In the final days of my pregnancy a very senior, very polished, female colleague stopped me in the hallway at work and ask how I was feeling in my third trimester. She had just returned from her own maternity leave after giving birth to her third son.
After a minute of typical banter about heartburn and stretch marks, she turned to me and said, “Listen. There’s one thing you should know about motherhood and no one is going to tell you this but, you might not like it. And that’s OK.”
She walked away. I giggled, uncomfortably — almost offended that she interrupted my Utopian idea of what motherhood would be like. The words clung to my skin. What if I didn’t like it? Was that allowed? And what would I do if I didn’t like it? It’s not like I could put the kid back on the shelf.
Not entirely sure what she meant, I tucked her words away for safe keeping. The type of thing you do when you know something is going to be useful but you can’t quite figure out how just yet.
When my son arrived in late March 2016, I was overwhelmed. Plain and simple. Yes, by the breastfeeding. Yes, by the lack of sleep. Yes, by my changing body and humongous breasts. Yes, by the severe urinary tract infection I got from the epidural catheter. Yes, yes, yes, to all of it. Of course I was overwhelmed. And anxious. And felt totally rushed by society and celebrities who have all their ish back together in less than 3 weeks.
If other new moms were struggling, I couldn’t tell behind perfectly styled Instagram photos complete with new-mom glow. I was told there would be glowing, but all I got was puffy. Older women, who had long since forgotten about these postpartum trials, where quick to say things like, “I don’t remember it being that hard,” or “I loved breastfeeding!” Surely, being so overwhelmed meant I was doing it wrong, right?
Now, two years postpartum and out of that new baby haze I can safely say: Hiding the dislikes is the largest disservice we do to one another. We let each other feel alone through the really hard stuff. Perhaps for fear of being judged or being considered not “mom” enough. We don’t dare discuss the life-long hemorrhoids, the mastitis, or the 3 a.m. spousal arguments that bring our marriages to dark places all because no one has slept in weeks. We don’t post pictures of how tough it is to learn to navigate public restrooms with newborns. We don’t ever publicly declare that some of this motherhood stuff really sucks. But it does. So why are we so afraid to struggle together?
In my darkest hour, I remembered my colleagues words: “You might not like it, and that’s OK.” It’s the last three words that saved me. “And that’s OK.” Those three words gave me permission to say, “Wow, this sleep deprivation thing is really tough and I don’t like it.” You don’t have to like it all just because motherhood is supposed to be all glowy and maternal. Or, “Yeah, it sucks lugging so much stuff around everywhere I go now. I definitely don’t like it.” There’s a lot about the job I don’t like — and thank God another mom told me that was OK. She freed me from guilt on top of worrying about the baby.
And guess what? Sleepless nights, pumping, bottle drying racks, engorged breasts, strapping your kid into a car seat, not having room in the grocery cart, endless bottles to wash, never sleeping again without the hum of the baby monitor — you don’t like it? That’s OK.
I will never like these things. And that’s OK. That doesn’t mean I don’t count my blessings. I know there are a ton of women who would love the chance to sleep with the hum of the baby monitoring but for unfair reasons beyond our understanding, can’t. Just because you dislike something, doesn’t make you ungrateful. There’s so much about being a mom that I do love. There are endless things about my son that fill my cup and explode my heart into a million pieces every day. Is it worth it? Of course. But what I’m trying to say is that, it’s not all or nothing. You don’t have to like it all in order to understand you are blessed to be a mother. You can still be a really good mom and love your kid to the end of time, but hate the crap out of lugging around your diaper bag. Let’s make a little room for the stuff that sucks, too. That way the next mama doesn’t feel so alone in the struggle or paralyzed by guilt.
And to Melissa, the mom who told me, “And that’s OK,” thank you.
Image by Angela Doran