“The moment a child is born, the mother is also born. She never existed before. The woman existed, but the mother, never. A mother is something absolutely new.”
Veronica, my oldest, turns eight this March.
Recently a few friends and I were texting about those first months of motherhood. It doesn’t seem so hard now – 20/20 vision and all – but at the time we often felt overwhelmed and leaned on each other for support.
We were strangers who met in a room at Northwestern Memorial Hospital when our littles were a few weeks old. Weekly, and then often daily, we talked and listened, laughed and cried.
We became friends and in doing so, created a community of women becoming mothers.
Our conversation reminded me of a piece I wrote almost eight years ago. I’m glad I wrote about my emotions because like a lot of memories, mine are rose-colored. When I re-read it, I remembered the struggles that were mixed in with the mostly precious, albeit intense, times I was having with my new family. (By the way, I did have a touch of post-pardum depression).
I submitted my writing to a few magazines in hopes of a published piece, but I was rejected. I placed my work on a flash drive and stuck it in my desk drawer.
I dug it up to share with you. My oldest was a couple months old at the time.
Here’s what I wrote in the spring of 2007.
It’s a Tuesday, in any town USA. You’ve walked, and strolled, and shuffled the sidewalks of your neighborhood for 45 minutes. You’re circling the six-block radius for the seventh time, watching your newborn like a neurotic hawk, primed for the faintest peep. She’s tucked in a fleece blanket, asleep … finally. A grande latte in your free hand, you push the stroller, around and around and around again.
Your angel grunts. You smile at her precious face, but inside you anxiously cry. Is she going to wake? Dear God, no. She just went down. Please, no. Please keep sleeping. Please, please, please.
You want to cry – sleep deprivation is cruel and unusual punishment – but manage to squeeze away the endless waterfall and breathe deeply. One, one thousand, two, one thousand, three, one thousand. Just breathe.
Once home, the day fades into the late afternoon. You’ve met your daily quota of Ellen and it’s five o’clock somewhere so you pour yourself a Guinness. You start to stare at the ticking clock, longing for a break.
Six o’clock hits.
At six o’clock your husband returns from work. Home from a day of imagined “freedom,” he innocently asks what’s for dinner. You’re thinking, Puke, poppy diapers. Oh and crying, crying, crying. A pinch of wash, wash and more wash.
Loneliness and helplessness overtake you and you burst into sobs.
You release a muffled wail as your husband embraces your hunched shoulders. Your love for her is beyond imagination, but you’re fried. How is it possible to be so flipping tired?
You’re head over heels in love, but simultaneously bored and obsessed with the cycle of feed, diaper, sleep, diaper, feed and repeat. Your breasts have become her all-night Vegas buffet commanding your attention every two hours.
The immediate fragility, intensity, and responsibility of motherhood are overwhelming.
Media images of smiling, bright-eyed new mothers are seared into your fragile head. Now your real life has begun you’re taught to think.
But your expectations of motherhood do not match your diaper-duty reality. You’re listless, longing for alone time and social interaction, but the life you’ve known is a far cry from the life you lead. Your best friend is your breast pump; your bar is your bed and maybe a cup of Sleepy Time tea. You feel isolated at a time when you’re screaming for closeness.
There is no balance when your new love takes up your entire day in one shape or form. You don’t shower daily. Eating is inhaling a store-bought smoothie and two handfuls of Cheetos. Balance, what’s that?
With an open embrace, let me say “Welcome to the wonderfully scary world of new motherhood.” This experience is so universal, veteran mommies laugh nostalgically and new mommies cry simultaneously. You are in the eye of the storm. You will survive the wreckage, you will regain balance.
Sure, you can pour over Baby 411 until you’ve wrapped your exhausted mind into a tangled mess. But stop the madness and find a friend. Who better to understand your pressing concerns than other new moms?
The answer to your whoas is simple: It’s time to swap stories. Talk to other new moms. Moms up to their ringing ears in poop and spit up – just like you. Moms in the trenches equally wrapped up with feedings and sleep.
