Sometimes, I wonder if I’m too doom and gloom about motherhood when I talk about it with other people, especially those who don’t have children. I worry that I’m being a big downer about parenting. I don’t mean to be because I personally feel like it’s worth it, even given how aggravating it can be.
However, some mothers seem to really love it from the very beginning (and then continue to love it for the rest of their lives), and that was simply not my experience. According to Ann Oakley, a British sociologist, feminist, and childbirth researcher, her goal in writing about motherhood is to make “a statement of how things are, rather than of how people like to think they might be.” I may not be a professor at UCL or a published novelist (yet), but I’d like to think my mission is the same. My conversations about becoming a parent are a statement of how things were for me, and not what people like to think they were.
For example, before I gave birth to my son, I’d spent years watching television shows like One Born Every Minute and A Baby Story, openly weeping at the ends of episodes when the babies were born. I’d cried at the births of so many stranger babies that when my own son was born, I was expecting to completely fall apart. Instead, as my own slimy newborn baby was placed on my chest, my first thought was, “Thank God that’s over.” My husband cried, but I’d just had the most primal, physically intense experience of my entire life, and my body was jelly and I was just so grateful it was over.
I think that’s a reality more women should be prepared for.
Also, I once ate dinner shirtless, with blood smeared all over my chest, after my son fell onto his face and got a terrible nosebleed right before my husband came home with our takeout Thai food. In years past, if I had, by some freak accident, found myself covered in someone else’s blood, snot, and tears, I would have, at the very least, taken a shower before eating anything. However, because my hysterical toddler calmed down just as my husband came through the door with dinner, my first meal of the day, I stripped off our bloody shirts, wiped us both off with baby wipes, and stuck my child in his high chair for rice and broccoli. We both ate, the toddler forgot about the trauma of the face plant, and I found grains of rice in my bra when I went upstairs to shower.
Again, a head’s up* would have been nice. (*PUN INTENDED.)
I love my child so much, I would literally tear the face off of anyone who tried to hurt him. I just also sometimes want to tear my own face off.
I love watching you become a human being. You’re funny and curious and generous and kind. You want to feed all the neighborhood cats and save every bug and share things with strangers. You love to read and hide from monsters and pretend to be a snake and retell everyone that one story about how I tried to save you from running into the street and getting hit by a car by pushing you down onto the ground, where you hit your head. (That makes me look really good. Thanks for that.) You ask for snuggles in the middle of the night by calling “Love?” out into the darkness and you’re really good at sniffing out all the chocolate in the house. You are generally a delight.
However, there are times these days, as you become a human being, that I’m pretty sure I’ve never been so angry. And, as all these big emotions are new to you too, I’m sure you haven’t either. Why is it that you and I are both so in love and so easily enraged?
My guess is that we used to share one body, you and me. It was mine first, but it did everything for you, so while I want you to listen to me, you want me to serve you. And even though we used to share one body, we’re two people now, so we both also need our own space. Sometimes, it feels like our time together is constant struggle between control and autonomy.
Do what I say, but also let me do this myself.
I don’t think we’ll ever find a perfect balance. We’ll always be two people who used to be one body. But I hope that on the days when you’ve screamed your face off for an entire commute and I’ve thrown our jackets on the ground and used my mean voice to say, “IT IS POSSIBLE TO BE SAD WITHOUT SCREAMING. STOP IT FOR THE LOVE OF GOD,” you always look up to me after as you’re crossing the street and say, “Hug! ‘Tect me.”
A few months ago, I was introduced to the “Suffering Olympics,” a term which both refers to the compulsion to compare miseries to see who has it worse and describes the last two years of my relationship with my husband. My introduction to this phrase occurred in a Facebook mom group, which is fitting, considering our collective obsession with social media allows us to project our personal lives into the universe, helping us compete in the Suffering Olympics not only with those physically around us (like our partners), but also with others all over the world.
After spending some time having deep thoughts about this, I am convinced that it is from the Suffering Olympics that Mommy Wars are born.
Being a new parent requires doing really hard work and making difficult decisions all the time. You do the work because you have no choice, but you parent certain ways because you have specific opinions. We are all forced into constant, thankless toil when we become parents, which should equalize us and make us more empathetic, but because we become wedded to specific philosophies through the trauma of implementing them, we spend far more time trying to prove that we’ve done it the right way than attempting to treat each other like human beings. No one wants to think that the parenting choices they’ve made are wrong, especially when these choices (inevitably) result in insane amounts of physical and emotional labor.
