The Suffering Olympics.

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.

IMG_2083

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.

 

Eight Things Every New Mom Will Hear: A Primer.

 

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

What, Me Worry?

SARAH CARTER

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.

And then.

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.

And then.

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.

And then.

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.

And then.

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.

And finally.

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

13083282_10105509296153166_1229569014219969204_n
Eating paint at nursery. Week 2.

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.

IMG_2083

 

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

So Happy and So Terrified

JOSIE BROCKSOM

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 IMG_1572Brocksom 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 worryfree.org@gmail.com or visit www.worry-free.org/hypnotherapy/

 

Becoming Mom

MELANIE GINGRICH

Melanie

It’s bizarre – you never realize how something may impact your life until you actually experience it, and even then, you still may not fully understand or be able to grasp the intensity of it. This is how I feel about my recent motherhood experiences. Both becoming a mother and losing my mother.

I lost my mom three months before finding out I was pregnant, and thirteen days before my wedding. My mom was amazing. I don’t say that with inflated candy-coated nostalgia; she truly was a great woman. The thing that she was most proud of in her life was being a mother and grandmother. She was my best friend. The one I would call when I was having a panic attack in grad school or the one I could bounce ideas off of without judgment. I could go on and on, but the truth is she was so much to me that I could never put it all in words.

My mom was sick for two years. She had an “extremely treatable” form of cancer. Unfortunately, it wasn’t. It was stubborn and strong and it came back with such force after every treatment ended. It was torture to watch her being knocked down again and again. I had planned to get married earlier in the year after her treatment ended and she had recovered, but that never happened. I struggled with whether to wait until after the storm that we were in had passed or to go ahead and plan it so that regardless of what happened, she would be there. After postponing it a little, I decided on the latter. Unfortunately, like with most things in life, we were not in charge. I made it through my wedding because that is what she would have wanted me to do: celebrate, and give my dad and the rest of the family something else to focus on. To this day, I am still not sure if I made the right choice, but I can say that I am happy that she was there when I found my dress and that she got to see the venue and that she was truly happy for me.

During our honeymoon, my husband and I made the decision that after my current birth control pack, we would start trying to get pregnant. We had heard that it could take months or years, so we decided we would begin the journey. I went in for a physical, thinking it would be a good idea to make sure I was in tiptop shape. I told my doctor that I had just gone off the pill, but had not yet gotten my cycle back. A short “just to make sure” pregnancy test later, and I was in tears and overwhelmed with a feeling that my mom somehow had a part in this. My mom who always said, “Don’t wait too long to have kids.”

This is where it gets even harder. I have moments when I think she is looking out for me or watching over me, like the one in the doctor’s office when the doctor said, “Congratulations!” Then I have the empty moments, the moments where I feel the void left by her absence. Those are deep and strong. I remember being pregnant and driving home from work and feeling incredibly sad, the kind of sadness that knocks you over like a strong ocean wave. I called my sister practically hysterical (my sadness definitely intensified by my wild pregnancy hormones) and all I could manage to get out was, “I miss her so much.” I remember after we checked into the hospital and the doctor asked me who I wanted in the room with me during the birth, I wanted to say, “My mom, of course.” I wanted her to hold my hand and tell me it’s okay and remind me to be strong. I wanted to look at her looking at me and her grandbaby with eyes filled with a mixture of happy tears and pride.

So many times I wonder if I am doing it – this mothering thing – right. I think about how my mom would have the answer; she would know exactly what to do. If only I could call her. I wonder if certain things my son does are things that I ever did. Sometimes I ask my dad or my sister, but I know they don’t remember, at least not like a mom would. Not like my mom would.

Sometimes, I think my baby boy gives me a different purpose and a focus away from losing my mom. Not to forget her, because that will never happen, but my son is almost a tribute to who she was and what she loved: family. Other times, I think being a mom reminds me how much I miss her. I am so incredibly sad that my son will not know his Grandma Tena in person. He will know stories and he will recognize her face from pictures, but he won’t know how it feels to be wrapped in her arms or to have her soothing voice lull him to sleep. He won’t know the silly songs exactly the way she sang them or how her deep and endless love could make him feel so special. Those things make me so sad. I get jealous when I see three generations out shopping or having lunch, the grandmother tending to the baby while the mother enjoys the few bites of uninterrupted food that she has been granted.

I have incredible friends and I have a wonderful mother-in-law, but that is not the same as having your mother. The last few years have been filled with so many bittersweet moments and I have to be thankful that I have the sweet to balance out some of the bitter. I am so thankful that I was able to have 32 wonderful years with her. I am thankful that through her example for those 32 years, she showed me what it is to be a wonderful, caring mother. Because she is not a phone call away to ask questions, I have to dig deeper. I have to remember her ways and use those memories to give me guidance.