A compassionate, combat-minded mom or group of moms is the optimal sounding board to answer your burning questions – Is it normal my daughter poops five times a day? – and hold your hand through the tunnel of parenting.
“When women can share the truth about what they are going through and work through the difficult times with friends and even a professional to help keep the conversations in a forward motion, moms can come out the other end successfully,” says Gretchen Reid, founder of Motherhood Transitions and mom of two in Golden, Colorado.
Yet you’re feeling it’s doubtful anyone will want to ask you to join their group.
You look like a wreck. You have a demanding newborn – your eyes are two slits open with the assistance a continuous caffeine drip. With your bad breath, rat’s nest hair, swollen, leaky breasts, mom uniform and no makeup, it’s doubtful you’ll get more than a pitied, “I’ve been there” gaze at Target.
When you can barely muster a shower where do you uncover these like-minded mommies? You’ve read about mom’s groups or park mommies who share a 4 p.m. glass of Chardonnay. They are out there, but where?
For many, joining a mom’s group is the solution. It forces you out house arrest and a group outing gives you an excuse to shower and turn on the dusty hairdryer. You can swap your scruffy slippers for sneakers and your velour track suit for designer jeans and a flattering, yet tummy concealing, shirt.
When I was a new mom, a friend of mine mentioned the benefits of the Transitions to Motherhood, a six-week series at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago. Joining the class was a critical “new mom” decision for me.
Weekly, I met with other mommies – whose babies where born within days of mine – for an hour and a half to discuss problems, joys, and issues of motherhood. I was feed. Right in front of me, they provided fresh bagels and coffee – hallelujah! And someone held my baby. Yes, baby holders! There were volunteer women on site to tend to and soothe the newborns, thus freeing us to unleash our experiences and just be.
We talked. With the help of a facilitator and an engaging topic, boy, did we talk!
Here we are:
And the truth came out.
“You rarely hear the ugly parts – the Truth. ‘It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. I’m sleep deprived, I feel manic, I didn’t feel ‘love at first sight,’ my husband and I are stressed out and fighting all the time, I feel alone and I’m having fantasies about doing horrible things to my child,” Reid admits.
Each class is lead by national clinical leaders, focusing on different educational topics, such as how to calm a fussy baby, the impact of a newborn on marriage, the changing face of sex life and the range of powerful emotions post-partum. You are used to being in control, in charge. Throw in the obsessive fear of SIDs, the desire for a schedule and lack of sleep and you’re bound for a breakdown. Other moms open a window to breathe and admit that caring for your child – your new CEO, really – is emotionally and physically demanding.
“Finding out that you are not alone is huge,” says Lisa Shafer, clinical coordinator for Women’s Programs and Education at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago, Illinois.
Support for other new mothers was the intention of Suzie Katlin when she founded the Transitions to Motherhood class twelve years ago. “Everybody has something. It may not be your something, but they have something. Nobody gets a free pass for pregnancy, labor and post-partum motherhood. Whether it’s emotional or a difficult mother-in-law or an ambivalent husband, everybody has something. It’s really important to realize it’s not easy and be accepting of yourself and the struggle,” says Katlin.
After class, with a bounce in my step, my newly bonded group continued the heartfelt conversations at lunch. This group was a blessing. I learned that my emotions were not strange or deviant, but downright common.
“This class is a gift to moms,” says Katlin. “These women are able to ‘get real’ by eliminating magical thinking. All you really need is four walls and time.”
In this group, we opened up about the complete upheaval that is new motherhood – the groundbreaking fights with spouses, the obsession with newborns’ feeding and sleep. “Coming together to find out answers to your pertinent questions, having that one-on-one real flesh and blood opposite you, is huge,” says Shafer.
“To be with people who know how you feel because they’re going through the same thing at the same time was good for me. Moms who have a little more experience are sympathetic when you talk about the horrors, delights of having a new baby, but they usually also have that slightly condescending, ‘Oh yes, but wait until they get to this other stage” attitude,’ ” commented one of my new mom friends when I asked her about the class.
So, instead of walking alone down the same trodden path, change it up. This time phone a mom friend.