I’m working on a PhD in Social Statistics right now, so let me explain with an equation:
Hard work + strong opinions = competition + desire to win
For example, I like to think that the two full years I spent cosleeping with and nursing my son are the best decisions I (or anyone) could have possibly made for him because 1) I did those things because I thought they were important and 2) they were so punishing to me that I have to justify them to myself as worth it. I have spent a lot of time feeling really smug about how challenging my parenting choices were. If there was a Suffering Olympics, I was definitely a gold medaler across the board.
That is, until recently, when I realized in a light bulb moment that while being an accidental attachment parent is certainly super intense and autonomy-crushing, no parent escapes feeling overwhelmed, overworked, and Never Alone. Every mother I know has been disillusioned with her style of parenting, in one form or another. The lack of independence that I felt was specific to my circumstances was also an issue for breastfeeding friends starved by limited diets, working friends swamped by deadlines, and by-the-book friends burdened by the weight of strict schedules. All of us make decisions that come back to haunt us.
Imagine for a moment that we were able to see beyond our own limited experiences, allowing us to acknowledge the choices of others as valid in their own unique circumstances. (I know, I know. Suspend your disbelief for a second.) If we were able to see the parents around us as equally underwater in this raising children business, the Suffering Olympics would cease to exist, because, in parenting at least, suffering is everywhere and struggles are relative.
Parenting is hard for everyone, no matter how you choose to do it. We all have to make a bed. It doesn’t make sense for us tear each other apart for laying in it.
Sarah Carter is a PhD student, blogger, wife, expat, and new mom crazy person. She’s currently focused on writing up her third PhD paper and taking care of her baby, but if you’re into snooping and terrible photos, check her out on Instagram.
Congratulations on your new baby! Prepare yourself for hearing these things on repeat for the next several years of your life!
Is he sleeping through the night?
People will obsess over this, which will make you obsess over this. There are entire industries devoted to ensuring brand new babies Sleep Through The Night (STTN), and as a new mom, you will feel the full force of these industries. The great trick here is that babies do not sleep through the night. Sure, some may sleep better and more consistently than others, and yes, there are babies who sleep 12 hours from the night they are born, but in general, sleep is ever evolving and no child (or human being, for that matter) sleeps through the night every night for their entire lives. This is especially true for infants and toddlers, who are experiencing physical, mental, and emotional growth at astronomical rates, with little ability to communicate their needs or control their lives. Insisting that we use STTN as a barometer of parenting success holds new, overwhelmed parents and their unsuspecting bubs to impossible standards, and of all the unnecessary things you get showered with when you’re a new mom, Impossible Standards are the things you want the least.
Are you still ______?
Yes, yes you are. Or: no, no you’re not. And you know who cares? Everyone. Everyone cares, which is strange because you won’t see everyone up with you at 3am while you’re covered in vomit and changing baby pajamas for the fourth time in five hours. You will do what you need to do to survive, and the only person you need to clear that with is yourself (and maybe your partner, if you’re nicer than I am).
It goes by so fast.
Despite what people tell you, it will not go by too quickly, at least not in the first few months (or up to a year, if you’re lucky like me). In fact, chances are you will be awake for more hours than you’ve ever been before, so you’ll experience more of that first year of parenting than you ever imagined. The things that will really go by too quickly are the few hours you’re able to sleep or the rare moments you get to eat chocolate by yourself.
I’m well aware that time does fly (there’s nothing like being Facebook friends with your youngest cousin, who is now in college, to make you feel like a decrepit scarecrow), and I know there will be a time when I miss having a snuggly, fuzzy-headed tornado ripping through my life 24/7, but when you’re in the trenches, when the seconds slow and warp and stretch out ahead of you like an endless gauntlet of poo, tears, and laundry, time will not feel like it is whipping by. You are not contractually obligated to
Enjoy every minute.
You won’t. And that’s okay. You’re a mom now, but you’re still a person, so you won’t love being pulled on, barfed on, whined at, yelled at, headbutted, and humiliated in public, and you will miss being able to poop on your own and look your age.
You should find some time for yourself.
This is excellent, sage, well-meaning advice, but in my experience, it is also totally infuriating. All I wanted as a brand new mom was time to myself and the only thing that was absolutely certain was that I wasn’t going to get it. Having people tell me that a massage or a night out would cure all my frustrations only served to underline how far away I was from feeling better. I can’t leave to get a massage, you jerks. Who else is gonna nurse this child every 45 minutes? If someone is telling you you need time to yourself, they need to facilitate that by taking your baby noodle off your literal hands for a little while.