I will raise my son as a tribute to the love she so selflessly gave. I was given a mother who loved me so intensely that it made saying goodbye to her that much more painful. I can’t help but be thankful.

Melanie Gingrich lives in Los Angeles with her wonderfully supportive husband, perfect son, and two crazy dogs. She has her dream job at a pediatric hospital working as a Speech-Language Pathologist.

Three In A Bed.

SARAH CARTER

I got married when I was 23 and divorced when I was 26, so by the time I was pregnant with my son last year, I thought I knew a thing or two about never saying never. However, pushing a human being out of your body and then taking it home with you scuttles even the grandest of plans, and two weeks into parenting, I ended up doing the one thing I said I would never do: I shared a bed with my baby.

Bedsharing was born out of complete necessity for me. Our son, like many newborn babies, did not take very well to the idea of immediate baby independence. He easily nursed to sleep and never struggled with knowing it was night time, but God help me if I tried to set him down. His beautiful Moses basket might as well have been a lake of fire for how much he despised being put into it. I stayed up all night long for over two full weeks, letting my baby sleep on my chest on the couch while I watched TV. The first few nights, I was convinced I could just never sleep again. I was bursting with pride and love and spent those short summer nights staring into the sleeping face of the brand new person we’d made, grateful that I didn’t need to sleep.

However, soon, my well ran dry. I was more and more exhausted every night. As someone who’d done research into infant death, reading infant death records for weeks at the Los Angeles Department of Coroner, I was keenly aware of how dangerous sleeping with a baby on a couch or armchair is, so those nights sitting up with my baby became fraught with terror. I tried making up for the all-nighters during the day, when my husband or my mom could watch me nap with the baby snuggled into me, but eventually, the adrenaline that pushed me through the first several days completely abandoned me and I was shattered. I went back to trying to put the baby down in his basket (and later his Pack and Play), only to spend entire nights cycling through nursing, patting, shushing, rocking, and praying that my son would sleep. I still wasn’t sleeping, and now, neither was the baby.

So, I researched. I read the work of Dr. James McKenna and discovered Sarah Ockwell-Smith. As an anthropologist, it didn’t take much to convince me that I needed to bow to the will of biology: I cleared all the blankets and pillows from my bed, curled my body around my nursing baby, and slept with him. I placed the baby flat on his back, kept an arm across the top of his head and my thighs pressed up against his feet, didn’t drink, smoke, or take sleep aids, and always had my body between the baby and my giant husband. I was usually cold and uncomfortable and waking every 2-3 hours to feed the baby, but my son slept all night and I managed to sleep too.

Our son is 9.5 months old and still sleeping with us. No one is more surprised by this than I am. The emergency sleep stop-gap has become the way we live. Our big, mobile boy still sleeps cuddled up with us and I don’t know now if it’s because he needs to or because I’d miss him too much if he didn’t. Because this story isn’t called The Greatest Miracle On Earth, I can’t say that bedsharing solved all our sleep issues. Being breastfed and refusing pacifiers, my son was (and still sometimes is) up several times a night to eat or be comforted. When he’s teething or sick or jet lagged or growing or learning new skills, he can be up every 45 minutes and I go a bit nuts. Because he doesn’t sleep well without me, my bedtime is his bedtime and I haven’t been out past 7pm (without him) since he was born. There are times when parenting our son this way can be overwhelming and exhausting and relentless, and I question why I’ve done this to myself. I fear that by choosing to follow my son’s lead, I really have created a spoiled little monster who expects to be held and coddled all the time.

And then, I look down at the little baby in my arms or tucked into my side, my months-old little baby who just needs his mommy, and I wonder why I think he shouldn’t.IMG_0790

IMG_2083

 

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

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Motherhood

Sam Knight

I started reading Harry Potter as a 26 year old woman with two children. I know, I was incredibly late to the party, but I had always assumed it just wasn’t my type. I’ve never really been one for Fantasy and most of the books I read are historical fiction or biographies. I never really stray too far from those two categories. Or at least I didn’t use to.

My nephew, Kail, is an amazing 11 year old reader. It makes me so happy to see him being excited about reading because I was the same way as a kid. I love being able to connect over a love of books with anyone, but it’s somehow exciting with this kid. I’ve gotten him on to some of my favorite books that I enjoyed when I was his age, but never in a million years did I think he would introduce me to a series that I would love with every ounce of my being. I get that it sounds weird to talk so passionately about books. Really, I do. Especially books that would technically be labeled children’s stories. But, I’ve come to realize that the people who find it weird haven’t read Harry Potter.

