Hey bitchesssssss. Been a minute. I’d apologize, but I am sick of doing that all the time. Feels like that’s all I do; at work, at home, in life. I’ve been active on IG (please go follow me there!) and I got sucked into a black hole of work this summer. So, here I am writing this *again* overdue post, and you’re getting it now because that’s when you’re getting it.
I’ve been thinking a lot, reading a lot (and by reading I mean audio books because who in God’s name has time to actually read? Shout out if you do, teach me your ways), and listening to podcasts a lot dealing with expectations. And how they can be a real mind fuck. Also, decided to stop apologizing for swearing. I am a mom that swears. That is me and I am her. I try to use them in my writing when they provide the most oomph, but also there will be one thrown around here and there for good measure from time to time as well.
There are a lot of amazing pieces of media out there talking about expectations of women, mothers, working mothers, stay at home moms, and the like, so I don’t pretend that this is a completely unique perspective. Instead I am adding my voice to the chorus of moms out there saying we simply have too much expected of us, and (often) too much expected of ourselves. I have a love-hate relationship with social media as many do. Sometimes it makes you feel like trash. I follow a few accounts, prob should stop, where every photo is art directed. It looks beautiful, but I’m like…did I brush my hair this morning? But, I also have found a bunch of accounts in the last several months of those struggling with fertility and moms who talk that real shit. And I am always so grateful for the honesty and vulnerability. It inspires me to do the same.
I think a lot of moms can relate to the idea of having Great Expectations about motherhood, regardless of how their mother title came to be: planned/unplanned, surprise/science, birth/adoption/surrogacy/foster. There are countless ways to earn the title of mother, and I use the term earn intentionally. A picture is painted by society and the media of this beautiful, joyous, glowing, maybe a little exhausting new motherhood phase. Then we paint our own picture based on those images filled with cuddles, and pain-free nursing, a doting partner, and staring lovingly at our silent, sleeping bundle of joy. We picture how calm, and level-headed we will be, how we will definitely not over react about a diaper rash and how we will definitely make all of our own organic, steamed baby food. That even though we know we will be tired, our partner will help, and we will be surrounded by family and friends to help us through.
And then reality hits.
Coming from someone with a pretty ample “village” I am struck by the extreme isolation and loneliness I felt in the first several months of motherhood. Having a preemie, we were given pretty explicit instructions from our NICU not to have any visitors-AT ALL-for the first 12 weeks. TWELVE WEEKS. Now, anyone who knows me in real life, knows I am a rule follower. And when the nurse points to the baby in the NICU who had to come back in after getting meningitis from a visitor their parents had over, it drills into your mind even more so that this rule, like the Wu Tang Clan, ain’t nuthin to fuck wit. That being said, I also knew I couldn’t actually function for 12 weeks alone, at home with the baby. So, we did have limited visitors. But I basically didn’t leave the house for anything besides doctor’s appointments and lactation consultants. I took a few short walks carefully scheduled in between my 3 part feeds (nurse, bottle, pump). There were no cute mommy and me classes or dates with my other mom friends who were also on leave. It was just me and the little guy, all day every day. My husband technically got 2 weeks of paternity leave (HOW GENEROUS *eye roll* don’t get me started on family leave policies…) but we spent two weeks in the hospital and NICU since my water broke 6 weeks early 3 states away from home. Luckily, his boss did allow him some flexibility so he could be home with me for a few days once we actually made it back. But after that it was just the two of us.
Even though those days played out in TIGHT 3-hour intervals, they also crawled by in some ways. They were a complete blur; some hours were all heart eyes emojis some hours were mild hysteria. Many amazing adorable moments mixed with many dark, painful ones. Literally painful. My nips will never recover from that goddamn pump. #sorryanyonewhoeverhastoseethemfromnowon
Expectations can be a real bitch. I’m “reading” a new book, recommended by my friend Ali Feller from Ali on the Run aka the podcast I was on a while back (episode 141).
I highly reocmmend the entire Mother Mondays series, as I’ve mentioned before. Episode 155 featured Dr. Molly Millwood who is a Clinical Psychologist and author of Motherhood, Marriage and the Modern Dilemma. From her episode I knew this was my next Audible credit, and even though I am only 5 chapters in, it has not disappointed.