You’re spoiling him.
Unless your newborn baby is a soft cheese and you’ve just set him on a sunny windowsill, you are not spoiling your baby.
Sleep when the baby sleeps.
Sometimes, you will. I spent a good four months going to sleep right after my son went to bed at 7:30pm. However, most of the time, you won’t sleep when the baby sleeps. In my experience, the sleep deprivation that comes with having a baby isn’t confined to the bleary, cozy, ethereal, not-at-all-real-life first couple weeks. When life starts creeping back to normal for everyone else, and you’re still not sleeping, ultimately it isn’t feasible to sleep whenever the baby sleeps. Either you’ll have food to cook or floors to clean, or you’ll want to take advantage of your baby’s nap and, I don’t know, be your own person for five seconds. You’ll want to watch TV or read a book or eat a salad with a fork instead of your hands. Eventually, you will be a person who stays up all night and then chooses delighting in the autonomy of eating with utensils over taking a nap. Trust me.
Are you having another?
You’d think that creating a new human being would be enough effort for a little while, but instead, having one baby simply proves to other people that you are physically capable of having even more babies. Fifteen minutes after my son was born, while we were all still covered in goo and there was blood all over the floor, a midwife, inspired by my “easy” delivery, asked me when I was having another baby. At the time, having just expelled a human being from my body and too weak to stand up to take a shower, I said, “Absolutely never.” As I write this nearly two years later, parenting a toddler who is cutting his second molars, the answer is still, “Absolutely never.”
Your answers may be different from mine, but better have them prepped now. Think about the entire future of your family right this instant and get your story straight. Enquiring minds (in the supermarket, your living room, and the delivery suite) will want to know. #nopressure
My son is 20 months old and regularly says about ten words: bye bye, dog, truck, ball, Dad, meow*, roar*, ssssss*, uh oh, yes, no, oh dear, and something that sounds suspiciously like “Oh shit,” which despite my foul mouth, I don’t ever say. (However, if he were whispering “Oh, for f**k’s sake” under his breath several times a day, I might be responsible.)
He can also express his confusion about where things are by throwing his hands up near his shoulders in a permanent shrug:
I have spent a lot of time super frustrated and mildly panicked about this child’s lack of verbal communication. It seems like many (most?) kids his age have, at the very least, more robust vocabularies, and at the very most, the ability to hold complete conversations with their parents. Reminding myself that we live in a world of never ending competition, as we all try to impress and outdo each other on social media, helps me stay sane while I parent my son who refuses to speak. Our desires to present ourselves as brilliant and successful have trickled down to our infants, such that even actual babies are now expected to perform academic or physical feats once reserved for preschoolers. (Seriously. Why would I want to pay someone to pretend to teach my baby to read?)
In an effort to focus on the positives and stay grounded in the comforting knowledge that my child is a behaving like a toddler because he is a toddler, I’ve decided to make a list of my son’s most impressive skills. Here they are, in no particular order:
He is fabulous at pointing. He’s the best pointer. He has recently discovered his pointing prowess and now does it all the time. He learned how to sign “milk” when he was about ten months old and used it constantly for nearly a year, but recently he just taps a finger into my chest over and over again when he wants to nurse before bedtime. We’re so proud. (The other day, he surprised both of us by asking for milk by actually vocalizing the word, and then when I asked him to repeat it “using his mouth,” he unhinged his jaws like a giant snake and shoved all his fingers in his mouth. #success.)
He has excellent fine motor control. He loves drawing all over the couch (with nearly proper pencil grip!) and he recently managed to escape the backyard via a gate that is secured with a deadbolt and a latch.
He can cover his tracks. For reasons that remain a mystery to me, the water heater is in a closet in his bedroom, making this closet a strict no-fly zone. I left him alone in his room for a few seconds, and then heard him slam the closet door and pretend to play with the cars on his floor after he heard me coming back upstairs.
He loves magic. A few weeks ago, he hid my car and house keys by throwing them so deep into the kitchen trash can that they escaped my initial search through the garbage. I had to go through the trash twice! So impressive.
He’s polite. He once put his tiny hands around my neck and squeezed, a la Tina Fey’s daughter, but he did it with a smile.
He knows what he wants. He delights in carrying pairs of his shoes to me and smacking me with them until I put them on his feet, only to immediately demand to wear different shoes.
He enjoys cooking. He likes sitting on the kitchen counter while I cook or wash dishes, and then batting things onto the floor below like a cat. A few days ago, he ripped the top off a spice container and dumped mixed herbs all over the floor. (see: excellent fine motor control.)
