small increments of time), so there are points where you can make little decisions – watch a TV show, read a magazine, maybe make something to eat. But you’re so damn tired, all those small acts can feel like moving mountains.
For me, this was kind of shocking – not the tiredness, which I was somehow able to manage, but the lack of autonomy. Sure, I had anticipated that my life would change. But I didn’t truly get it, and I didn’t truly get “into it” enough to make it feel worth it for a long time. I had postpartum depression after I had my daughter Julia (my firstborn) which left me feeling a little detached from the good parts of having a baby, the ones that make the challenges more manageable. From speaking to friends who didn’t have PPD and from the wonderful experiences I had with Luca, my second child, I get that this makes the experience more palatable. You’re exhausted and frightened, but your heart is also swelling to explosion with love for the this tiny, cuddly being you made. But that delicious little tyrant has turned your world upside down.
As you move through the first year and began to establish routines there is some relief in regaining at least a small sense of order. But it’s all still revolving around your child. The you before you had kids is gone or at least it feels that way. I fought this and fought it hard. I think that’s what made my PPD linger and made me feel trapped in what I called “baby jail”. I would sit in the playroom trying to think of something halfway interesting to play with Julia. After like 3 straight hours of shaking toys at her or reading her books she didn’t understand or doing tummy time that made her cranky, I’d be wishing I could just read a magazine for ten minutes. What made me feel worse what that I wasn’t even a stay at home mom. I still had my adult identity five days a work at week, so my life was split between the old me and the new me.
Then one day I came across the Renegade Mama article and instead of making me feel more depressed it felt like an epiphany. It just made sense: If I kept feeling sorry for myself that I could no longer go to the movies every weekend or have a relaxing meal, I’d just be miserable. First thing I had to do was work on accepting what my life was like now. If I adapted to it, it would no longer feel like such a burden and I’d hopefully be able to enjoy the good times a bit more. I’ve done that work every day for the last few years. Julia is five now, and Luca is almost two. It’s not unusual for me to get up from the table anywhere from 3-10 times during a meal these days – whether it’s to pick up a thrown fork of Luca’s, refill Julia’s water glass or grab paper towels to sop up a spill. The difference is I barely even notice. What once created such resentment now feels just like routine.
The second and equally crucial piece was to remind myself that the reason my life is different is because I am someone’s mom, which is a privilege and not a punishment. I dreamed my whole life about being a mom, and I have been lucky enough to become one. So what if I don’t love it every day? I still love my kids every day, and that’s enough.