The Hardest Thing

SARAH CARTER

One of the biggest disappointments for me about having my first child was that I felt totally emotionally unprepared for it. I felt like the first new mom in history, despite knowing and loving mothers my entire life and watching my friends become mothers and being surrounded by mothers as they congratulated me and threw me baby showers and squealed as they bought my unborn child tiny clothes. After having my son, I spent months of my life rocking back and forth in a glider, cradling a baby I could not put down, wondering why no one had talked to me about new motherhood in any real sense ever.

The answer is, of course, that no one talks about it. Especially not in 2016, when everything about our lives as mothers is styled and “curated” and somehow – insanely – always white and shot through expensive camera lenses in great lighting and pinned on Pinterest. Motherhood today is a thing to crave, to achieve, to perfect, and to broadcast, but god forbid you want to have a conversation about what it actually means.

In a sense, there’s really no preparing a woman for how radically her life changes when she has a baby, because no baby brother or niece or pet dog or week-long baby bootcamp can prepare a person for the visceral feeling of love and terror that comes with being responsible for a human being for the rest of your life, the full year(s) of broken sleep, and the inability to do literally anything without strategizing. Plus, every woman’s experience will be different, so what’s been a struggle for me might not be a struggle for you. However, the simple truth is that we all struggle. Every mother. And it is so deeply important to talk about it.

So, I’m talking about it.

I could not have asked for a better baby. We are so fortunate. My son is sweet and loving and happy and adorable and the practicalities of taking care of him have never been difficult. He breastfed like a champ from birth, he never had colic, he has never cried for hours on end, he’s only stayed up all night twice. He is, however, very attached to me, so taking care of him has meant not taking care of me, in even the most basic ways. I’ve found myself practicing “biological parenting,” meaning I’ve exclusively breastfed my son (who has always refused bottles) and we bedshare (because he has also always refused to sleep in a separate space). I’ve been doing it all as nature intended for nearly ten months, and I am currently losing my shit.

For me, the hardest thing about becoming a mother has been the complete loss of self, and watching as my husband, my partner who decided to have this baby with me and who gets to revel in all the cute stuff, isn’t limited at all.

Things I can’t do when I want to – ever:

  1. Eat
  2. Sleep
  3. Go to the bathroom
  4. Bathe

I feel like a completely dried out husk of the person I was before my son was born. I don’t have the time to eat enough or drink enough water, I don’t sleep, my hair refuses to wash clean, I’m lucky if I can get a comb through it after a shower before my son’s patience runs out, and I have a lot of weird skin issues from the lack of sleep/perma-dehydration/stress, which has been a huge challenge to my self confidence and self worth.

I’m not sure what I expected of motherhood, but it wasn’t being nearly ten months postpartum and: more than ten pounds underweight and looking sick and skeletal, still nursing every 2-3 hours around the clock, not sleeping for longer than 4 consecutive hours in nearly a year, and sometimes getting up every 45 minutes all night long. Being a mom has been physically demanding in so many more ways than I could have possibly imagined that some days, I can’t believe who is looking back at me in the mirror. I am sick, I am tired, I am way too thin, and I am too sick and tired and busy to do anything about it.

In addition to changing my appearance, the very real physical burden of motherhood has made me resent my husband, who is wonderful and obsessed with us and desperate to help and occasionally so painfully clueless that it makes me want to cry. (And sometimes I do.) My husband, who did not birth the baby and who is not breastfeeding him and who works away during the week and SLEEPS THROUGH THE NIGHT, sometimes complains that he is tired because the baby woke him up or that his arms hurt because he held the baby for five minutes. Intellectually, I know he’s entitled to having his own feelings. Emotionally, I want to rip his face off, because I’m lucky to get three consecutive hours of sleep every night, I am quite literally drained by our nursing son all day long, and I’ve held him in my arms for hours every day of his life, while I work or attempt to clean or do laundry or grocery shop.

More broadly, the unfairness of the work of Mom in comparison to the work of Dad (in a biological sense) frustrates me and makes me angry. It makes me angry for all the mothers who have ever lived. I can’t believe that women have been doing this work for centuries, only to be beaten down, made to feel inferior, and categorized as weak or precious. I can’t believe new mothers still have so few outlets for discussing feeling so tired and sad and upset and that we’re made to feel like there must be something wrong with us for struggling.