He has a keen eye for decor. One of his favorites things to do is to unleash his collapsible tunnel just after I’ve put it away, only to ignore it for the rest of the day, as the real joy of the tunnel is in making me nuts.
He is thoughtful. Yesterday after work and nursery, I presented him with some new Fisher Price Little People animals, and in order to show his appreciation, he grabbed a throw pillow, put it on the ground next to him, and pointed frantically at it until I got up from the couch and sat on the pillow on the floor, while he pretended that a small pink bird was eating my throat. He wanted to offer me up to the animals, but he also wanted me to be comfortable. #blessed
He has priorities. He lets me to scroll through Facebook on my phone in the rare moments he wants to play alone, but I am not allowed to do anything productive in his presence, including but not limited to: using my laptop to write, reading a book, highlighting a paper for work, writing a letter, making grocery lists, etc.
My child, Wonder Baby.
*Yes, I am counting animal noises as words. YES I AM.
Sarah Carter is a PhD student, blogger, wife, expat, and new mom crazy person. She’s currently focused on getting The New Motherhood off the ground (while writing up her second PhD paper and taking care of her baby), but if you’re into snooping and terrible photos, check her out on Instagram.
I remember the day my son was born. It all seemed very surreal, but I remember distinctly everything that happened. The few weeks after he was born, however, are quite blurry.I remember counting his poops and examining them to make sure he was healthy. I remember being in awe so many times that we had created a little person. I remember telling my son that I was sorry I would not be a perfect mother, but that I would try my best. There were sleepless nights trying to get him to sleep in his pack n’ play, hearing him grunt and make noises until he hurled out and choked on chunks of partially digested milk, worrying about him choking on those chunks of milk. I remember the one night he cried for hours and would not sleep, and the one day he cried for hours. Both of those crying fits ended when he burped and fell asleep because he was exhausted too. I had all these plans about how he would sleep and how feedings would be. My son, however, had other plans.
Motherhood in general has brought so much joy and so much worry all the time. Many times, you feel like you may lose it and that you are the worst. Other times, you feel like you’re simply not sure what you’re doing. I mean, really, why did nobody tell me that my child eating bananas would result in poop with dark strands that looked like worms? Most of the time, I laugh it off when I can. I like to keep a sense of humor because I know that motherhood is messy and imperfect.
What I was probably least prepared for in becoming a mother actually had nothing to do with being a mother. What I wished someone had prepared me for was how mothers are viewed – that we simply cannot win with others or even with each other. There is a standard for fathers that is so different than mothers. We don’t get a pat on the back just for simply spending time with our child. We are never told that we are great for “helping out” with our child, and nobody ever tells fathers how lucky they are that their partner is willing to make dinner/change a diaper/watch over the baby, or just do a little of their own part to help. Society has set a double standard based on gender. Not only does it take very little to be a great father, it also takes very little to be labeled as a bad mother. What is perhaps the most disturbing is that many mothers participate in this view, especially with labeling the latter. You can see this on many mothering sites, discussion boards, and many mom groups. I was not prepared for so many people judging my every move and for so many different “expert” opinions. Being a mother is difficult enough without the constant judgments from those who are supposed to support you the most.
There are so many guidelines put out by doctors, researchers, and scientists that I can rarely read into something without another opinion from an “expert” that conflicts. This puts you on a roller coaster of emotions – “I think it’s okay…oh wait, no, I guess I was supposed to do it that way instead even though it never seems to work for my child.” After being a mother for a few months and having friends who are mothers, I honestly believe that modern day science has made many mothers abandon their motherly instincts. The judgment and the feeling that you are not doing something right put forth by other mothers is terrible.
“You’re co-sleeping? You need to stop now.”
“You should stop feeding him so much. He eats out of habit and doesn’t need it.”
“He doesn’t sleep well some nights? Have you tried cutting dairy out of your diet?”
“He’s gassy? Maybe you should try formula.”
“Yeah, you’ve tried formula before, but have you tried soy formula?”
“Breast is best. Why would you ever bottle feed?”
“Your child is so picky. Mine does not mind when she has pooped and does not demand to be changed right away. She just goes about her day.”
“You use cloth diapers? That’s disgusting. I can always tell when people use cloth diapers because their whole house smells like poop.”
“You think you want to do cloth now, but you just wait until you actually do it.”
“You need to just let him cry it out now.”
“Don’t let him cry it out. He will have sleeping problems in the future.”
“He wants to eat again? Just give him water.”