Kail started reading the series in September as part of his Advanced Reading for school. They were worth a lot of points so he decided that, being the overachiever that he is, he was going to read all of the books and have the top Advanced Reading score for his class. Every time I saw or spoke to him, I would ask how the books were coming along. He was finishing them left and right and anytime we would talk about it he just seemed to light up. Come Halloween he decided to be Harry himself. We spoke a little while I did his scar makeup and it just seemed so cute that he was so into it.

Now, November 2015 was not kind to me. I had developed a serious case of Post-Partum Depression and this is the point where I was at my worst. My then 5 year old was in school and it was just me and the new baby a majority of the day (and night). It was a weird feeling that I never experienced so strongly when my daughter was a baby. I felt like a shell of myself. Samantha was no longer. There was just Robot Mom who woke up every morning after an extremely long night of broken sleep then had to somehow manage to keep two separate people alive. Everything in between waking and going to sleep was the same. Over and over. Every single day. Wash-Rinse-Repeat. The monotony of my life was completely agonizing. I would cry any moment I got to myself. I felt guilty, because I wanted this second baby more than anything. How dare I be bored?!? I spent a lot of time feeling incredibly lonely. None of my close friends knew what I was going through and I didn’t want to seem ungrateful, so I kept them at a distance. I felt like I should have been more in love with life now than ever. I had two perfectly amazing little mini-me’s and they loved me. What was there so sad about?

To top things off, my husband and I were going through a weird patch that I think a lot of couples go through when a new tiny person joins the household. We didn’t have REAL things to talk about. Nothing exciting happened to me today. He woke up, I fed him. He pooped, I changed him. He cried, so I held him. It was exactly the same as yesterday, obviously. I would get jealous that my husband had stories of what had happened at work. It made me crazy that my mind was 100% in mother mode. I wasn’t a person anymore. Just Robot Mom.

Kail and I were hanging out one day when he told me that they were opening a Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Universal Studios Hollywood. He was “stoked” and was rattling off names of places that they were going to have in the park, and then told me that I needed to read the books already so that we could go together. I figured it couldn’t hurt to try to read the first one. Of course, if I hated it, I could always cheat and watch the movies. My mom had given me the first book as a gift when I was in Jr. High, but I could never get into it. I had very low expectations for myself actually finishing Sorcerer’s Stone.

The thing about Harry Potter is that it is SO well written that you actually feel like you are a part of it. You are IN the story. These characters are your friends, your enemies, your teachers and families. I read the first book in about two days. Any time I was bored because the baby was sleeping, I would read. When we were sitting around waiting for my daughter to get out of school, I would read. Every late night when I couldn’t sleep because the baby only wanted to sleep on me, he would sleep on me while I read.

These stories came to me in a time when I most needed it. Robot Mom hardly thought, let alone felt real human emotions. Then suddenly, it was like I had these friends and these people that I cared about. I was happy when Harry played Quidditch. I was furious when Ron started dating Lavender. I fell in love with Dobby. I ugly cried on way more than a few occasions. I felt this odd similarity between my depression and the Dementors. They literally take all of your happiness away. You feel like you’ll never be happy again. Harry beat them. So could I.

Most importantly, I oddly started feeling more like myself again. I didn’t feel resentful toward my husband for getting to be around grown up people at work all day. I didn’t dread the nights when my baby wanted to party instead of sleep. I didn’t feel like nothing was happening to me anymore. I finished the complete Harry Potter series in one month. I was so sad when it was over, but it was still a wonderful change to actually FEEL something.

To say that it helped me is a huge understatement. It brought me back to life. I stopped crying every time I was alone. I no longer felt like a shell of myself. And in some ways I feel like it helped me to become a better mom in that I was able to fully enjoy my children again. It brought back from my lowest point and for that I will always speak passionately (and obsessively) about my love for these “books”. Harry Potter saved me from Post-Partum Depression because obviously, “Help will always be given at Hogwarts to those who ask for it.”

imageSamantha Knight is a freelance make-up artist, wife, and mother of two. She is passionate about art, politics, and cats.  Her latest struggle is deciding which career path to pursue once her days of being a stay at home mother come to an end. She enjoys music, theme parks (it’s an obsession), and being that person who quotes every line from every movie therefore ruining the movie for everyone else. She can be reached at SHKnight920@gmail.com

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.

IMG_2083

 

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