And that is why I feel like we need The New Motherhood. At the very least, I needed it. I needed a place I could go to talk to other moms who could understand me and help lift me up. I needed people to tell me what I was feeling was a normal response to the very real, very overwhelming physical and mental stress new moms experience without placing judgment on the choices I was making. I needed to be seen as a person and not just as a parent.

If you do too, hopefully this can be your place.

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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

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9 thoughts on “The Hardest Thing

  1. Mothers sometimes think That sacrifice is the best lesson to teach a child. Sacrificing so much of yourself until u are a “husk” will not teach your child anything but guilt. You do not have to sleep with your baby nor do you have to breastfeed until you collapse. You can start laying down some ground rules. The child must accommodate to thr mother’s lifestyle, assuming the mother isn’t a psycho drug addict. We’ve all been there. We have felt the incredible love and the fright and the panic of not knowing what to do. Bravo on creating a site for new mothers. Please take some advice from an old mother, quit driving yourself crazy. Your beautiful boy will survive just fine.

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    1. Oh helllllllo! 🙂 Either I have Stockholm Syndrome and am just used to it OR I really am starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Things are getting easier, but I am not exaggerating when I say that the choices I’ve made (specifically the feeding and sleeping) were out of my control. Having him cry it out in a crib at night was out of the question because he would vomit his lungs out in rage before he would stop crying and I wasn’t about to do that to my little baby who only wanted me. I’ve been working on getting him to use every/any sippy cup available in the universe and he’s only just now starting to understand them. If I didn’t breastfeed him, he didn’t eat, and if I didn’t sleep with him, he didn’t sleep (and therefore, neither did I). Nothing about either of those things were intentional choices, really. They were survival. Also, I’m only just now starting to see that he understands things in a way that setting rules would make any sense. For example, I just taught him not to gnaw on my collar bone through my skin, so he’s basically a genius. 🙂 Before, he was a noodle who cried because he needed me. Now, he’s a mobile tornado who cries when he wants to sit down and stand up at the same time. #thestruggle I guess my point is that I totally understand that sacrificing your entire self motherhood isn’t ideal or healthy or even SAFE, but in my experience, I had no choice. ❤

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  2. This is why bottle feeding was important to me. I need sleep and I’d be a husk of a person too if my husband was unable to help at night. I had a rough pregnancy so long term breast feeding was out of the question for me. I’m so happy I made that decision. My husband helps with the baby at night and I feel like my baby is a joy which was surprising to me because I was fully expecting to hate being a mom. We also cosleep but at 7 months are going to start sleep training because I would like my bed back. Our baby will not like this at first, but we’ll see how it goes. Hopefully well!

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  3. Shhh… If the truth about infant motherhood is known our birthrate will plummet and our species will become extinct. Imagine the guilt.

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  4. Very real, very honest and both ugly and beautiful! You have done and are doing a great job navigating your way through the jungle of motherhood. The struggle is real but the immense love is too. Keep on keeping on!

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  5. Oh gosh I can relate to this SO much. I think it’s really important to keep perspective with those glossy and airbrushed images of motherhood that we are bombarded with (thanks social media 😒 you wang), as I know that I have spent the best part of the last year with at least one boob hanging out, wearing pyjamas, hibernating indoors, washing once a week, and feeling guilty 24/7. I wouldn’t have it any other way, I am so in love with my son that it physically hurts, and all sacrifices seem worthwhile at this point in time… But oh gawd I need authentic, meaningful adult conversation (and commiserations) when the load gets too much to bear. Well done for creating this platform for mamas in need!

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  6. I’m not a mother yet – 17 days to go (unless she decides to slide out before then)! But as I’ve progressed through my pregnancy I have been thinking a lot about motherhood and parenthood and the lessons on being a woman I want to teach my daughter while she grows.

    I feel as though nearly everyone lied to me about pregnancy throughout my life in order to entice me to get pregnant, if you understand my meaning. Sure, you hear about the “glow” and the morning (read: all day) sickness – and then you look online at all the wonder that is the perfect pregnancy – the perfectly curated bumps, the mom-to-be who is completely on top of everything (hahahahaha) with her freezer meals, her hospital bag packed in advance, her perfectly excited partner, etc. And then here you are, with lightning crotch and a nose so congested that you want to stand in front of an open window during a storm just so you can breathe … Well, you know what I mean.

    Thanks for starting a forum where new Moms can feel at peace with it – whether it be bitching about the expectations, or sharing stories of the heart warming things that happen on a daily basis. 🙂

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