Before becoming a mother, I was a huge fan of science, and in many ways, I still am. However, when it comes to ways to be a parent, motherhood has changed my views on one research study working for all. There is a science to motherhood, but it may not be your typical science. There are various methods and not all will work. There is no one way to parent. In fact, there are so many ways to parent that it is absolutely crazy to think that there is one method that will work for every single child. Maybe what we need is to understand that every child has their own science and every parent knows what works for them – there is a reason that your child belongs to you. I have learned in the last few months that it is okay not to do everything that has worked for everyone else because what matters most is what has worked for our child. Moms should talk about how we give our children what we believe they need at the time, whether all the research agrees or not. Instead of shaming each other for our actions, perhaps we need to trust our instincts and trust each other.
Therefore, if nobody has told you this today, you’re doing a wonderful job with your child.
Michelle Leonard is a teacher turned stay at home mom for the time being. She loves experimenting with food, finding good bargains, and making a crafty mess. She and her husband also like to constantly make up stories about their son and pretend to be him. If you are curious, feel free to browse through the Gumshoe Gordie section at www.mamaswithmunchkins.com
12am: I’ve been asleep since 9:45pm! I’m starting the day off with 2 hours and 15 minutes of uninterrupted sleep! Today is gonna be great!
1:01am: Baby wakes up. Demands being nursed back to sleep.
2:48 am: Baby wakes up. For fun, I decide to try not nursing him back to sleep. Baby has a meltdown. I am terrified of being awake for three hours. I nurse him back to sleep.
3:55am: Baby wakes up.
4:58am: Baby wakes up.
5:51am: Baby wakes up FOR THE DAY.
6:43am: Baby poops, which I notice after it escapes his diaper. I put down my coffee (Mug 1) and my husband and I scrub baby poo out of the carpet in three different locations.
7:02am: I clear a path into Baby’s room by putting away all the books, toys, and stuffed animals laying all over the place.
7:03am: Baby pulls every book off his shelves and onto his feet. Baby cries.
7:15am: Baby has breakfast. He gets covered in yogurt. I take advantage of his being locked in his high chair and fold dry laundry after putting a new load into the washing machine.
7:30am: Baby finishes breakfast and is cleaned off with baby wipes. He immediately runs to the French doors to the garden and smears his wet, still-yogurt-y hands all over the glass before turning to his left and rubbing them all over some clean laundry.
7:32am: While washing dishes at the sink, I discover that I smell like the inside of a male wrestler’s gym bag. I begin to strategize a shower.
7:33am: I make black tea while Baby pounds at the French doors.
7:34am: It’s already warm enough outside that I let Baby into the garden wearing just a diaper. I watch him ride his plastic rocking horse over unfortunate bugs and push his Cozy Coupe into flower beds, thinking about how cute he is. Before I can stop him, he uses a measuring cup to drink some old water out of a bucket.
7:49am: Baby bores of dragging an outdoor broom around the garden patio and comes inside with fistfuls of sidewalk chalk, which he gets on the door frames and hardwood floors on the way back into the house.
7:51am: I am tired of running interference as Baby attempts to navigate the big step from inside to outside over and over, so I open the baby gate to the stairs. Baby senses danger and begins crawling upstairs.
7:51am: Excited by making it all the way up, Baby slams his face directly into the open baby gate at the top of the stairs. I abandon my black tea on stairs (Mug 2) and hold him as he screams in my face.
7:51am: I realize I am holding him while sitting on the wet patch where I’d scrubbed poo out of the carpet an hour ago.
7:54am: Baby is now happily rummaging through the diaper bag as I attempt to put away some laundry. I’ve given up on nice things, so I don’t care when my prescription glasses get thrown across the room.
7:55am: Baby is too quiet, which is how I discover that he’s eaten half a tube of Aquaphor Baby moisturizer.
7:55-7:58am: Full blown panic mode. Aquaphor Baby packaging tells me to seek medical help or call Poison Control if the cream is ingested, which is fantastic because that Aquaphor Baby is from the US and I’m in the UK and don’t know what the English equivalent of Poison Control is. I imagine we’ll have to go to the hospital and I wonder how I’m going to explain to my husband that I didn’t notice our son sucking down a bunch of ointment poison. I’ll have to call an ambulance. I am keenly aware that I smell horrible.
7:58am: The internet tells me Aquaphor is just petroleum jelly and lanolin, and at worst, Baby will have diarrhea. This is fine because Poop is one of my skills now.
