My first child’s birth was filled with a riot of emotion. I was ecstatic, exhausted, and stunned. As the initial euphoria of childbirth wore off and I was home with our new daughter, other feelings started to seep into my psyche. And, honestly, some of these new-mom feelings I was afraid to talk about. They scared me, and made me question whether I could actually handle the one thing I always knew I wanted to do with my life: be a mother.
In my family, we didn’t talk about our feelings too much. I had always been expected to just “handle” my emotions. As a result, I suppressed a lot of my feelings as I grew into adulthood. I definitely was able to feel happiness and sadness, but I always felt I would be burdening people if I unloaded any of my emotions onto them. I’m sure ex-boyfriends were grateful for this, because I never made a scene when they broke up with me.
But not talking about my feelings, especially the dark ones, was not and is not healthy. I have never felt that anyone actually “understood” me, but it was my own fault. I mean, I rarely opened up to anyone enough to actually give them a chance to understand anything about me.
Have a baby, and these strange new mom feelings, taught me that I can’t continue to keep a lid on everything inside me. I need to talk, even about the stuff that I worry others will think ridiculous, because I need to not feel alone, especially as a new parent who never had to care for a helpless baby before. Here are some feelings I had as a new parent that I was too scared to talk about:
Afraid I'd Hurt My Baby
I remember standing against the wall furthest from our living room windows, cradling my newborn. Although I was more than 30 feet away from a closed, and locked, window, I was terrified that I’d somehow drop the baby out of it. We lived on the top floor of our apartment building, so it felt somehow reasonable to me that a child snug in my arms, far from harm’s way, would suddenly be catapulted through the glass. I talked to myself often when I was home alone with my daughter in the early days of my maternity leave, trying to reason with this fear and stamp it out. I was embarrassed that I was consumed by these illogical thoughts, so I never brought them up to anyone.
Worried I'd Given My Baby The Wrong Name
A roommate in college once told me how she went by a different name for the first couple of weeks of her life, and then her parents decided it was wrong for her so they changed. That’s all I could think about when I would say my daughter’s name out loud in the first few weeks of her life. I’d stare at her as I said her name; a name my husband and I had agreed on if we were having a girl and was chosen to honor my deceased grandmother. But it wasn’t rolling off my tongue when I said it as I looked at her. I started to panic. After all, her name was her identity. Had we messed up? It seemed ridiculous, since we had spent a long time thinking of and narrowing down our name list. So I didn’t want to speak up about it to my partner or plant any doubt in his mind that the name we considered for almost a full year, and that we were both so confident about giving our daughter, might be totally wrong for her.
As it turns out, I can’t imagine her going by any other name.
Uncertain About My Love For This New Person
I assumed I would instantly fall in love with my baby upon meeting her (or him, since we didn’t find out our kids’ genders before they were born). When that I didn’t happen, I freaked out. Something had to be wrong with me, right? I was an unfit mother. I wasn’t going to be able to be a parent to this tiny human. I was giving myself all sorts of guilt trips, but what I wasn’t giving myself was even a minute to reckon with this huge change in my life. I was expecting to get lovestruck but, like any meaningful relationship I had enjoyed up to that point in my life, love was born organically, when my heart, and hormones, were ready. I would have definitely benefited from talking to someone about this, instead of fearing that expressing my worry about loving my new child would have me banished from my mom group.
Anxious About Bonding With The Baby
Because my maternal love didn’t appear suddenly and obviously when my newborn was first placed on my chest, I started to get anxious that I might never bond with her. Though some moms do instantly bond with their babies, that just wasn't the case for me. I just didn’t know how to qualify the bonding. I didn’t feel consumed by love all the time with a baby in my life, but that was an impossible benchmark. I just couldn’t summon the courage in those early, sleepless, hormonally imbalanced days to ask a veteran mom — including my own — a very basic question:
How do I know I can love this baby forever?
Not Wanting To Be Touched
I held my babies a lot when they were born. I breastfed them both, too, for two years each. I was in contact with these little people practically constantly. So I just didn’t want anyone — including my partner — touching me. I couldn’t stand the feeling of one more human needing something. I wanted my space, and I felt like a terrible spouse for having those thoughts.
Doubting I Would Ever Feel Attractive Again
I didn’t know about the fourth trimester before I was in it, and I was so disappointed that I still looked pregnant for a while after giving birth. Even when I eventually got back down to my pre-pregnancy weight (very slowly), my body didn’t return to its pre-pregnancy shape and that frustrated me. I didn’t take into account how motherhood could change me, and that I should see those changes as positive badges of the parenting journey. I only saw my mushy stomach and deflated breasts and doubted I’d ever feel good about my appearance again.
Isolated From The Rest Of The World
I gave birth to my first child at the beginning of winter, so my entire maternity leave was cold and dark. Literally. I didn’t take her out much in the beginning, for fear of her catching others’ colds, plus it took forever to bundle her properly. Though I was visited by friends and family, the stream of company thinned out after the first few weeks of my maternity leave, and the lack of human adult contact started to make me feel very alone. But I was afraid to share my feelings of loneliness. I had a baby now. Wasn’t that supposed to be enough?
Confused About My Identity
My whole sense of self was thrown off balance. I could compartmentalize all these different parts of me — the writer, the spouse, the sister, the daughter, the friend, the crazy lady who washed her shower curtain once a month at the laundromat — but now I also had to be a parent, and keep another person alive while being all these other things. I felt like a box of jumbled puzzle pieces that might never come together to complete a whole picture.
Feeling Like I’d Never Be Good Enough As A Parent
As someone with a Type A personality, I’ve always struggled with control issues. I like to feel that “I got this” about everything, and motherhood is a jarring wake-up call that derails any sense of lasting control, in my experience. I would constantly compare myself to other moms to get a sense of how I was measuring up. Was my breastfeeding game on point? Did my laundry game ensure the gentlest protection of my baby’s skin and the environment? The more I compared, the less confident I felt about my parenting abilities. It took me a while to come to the conclusion that you can’t “win” at parenthood. I probably would have reached that realization sooner if I had opened up to my husband, or a friend, or even just a parenting message board, about my fears of failure.
Thinking I Had Made A Mistake
With all these troubling feelings swirling around, it was easy to fall into a pit of despair as a new mom. These worrisome thoughts dovetailed into one conclusion: we had made a mistake by having a baby. If I was this confused, and scared, and anxious about being someone’s mom, it was clearly the wrong choice, right? I felt this way for a while, and, honestly, I still have thoughts like that, even nine years later. But I’ve learned from the mistake I made when I first became a mom: I can no longer stay silent about my fears. I must talk about them. Even talking to my non-mom friends comforts me, because everyone has felt like this at one time or another; these emotions are not always brought on by having kids.
Sharing my worries has helped to deflate them. I am lucky in that none of these feelings debilitated me. I probably would have benefited from talking to a healthcare professional more about them, but at least, over time, I realized that anyone close to me could be a terrific sounding board. I was not one who struggled with postpartum depression, but I did have those dark days. I didn’t have to, though. I just needed to be honest about my feelings, and now, having recognized that, I can start teaching my kids to do the same.