There are a lot of blog posts out there that begin just like I’ve titled this one. “Dear new mom, there are things you need to know…” About sleepless nights, crazy hormones, raging appetites, how it’s okay to cry even when nothing’s wrong and how it’s okay to not know what you’re doing. The letters are quite possibly overdone, but I still tip my hat to those who aren’t afraid to drop yet another article with that title into cyberspace. There’s something about those words that catch our eye, and we young moms immediately gravitate towards them; craving to find experiences that match ours, to give substance to the things we struggle with, and to know that someone somewhere gets it and is giving us permission to own the huge things that we’re feeling.
Confession: I’ve struggled to enjoy the postpartum days + months. After the birth of our first daughter especially, I found myself swaddled in darkness for several months, scrambling to find a little bit of something familiar and safe. There is an unwritten standard about the feelings a new mother should or shouldn’t have, and there’s an unmerited, unspoken guilt when her new baby doesn’t always make her croon or when she is hanging out on the borders of postpartum blues, or God-forbid, the unlawful depression .
Here is where it gets confusing because we start throwing in all the disclaimers and buts. We think newborns are the sweetest, softest, best-smellingest things, and can hardly get enough of the rise and fall of her chest or the scent of her pure breath. Discouragement and emptiness are hard things for us as fresh mothers to acknowledge and understand, because they come hand-in-hand with an alive, fairly-bursting happiness that we’ve never felt before, and it doesn’t make sense why so many ranging, raging feelings coexist.
This is not a post that defines depression, lists five steps to restoring joy, or begs for a sympathetic pat on the back. I feel like I’m not defined by these shadows anymore, and I love feeling the sun on my back again, but I know my heart’s health is maintained through this telling: the acknowledging of need and failure, and how I sometimes strain on tiptoes to reach, and still can’t. This is a post about grace and one of the things its whispered to me.
Whether you know it or not, you’ve set an invisible bar for yourself: a certain level of performance, achievement, and knowledge that you have to obtain in order to prove that you’re a good mother. Anyone who knows me well, knows that I’m from a big, (mostly) happy family, and that I’m the eldest. Of ten children. I didn’t always love that fact, but now I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world, and am so rich to have the gift of a close, fun, quirky family who loves fiercely. I’m a huge fan of children, and if someone were to ask me what a dream snapshot of my future looks like, I would probably paint in words the picture that immediately comes into focus when I think of my family: all of us around the table, plates scraped clean, leftover food growing cold, the siblings laughing and talking all over top of each other, mama listening with the occasional chuckle, daddy reclined in his chair at the head of the table, arms crossed over his head. I’ve always loved babies, and there was nothing but sheer delight when we discovered we were going to have one of our own. Throughout the pregnancy, I heard dozens of comments like, “Oh, you’ll have it easy since you’ve been around kids all your life,” and “You’ve always been good with babies,” and “You already know how to do everything!” While I certainly didn’t feel underprepared, it took me several months into motherhood to realise that I had been silently setting a level of achievement for myself based on my experience and what everyone else was expecting from me. I felt like I was somehow messing up if I didn’t know how to do something or if I felt lost in my role, and was wearing myself out by trying to live up to my own expectations.
Leave your reputation and the standard you’ve set for yourself in God’s hands. Once I realised that my baby was a unique entity, that no previous experience or exposure could fully prepare me for this baby, I was able to look at motherhood itself with a much broader vision and began to own it instead of feeling insecure about my capability. While feeling at home with drippy poo or complicated onesie snaps certainly helps, there is nothing that can prepare you for the way that your child will or will not sleep or the things that will help your baby’s stomachache. And while you can think upon and replay in your mind the way your parents or a respected friend would respond in a discipline case, your child was created to drain you of all your own pat answers and make you holy: holiness is no cookie-cutter situation.
This is the first of a few posts, I think, this delving into the new-mama drama; sifting through it and trying to find answers and normality for the things we moms find uncomfortable to talk about. For me, this was the first tiny stepping-stone out of the darkness, the recognition of a standard already set for me and my subconscious striving to attain to it. I’d love to hear from you: can you relate to this or other aspects of postpartum discouragement that you’d love to see talked about more?