7:59am: Baby is back to his regularly scheduled programming, methodically taking folded clothing and diapers out of each of his three dresser drawers, cracking the spines on board books by folding them in on themselves, and dropping things behind the radiators.
8:03am: I go into the bathroom to prep for a shower, and Baby beelines for the toilet brush, climbing over a pile of toilet paper rolls and scattering them everywhere.
8:03am: I decide not to shower. I mean, it’s not like we have to go to the hospital.
Sarah Carter is a PhD student, blogger, wife, expat, and new mom crazy person. She’s currently focused on getting The New Motherhood off the ground (while writing up her first PhD paper and taking care of her baby), but if you’re into snooping and old news, check the archives over at Whiny Baby.
I come from a long line of high strung neurotics. (Sorry, Family. I’ve committed to telling the truth here.) If there’s something to worry about, obsess over, or unnecessarily dread, I will find it. It’s genetic.
Before I had my son (and until he was mobile, really), I would watch babies and toddlers cling to public surfaces and crawl around in airplanes and play in shopping mall play areas, and cringe in horror at the thought of all the germs they were then going to rub into their tiny little eyes with their grubby little hands. I once took a two-year-old to the bathroom at a zoo and it remains one of the most stressful experiences of my life.
September: On my 29th birthday, while wearing my eight week old son strapped to my chest, I cracked a cusp off a molar as I ate the birthday burrito I’d struggled hard to make for myself. My husband was away for the week for work, my mom had flown back to California, and I had never seen a dentist who wasn’t my grandfather, let alone one who practiced in the UK. Unable to find anyone to watch my baby on a few hours notice, I took my tiny son, who had until this point in his life only been held by three people related to him and the midwife who delivered him, to a dental clinic, where he refused to sleep through my appointment in his stroller. I got to have a tooth drilled (sans Novocaine) while listening to my son scream in a medical office lobby as he was held by a total stranger.
“You seem a little tense,” said the dentist. No shit, I thought.
At the exact same time, on my birthday, I’d stupidly let my US driver’s license expire, because apparently you can’t renew your California driver’s license by mail indefinitely. (Who knew?) Unable to renew my license from afar, and having just begun the slow crawl towards a UK learner’s permit, I could no longer drive our car. This was unfortunate because it was annoying, and also because: it was becoming winter in England; walking everywhere was a nightmare; my husband works away during the week; my son needed his vaccinations.
October-November: I ended up taking my infant son to his first series of vaccinations in taxis. Some of them smelled of cigarettes and all of them had probably been puked in.
December: We flew from England to California, to show off our baby to my side of the family, and I spent four weeks tamping down my panic about my 4.5 month old bubble boy being passed around at meet-and-greet parties and being fed random food by people who refused to listen to my “no solid foods until six months” rule. The trip was for me both wonderful and exhausting, as I loved being home, but battling pretty crippling anxiety made it difficult to enjoy myself.
Being a new mother, tasked with keeping this tiny child alive and with making all the right choices, is a huge, overwhelming, almost impossible job for anyone, but it felt particularly daunting for me, because I couldn’t ever relax or let down my guard or stop worrying about what terrible illness the world was about to visit upon the baby.
January: Our son had to start going to nursery, because I needed to get back to showing up on campus and working on my PhD. We did two weeks of “settling in” sessions, where I dropped off my wailing child for a few hours and hung around the nursery or walked down to the grocery store and stress-bought (and then stress-ate) gross meals like premade veggie sushi and potato chips. (I WAS NERVOUS, OKAY?) I sat with him for a few minutes
before leaving each time, watching him put communal toys directly into his mouth, having an almost out of body experience. Just like that, the bubble around my precious little bug burst, and there he was, getting sneezed on by stranger babies and sucking on his fingers after running them all over the nursery carpet. His exposure was suddenly completely out of my control.
In the end, I didn’t really have a choice. I could spend my entire life petrified of what was going to happen to him after he put that soft block in his mouth, or I could let it go. Because I have a PhD to attempt to complete while living in a foreign country and holding down the fort while my husband is away, I chose to let go. I gave up literally three decades worth of mania because I just could not keep going forward while being wound so tightly.
Our son is (almost) 12 months old now and regularly eats food that’s touched restaurant tables, plays with things that have fallen on the ground, and chews on toys have just been thrown down in front of him by nursery kids who have just finished gnawing on them. He got sick a lot at first (beginning with his first cold and double pink eye after his first week of nursery) and he didn’t sleep well and it was as bad as I thought it would have been, but it got better. He got better. And so did I.
