Good Mother

Though I am absolutely certain that I do not want to have any more children, there are babies in my life again. A couple of our friends are expecting or recently welcomed newborns so I am back in the baby state of mind. Of course I squeal when I see their little peanut bodies and they look up at me with their moon-shaped faces; my body has a 20% desire to have one but my mind says “no.” There are several reasons for this resolution, ranging from wanting to figure out my career to just being so exhausted some days from raising two extroverted children that the fact that I never have to give birth, sleep train or nurse again is what gets me through the day. Also, the four of us fit perfectly across an airplane aisle. For two people who love to travel I feel like that’s a sign from the universe that the number of family members in our little group is complete. The Smiths are complete.

All this baby talk, excitement to meet my friends’ kids and shopping for baby clothes has me reflecting on when I started out as a new mother. Luckily I had two tries at this thing called motherhood and if I can say so myself, I’m owning it with T. From the beginning I was prepared for T, from having my hospital suitcase packed a month in advance to reading the books and actually following through with the sleep training, I am confident in my role in his life. I truly believe that because of this relative calm and security, T’s nature has maintained the sweet and jubilant facets that he was born with. Let’s just say that he has always been easy. C on the other hand, the poor kid, got the “scared” mommy version; he started his life with someone who second-guessed many things and was just petrified of not being perfect. For what it’s worth, I feel like since the age of two or so I’ve made up for it with him. From the beginning, nothing has ever been easy with C but he is truly one of the most interesting people I know. His lust for life inspires me. His kindness astounds me. In spite of any struggles I had with adjusting to motherhood, C turned out to be a bright, beautiful and wonderful kid.  Seeing his trajectory made me just calm the eff down with T. Calming the eff down makes the experience of being a mother infinitely better, trust, for everyone involved.

Related to the discussion of what it’s like to be a new mother, I liken it to baptism by fire. There is a reason that people shower you with gifts and adoration beforehand: you are not ready and will never be ready for how your life is going to change. I recently read a beautiful piece by Bryce Dallas Howard on GOOP, found here and she likened her experience with postpartum depression to a sense of heaviness. It really spoke to me, not only because she honestly articulates its impact on her identity and family, but also because I too felt this heaviness that I would not measure up to being a “good” mother. I did not have postpartum depression but let’s just say that all of us mothers walk that line. I felt paralyzed that I could not provide what C needed, from breast feeding and ensuring that he received enough sustanance to how to hold him properly. I was scared shitless and as a result I withdrew. It’s a pretty shitty feeling to withdraw from your baby, especially when I have never loved someone as much as I love him.

To be honest, with those difficult lessons what saved me was work. Because I returned to my role as a graduate assistant four months after his birth I was forced to function. My mind was not nearly as clear or as sharp till C was a little over a year, but yes, all of those theories and theorists allowed me to claw my way out. That is why I have such a high regard for work. When I reflect on it now I realize the importance of surrounding yourself with supportive people. My husband knew that I was struggling but he never judged and just quietly took on a more active role. My mother and Aunt W constantly reassured me and said that they could see all of my efforts reflected in how C was growing and thriving. But life is not like that wholesome family drama where everyone in your corner should be there and of course I also interacted with individuals who probably made my recovery a little bit harder.

T was born on a sunny August morning and he was right on time. He joined a family and the existing three individuals of this unit were so happy to meet him. He just fit. A few months before he was born I sold all of C’s 0-6 months clothes. I sold every article of clothing that reminded me of that difficult period of adjustment and the gifts from individuals who only added to the worries. Is that petty? I’m not sure but that was my way of letting go. I hope that any new mothers who are struggling with the baby blues lean into their support networks. Thank you to those giving the understanding love to these mothers without judgement. Even in times of weakness they are not weak. Ladies, do what you need to do, and above all, you’ve got this.

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