Moms in any stage, hear this: If you want to feel validated to the point of tears and maybe swerving off the road, I highly recommend you listen to this while driving. Or in any other less dangerous form. Ali talked about her wrist hurting from highlighting so much. I wish there was an easy way for me to take notes while listening to it, because there are so many good points! While I have been pretty open about seeking therapy and support for what I decided was postpartum depression but what my therapist actually diagnosed as PTSD with some PPD symptoms, it felt reassuring in a way to hear how so many mothers without such diagnoses also feel many of the same feelings, namely: shame, guilt, inadequacy, failure.
And then it pissed me off that so many moms feel these things. And, I suppose, that’s why Molly (we’re on a first name basis in my head) wrote the book. She talks a lot about her own experience in motherhood and shares composite stories of her clients and I found myself nodding aggressively so many times. Her book is admittedly focused on married/committed, heterosexual relationships, so it may not be relatable to all, but so far I’ve heard so much of myself in there.
There is a heavy emphasis on expectations which was so timely since I’d been working on this post in tiny chunks for a while in the mere moments I had available outside of work and other life responsibilities. It makes so much sense that those feelings I described above, by and large, are based on expectations we have or have been ingrained in us by family, friends or society as a whole. If you think you are to enjoy every moment, and you’re not, then in comes shame and guilt. If you think everyone is managing all of the day to day tasks well, and you’re drowning, in comes failure and inadequacy.
On Point Artwork: @helenetheillustrator
The truth is I enjoy many moments. But the ones I do not enjoy. The ones that push the limits of my patience, my brain capacity, my emotional stability then result in guilt and shame because I don’t think I am allowed to feel that way. Instead of saying this moment is not awesome, but the next one might be. I dig a hole of guilt about the one I didn’t enjoy and that takes away from the ability to enjoy the enjoyable ones. I wrote that like a Willy Wonka line and I’m fine with that.
Part of my goal in writing this blog and putting all my biznass out on the internet is to be one of those who are being honest. Who are saying this is the most amazing, insane, exhausting, emotional, beautiful, draining, wild thing I have ever experienced. I knew I would be tired, I knew it would be hard, but I had literally no idea what I was in for. What changes I would go through internally. I’m not sure if anything I would have read would have prepared me, but I feel like the more stories of the realness that are out there, the more we can shift the narrative and normalize the HUGE range of emotions a new mom can and will likely feel, the better. Shame comes into play when you feel like you can’t talk about your feelings, you can’t even whisper them to a dear friend because you anticipate judgment and feel like those emotions are wrong or you are broken. I have felt broken so many times when things have been heavy and difficult even for a fleeting moment. I’ve always been open to growth, and fancy myself pretty self aware, or at least willing to reflect and be mindful of my thoughts/emotions/needs. But I’ve found reckoning this conundrum of extreme joy and gratitude with the constant sense of overwhelm and confusion to be one of the greatest struggles of my womanhood.
I would guess that a lot of moms, in any stage, will relate to at least some of what I described. My perspective is also somewhat unique given what it took to get us to the point of having an actual real life child. I still, almost daily, don’t believe it to be true. Even when he is screaming into my eyeball or trying to remove my bun from the top of my head. I look at him and often say out loud “how are you real?” There was such a long time where I thought my current state was one I would never reach that sometimes I fine it hard to believe it is actually happening. Even when I am living it.
There is a sense amongst the infertlity/TTC (trying to conceive) community that anyone who gets pregnant should just shut their trap and be grateful. And there is a LEGIT amount of truth in that. I was, and sometimes am still, that person. I am not really interested in hearing someone who batted their eyelashes at their husband and got pregnant complain about their swollen ankles either. Ok, Sally. I don’t feel bad for you. But this feeling can sometimes spill over to motherhood as well. I remember feeling so down and frustrated when coworkers or acquaintances would complain about all the activities they had to drive their kids to or similar small annoyances. What I would have given, and DID GIVE, for those annoying things to be part of my life.