Becoming a mom shattered me in a lot of ways: the total loss of independence, completely indescribable to those who haven’t experienced it; the physical changes, both the fleeting and the permanent; the responsibility, which I’m trying to shoulder. These are all things that I’m still working on accepting, even now, less than a week before my son celebrates his first birthday. However, becoming a mom has cured me, in a way I couldn’t have anticipated.
After living thirty years fearing door handles and public transportation, I’ve finally learned not to sweat the (microscopic) small stuff.
Sarah Carter is a PhD student, blogger, wife, expat, and new mom crazy person. She’s currently focused on getting The New Motherhood off the ground (while writing up her first PhD paper and taking care of her baby), but if you’re into snooping and old news, check the archives over at Whiny Baby.
Before I got pregnant, I didn’t know what worry was. I was a successful manager earning great money. I was the creator of amazing projects. I had respect from the people I managed and from the community I served. Everybody praised my work. I felt loved, I felt good. But I dreamed of being a mother. It was everything to me to have a child. It was something I had to do.
When at last I found out I was pregnant, I was over the moon. Things hadn’t been straightforward for us, but it was everything I ever dreamed of, so much so that it felt too good to be true.
This is when the worry hit hard. I was constantly terrified of things going wrong. Every pregnancy milestone brought brief relief, but before long, I was back to daily, agonizing worry.
When the big day came and I finally held my first beautiful baby boy, all my dreams came true. I felt so lucky. From the moment we met, I felt I’d known him my whole life. I was in love – the biggest version of love I’d ever known. A scary kind of love. Love so big that it hurt.
This made me a great mother, but also a great worrier. I needed everything to be perfect for him – always. I needed to be with him – always. I would continuously be checking him, day and night, making sure everything was perfect and that he was okay. I would strap him into his car seat and then drive up the road and pull over and check him again and again. These kinds of obsessional thoughts started happening more and more and taking up more time each day.
I was continuously comparing myself to other mothers who I felt knew what they were doing. I always felt that other mothers were doing a better job than me. If my baby wasn’t sleeping, I felt it was because I was doing everything wrong and that I was failing.
My head was always spinning with things that might happen to me and my family. My day was taken up with feeling terrified of things that could possibly go wrong. I could create a full feature length movie with the catastrophic stories that would just pop into my head on the way to the shops. This was happening daily – not because I wasn’t happy, but because I was so happy, I was terrified!
Maternity leave ended and I started back at work. At first, it felt great. But soon those familiar feelings returned. I had these conflicting thoughts and worries racing around my head constantly. I was doubting myself as a mother everyday, asking myself:
Will my son get enough attention?
How will I make it worthwhile?
Am I a good enough mother?
I was doubting myself professionally everyday, constantly debating:
Am I good enough ?
Am I doing a good job?
What do other mothers think of me?
I was rushing around, always stressed and always tired, trying to solve parenting battles and work challenges all at the same time. I was ignoring so many warning signs from my body that I needed to stop and make changes. I was getting constant colds and a strange skin rash on my hands. I had neck pain and I would wake several times a night, even when the baby slept through. The final straw came when I started getting chest pains at work when I was in meetings.
I visited my doctor and told him that I was worried I was asthmatic. He was very blunt in telling me that was not the case. Instead, he asked me how busy life was at the moment. He then went on to explain how anxiety causes chest pain and other symptoms that I was experiencing. I was totally shocked! I had no idea that it was possible for the thoughts in my head to have an impact on my body. Everything made sense and soon I was booked in with a Hypnotherapist for some much needed help. It changed EVERYTHING!
I learned about the power of the mind and I realized that all of those thoughts were not only draining and pointless and not serving me, but also having a profound impact on my body. I learned how to take control of self doubt, anxiety, and most importantly, I learned that I could choose my thoughts. So I learned how to motivate myself, to plan, and to structure my life without settling my standards too high. Soon I was sleeping better and waking up feeling ready to take on the day! I got my confidence back and my life in balance.
If you are reading this and you feel stuck in your own thoughts, know that I’ve been there. I know how you are feeling, but believe me when I say no matter how impossible life can feel, there is a way to get better, to feel calm again, to fully enjoy each day.
This experience has had such an impact on me that it has inspired me to want to help other women get the help they need to release them from anxiety. I have worked hard for the last 5 years to gain my coaching qualifications and this year I will complete my Solution Focused Hypnotherapy Diploma with the Clifton Practice in Bristol, England. I have always worked in children and family services so I’m planning to specialize in dealing with women’s issues. I’m really excited to be able to share something which I know makes such a lasting change to people’s lives.
