When the nurse handed him to me, I had "the moment." I didn't expect it, really, because I was not one of those women who have an earth-goddess pregnancy experience. My pregnancy wasn't particularly challenging, but I did have significant food aversions, a habit of gagging every time I brushed my teeth, and exhaustion that kept me from really getting the idea I was growing a baby until towards the end of my pregnancy. But when she handed him to me for the first time, my heart tuned into motherhood. It all just clicked. He was my baby. Other babies might be slobbery, needy, and kind of boring. But not this guy. This guy was the cutest baby in the world.
It was in the weeks that followed that I began to realize I was falling so in love with mothering that I was losing myself. To a certain extent, I think this is inevitable. When people say the first three months of a new baby's life are the fourth trimester, they aren't kidding. This little guy needed me just as much as he ever had, and I was happy to be there.
But over time, the exhaustion begins to build, and with it, anxiety. Anxiety over little things.
I don't know why more women aren't honest about how difficult the transition to motherhood is. Maybe it's because we're afraid we will sound like we don't love mothering. But in my experience, that's not the case at all. It's the opposite, really. Maybe we love mothering so much that we forget our own autonomy.
I don't think I realized how hard things were getting until I woke up in the middle of the night to my son crying and felt like I was struggling to breathe. My physical exhaustion was beginning to manifest itself in anxiety episodes.
Or when family members asked me what I wanted for Christmas, and I was a little caught off guard to realize... I have no idea.
Or when Matt asked me what he can do to help me feel like myself again, and I thought... I don't even know what that would look like.
People are always telling you, "Enjoy your baby. It goes so fast." I know why they say this, because it does go so fast. But what if you already know how fast it goes? What if you've planted your heels firmly in the ground in resistance against time passing, and in the meantime, you've left no margin in your life?
The challenge of mothering, I'm realizing, is the blending of the self with another-- the perpetual need to decide when to untangle and when to twist tighter. From the moment pregnancy begins, as a mother, you share your identity with your child. And thus begins the most beautiful, difficult, and rewarding role of your life.
Since becoming a mother, I have found a respect for my body, my heart, and my intuition I never before knew. It has already been the most empowering experience of my life. I often find myself more outspoken now.
But since becoming a mother, I have also struggled in new ways. I'm convinced I had bouts with postpartum depression and anxiety, though I didn't go to my midwife for a diagnosis like I should have. I have come to realize the loneliness of the second and third and fourth middle-of-the-night feedings-- the wish your baby would hurry up and go back to sleep and the then subsequent guilt you aren't enjoying these moments enough. The breaking point between physical exhaustion and the ever-deepening love you feel for your baby. And that moment you're standing in the card aisle at Target and suddenly can't remember where you are or what you're doing-- that moment you realize that maybe you shouldn't have driven because despite your resolve to get out of the house that day, your body is weak.
When I've talked to other mothers, they have almost all said they experienced the same things. Why are we so afraid to talk about it publicly? I had none of these types of questions about the birth experience, because that is a pain we're all comfortable sharing. :) Why do we hesitate to admit that the process of working with our baby to provide a safe, beautiful entrance into the world only starts with birth? That the pains turn from physical to emotional ones after your child is born, but still require just as much focus, surrender, and strength? That at the end of our labor are beautiful moments to be found again and again after subsequent periods of contractions? And that maybe we will never stop dealing with those aches, but we learn to handle them better?
A few weeks ago, after talking with Matt, I decided to start being more intentional about finding time for myself again. Already, I feel so much better.
Mamas, and especially new mamas, I want to encourage you. You're not alone, even though you may feel lonely. I know you already realize that what you are doing on a daily basis matters for your kid(s) and your family. But here's something else-- what you're doing on a daily basis matters for you. So take care of yourself. Whether it's dance classes, writing time, learning to paint, or going on a walk by yourself once a week. Never forget that your role as a mother is incredibly important. But even more than that, never forget that you are incredibly important. Just because you're God's. And if under the t-shirt and leggings you've worn seventeen times in a row without a wash you can no longer sense that deeper person God has created you to be, you may need to reevaluate a way to pour back into your own heart. Because you are worth that, and a better you makes a better mother.
You are strong, new mamas. You are strong. Keep keeping on.