She was standing, staring listlessly at the merchandise on the children’s medicine aisle at CVS.
As I searched for Ali’s Ibuprofen, she turned to me and asked, “How do you know what to buy? I mean, there are so many options. It’s just overwhelming!”
I looked into her eyes for the first time. She looked exhausted and despairing, and was carrying an equally tired-looking baby.
“What do you need it for?”
“Teething. He was up all night last night, screaming, thrashing his arms, and absolutely miserable.”
She sighed and looked at the floor. “I’m so tired.”
I saw the look in her eyes – the one I’ve seen so many times in other first-time Moms, and the one that I owned for the first six months of Ali’s life.
Fear. Anxiety. Despair. Panic.
“Oh I’m SO sorry – that is the worst. We haven’t started teething yet, but I expect it any day now. It is not fun.”
She had already seen Ali, but she noticed Noah for the first time, sitting in my grocery cart. “Oh – how old is he?”
Her eyes lit up, obviously thrilled to find someone else in her place in life. She motioned to her baby. “He’s eight months too!! When is your baby’s birthday?”
Her excitement over our commonness made me even more aware of how alone she felt.
We kept talking, discovering that our boys were two weeks apart, discussing about the difficulties of babies, and picking out a pain reliever.
As we were walking away, she looked me in the eyes. “Thank you so much for your help.”
I hadn’t helped with the pain reliever thing that much, but I knew what she meant.
As I got in my car, my heart ached for her. I wanted to do more – I wanted to run back, give her a hug, promise that it gets easier, it gets better, and that she will get to a place where parenthood is enjoyable. There was so much more I wanted to say.
“They get to be so much fun – I promise!!”
“Just wait until the first time that he says ‘ub oo, Mommy’. Your heart will somersault!”
“We’ve all been there – anything you’re feeling right now, I bet I’ve felt it too! You’re not crazy, you’re not alone, you’re not an unfit parent.”
“It’s all a phase. Everything is a phase – both the good and the bad.”
I remember the misery that infanthood can be – something that I mercifully didn’t experience with Noah (or perhaps was more prepared for), but certainly had my share of with Ali. Infanthood is so different than you expect that it makes you feel completely isolated and inadequate.
I also remember that my saving grace through it all was the honesty and compassion of my closest friends and my Mom – both of whom were willing to boldly share their own struggles of motherhood and reassure me that they had experienced the same feelings.
Had they not been there, I would have despaired even more, thinking I was the worst mother in the world, and that I was somehow missing the Mommy gene that everyone else seemed to have received.
Because of their impact on me, and because I remember those feelings painfully well, I am determined to show the same mercy, compassion, and most importantly, honesty to every other new Mommy that I run into.
I want to be an Ambassador for Honesty About Parenthood.
No, babies and kids are not always easy – and not in a romantic, “oh this isn’t easy but it’s worth it” way – sometimes it’s so hard that it doesn’t feel worth it AT ALL and you wonder why you had kids.
Yes, you very well may panic after having a baby, wondering what you’ve done to your previously perfect life.
No, you may not feel immediately bonded and in love with your baby. They may feel like a tiny, screaming intrusion. But love will come. It will grow in your heart until you are bursting!
But most importantly? It gets better! You will enjoy your child. You will feel unsurpassed love for them. You will “feel” like a Mommy. You will get your sense of self back. You will be able to think about other things than your new baby all the time. You will be able to take a break and get away with your husband without worrying about your child the entire time.
It is worth it and you will love it!!
And also, not all Motherhood is created equally – your second baby may be a joy – mine was! You don’t have to fear that having another will sink you into the depths that your first may have done.
Or maybe you will struggle with a different phase than I did. My hardest was my first newborn, but Ali’s two’s were more terrific than I could have imagined. Your child may be hardest at two, and be a perfect newborn. Either way, you will get past your stage of misery, and you will enjoy your life – and even parenting – again.
Oh – and Mommy Guilt is a completely normal occurrence – a state of mind even. If you have a moment of motherhood that you’re not feeling guilty about something, enjoy it! And try not to let the guilt get you down.
Even if I’d seemed like a nosy freak that day in CVS, I wish I had done more. I wish I’d offered to hold her baby for a minute to let her compose herself, and then reassured her that this too, will pass. And, on a morning not too far off in the future, she will wake up thanking God for the amazing blessings of children that He’s given her – because that’s what I was able to do this morning.
There are too many books on how to parent, but not enough on how it feels to parent. If you want to be a blessing to someone today, don’t tell them how to fix their problem, just tell them that you understand where they are, and that you’ve been there too.
If you’re struggling with Mommyhood and need a friend, please email me at rachel (at) graspingforobjectivity (dot) com. I’ve been there! And it does get so much better – I promise!!