Josie Brocksom is a Solution Focused Hypnotherapist and mother of 2 (sometimes 4) children. She’s a lover of all things pink, an online shopping addict, and a brain science nerd! For more information on postpartum anxiety and hypnotherapy, email Josie at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.worry-free.org/hypnotherapy/
OKAY, FINE, GOD! I might have lied to you twice in a row now (read all about my lies and my wife’s hatred for me here). The truth is my son looks at me with his dopey, way-too-big-for-his-baby-head blue eyes with all the love in the world and then some…now. This, however, was not always the case. My little boy will be 10 months old in two days’ time and for the last 4 months, he has been gradually warming up to me as a poor and inadequate alternative to his mammy. There is no doubt dads will face many struggles in their pursuit to become the father figure they want their sons to look up to. One of the first hurdles as far as the father-son relationship is concerned is the feeling of not being able to build a bond with their baby.
I was warned of this, but I am a man after all: man big, man strong, man does not need to form an emotional attachment with his baby to feel validated! And yet again, for a second time running, I must admit I was wrong (my wife will love my admitting to being wrong). [Ed. Note: shedoes]. I feel like as a dad you are surplus to requirements during the first 3 months of your child’s life. Sure, you clean, cook, go to work to provide, etc. However, as far as the little dude is concerned, you might as well be a plant or a goldfish. Things get slightly different when your baby starts to engage with the surrounding environment of which, as a sentient human, you are a part. With our baby becoming more robust, more mobile, and most importantly, developing a little personality, I imagined daddy-baby quality time was just around the corner. I watched my wife captivate my son’s attention for hours at a time; I watched her tickle him into fits of uncontrollable heartmeltingly cute giggles; I watched her calm him down in seconds from a full-blown cry to a sunny smile just by holding him in her arms. It didn’t look hard, but try as I might to replicate my wife’s heroics, I could not.
We would sit in bed on a lazy Sunday morning (definitely not afternoon because who spends the whole day in bed, right? Right?!?) with my son in the best of moods. My wife, god bless her, would take advantage of this rare opportunity to have her weekly shower and leave me with the little dude seemingly happy as a clam. Ten seconds later, he would be screaming the house down. I would try the toys, try to make him laugh, play him his favourite nursery rhymes (Baby Beluga and Snowflake for these interested) and even frantically walk him up and down the bedroom, and I would get nothing, zilch, nada! My son’s scream would inevitably cut my wife’s shower short and rather predictably, his cries would cease almost immediately after being back in mammy’s arms. That was hard, but it was about to get much harder.
Due to complicated legislation concerning driver’s licenses, my American wife had to re-take her driving test in the UK (where we currently live). This meant she had to take lessons in order to get accustomed with the local rules of the road, and I had to mind the baby while she took them. The lessons were 1 to 2 hours long, which meant I had to stomach 1-2 hours of my son’s screams and cries whilst he simultaneously refused to be held by me and amplified his tantrums tenfold when put down. All of this was done whilst listening to Baby Beluga over and over and over again.(The magic that is Snowflake was discovered later on.) It was soul crushing; it felt like my son hated me. He was most certainly letting me know what he thought of spending any length of time with his dad. Obviously, yet again, the minute my wife got her hands on him, he would stop at a drop of a hat and smile at me over her shoulder as if to prove some twisted point to me. I felt insufficient and a failure.
Now, some 4 months down the line, things have changed. Trust me on this, lads: there is a light at the end of this screaming tunnel. As I sit here writing this piece, my wife is busy doing some college work (she is getting a PhD, don’t you know? #humblebrag #proudhusband) and my son is gleefully attempting to climb Daddy Mountain (I am the mountain). I can now be left alone with him and we quite happily spend a few hours playing with toys and doing the airplane. Most importantly, however, when I tickle him, he laughs; he laughs just with me and he laughs just for me, his dad. It’s obvious that a baby is going to develop a strong bond with its mammy; aside from carrying the baby for 9 months, she is the sole provider of food and comfort early on – you don’t need me to explain this to you. But dads, trust me on this one: somewhere between 6 and 9 months, you will get your moments in the sun and they will become more and more frequent as time passes. Just in case you don’t believe me, please find a picture of my baby bat burrito son taken after one of our showers, which we take together now because we are crusty hippies! Doesn’t he look happy to have his daddy?!?
Michael Carter is a tall, strapping archaeologist, with a flair for cooking, a green thumb, a great beard, and an adorable infant son who is looking more and more like his mother every day. His wife definitely did not write this bio.