But now, having made it to the “other side”…helllllllllllllo (can’t help myself but insert an Adele reference) I can see how this perspective and pressure can also be dangerous. Once you’ve dealt with infertility or loss, it is part of you. It doesn’t go away once you sustain a healthy pregnancy or give birth or become a foster parent or adopt. That journey is forever a part of you, the trauma, the fear, the longing, the hurt, the disappointment. It impacts everyone in different ways, and to different degrees, but it doesn’t just disappear because you’ve reached some finish line. People often think getting that BFP (big fat positive) is the ultimate goal in fertility battles, but for me that was just the beginning. The whole pregnancy I didn’t allow myself to connect to deeply with the baby because I knew the heartache of loss and every day/week that went by felt like both a victory and that the hurt would be so much worse if something went wrong. And for the record, I was never this person. I was never a pessimist or a worst case person. I was practical and pragmatic and a realist. But once you’ve had 5 things happen in a row, it’s hard to talk yourself out of that way of thinking. Even when everything continues to be perfectly fine.
Because I have been through so much loss and trauma related to trying to have a baby, I feel even more that I don’t have a right to have a bad day. I got what I wanted, others didn’t or havent and I did, but parenting is still hard AF. And you can be both. You can be inexplicably grateful for this adorable, legitmately miraculous human and still struggle. You can be exhausted because it is exhausting. And not for nothing, you started off exhausted from the trying and the loss and the heartache and the anxiety-ridden pregnancy.
I’ve had some conversations lately with some moms who became moms with some difficulty of various kinds, and most of us agree that we relate more to people in the infertlity community at times than we do in the “mommy” community. I think it just has to do with perspective. But, as a guest on my other favorite podcast, Big Fat Negative, said recently, kids on the playground aren’t running around with a sticker that says “I was made through science” or “my parents had a really hard time having me”. Once you get there, a lot of the trials and tribulations are the same. So those of us in the motherhood after infertility club are in this weird subgroup who feels like they are neither here nor there. The TTC people we’ve bonded with don’t want to hear our moaning about packing diaper bags, they may have a diaper bag in their basement that they’ve been waiting to use for years. And our mom friends often have no idea the trauma we still carry and wonder why we can’t let it go and move on.
It’s a weird place. I’m happy to be in this place but it’s weird. I’m working on these expectations I’ve adopted from the world and that I’ve set for myself. I’m not the parent I expected myself to be. It hasn’t come as easy to me as I, or others, expected. I’m frazzled, forgetful and foggy. I operate in a state of “behind” which is not a place I’m used to being. I love my babe with all my heart and also often think other people take better care of him or have better instincts than I do. I pretent to be SUPER CHILL about his milestones, but I do “homework” with him every night to try and make sure he is on target. I think about my surprise, emergency hospitalization leading to his birth, how I got literally 1 second to look at him before he was swept away. I didn’t have the beautiful baby on the chest moment I envisioned. I had to wait hours to see him after he was born. I think about the first 10 days of his life and how he was cared for by amazing NICU nurses and how I had no idea how to feed or change him. And how I felt the entire time that they were better at caring for him than I was. We figured it out eventually but it wasn’t pretty.
I know all too well the pain of yearning for a child and not having one. Worse yet, not knowing if you ever will. It’s a pain I can’t really explain. So if you’re reading this, and feeling this way and want to punch me in the face, that’s totally fair. But I also think setting those of us who reach the promised land up to think that after this hurdle there is no more pain, challenge, strife or tears is dangerous and unhealthy. It’s an unfair burden to hold those moms-after-infertility (and all moms to that unattainable standard. So feel free to punch me in the face TTC fam, I’ll throw my mouth guard in just in case.
Just know if/when you achieve your mom dreams somehow, and find yourself struggling, I will be here to support you and tell you you’re allowed!
Almost nothing about this whole motherhood thing has gone how I expected. And regardless of acknowledging how hard we fought to get here, I am dedicated to allowing myself the space to have all the feelings, not push them away or feel ashamed of them because they’re not how I am supposed to feel. These Great Expectations we put on ourselves are actually hot garbage. And I am here to say no matter how easy or how hard it was for you to get here, I will never tell you to enjoy every moment. Because fuck that.