As a brand new mom, I struggled with a lot. Besides the obvious physical recovery, caring for a newborn, and a severe form of exhaustion I'd never felt before, most of what I dealt with wasn't visible on the surface. My postpartum depression (PPD) was like planting a tiny seed that would only grow and grow until I no longer had control over my thoughts or feelings. Being a parent is hard enough but these new mom feelings I was ashamed to admit I had, contributed to a longer healing process (both externally and internally).
Before I had my daughter, I wasn't exactly in the place to mother anyone. You can't anticipate when you'll fall in love though, so naturally, I met my (now) husband at a crucial time; a time I should've been trying to figure out myself and not falling into another relationship. Alas, we did fall in love and I did get pregnant and after the initial shock wore off, we were elated.
Fast forward past pregnancy, labor, and delivery to those early days spent home alone with my new baby. It was official: I was a mother now and had no idea what I was doing. On TV, and in movies, characters don't always accurately portray motherhood as it first happens. We get the highlight reel instead — the parts that don't make us uncomfortable. When I think back on those days, when I had difficulty bonding with this baby I couldn't wait to meet, I was so ashamed with my feelings to the point that I didn't tell anyone. I thought I was a bad mother and that she deserved better than me. Mostly, I was terrified we'd never find our way. Part of this was the postpartum life fogging my reality, but the other part was simply the responsibility of taking on this huge role I'd never had before. It's a lot of pressure.
Years later, after having a second baby with slightly similar emotions, I realize the stigmas attached to how a new mother is supposed to feel and the reality that is what so many new moms actually feel. The retrospect I've gained taught me how powerful a role hormones play after birth coupled with fatigue and insecurity of doing anything wrong. There's no shame in any of it. Here are some things I was too horrified to admit to anyone — even my husband — because I thought something was wrong. The reality of the situation, however? I was totally and completely normal. f you can relate to the below, you sure as hell are, too.
One of the hardest things to admit to myself was when my baby cried and needed me throughout those first weeks, and my first instinctual feeling was regret. I regretted having a baby. That thought alone would circle back to being ashamed (reminding me I couldn't tell anyone) and back around again to the regret.
My life had changed so drastically, it took me awhile to come to grips with all the sacrifices I'd have to make for this little person. It sounds so selfish, I know, but I need you to know that in feeling some form of regret — when you're sobbing through those midnight feedings — can signal something bigger you need help for (like PPD), they're also natural. Your life has been taken over. Naturally, if stressed, those feelings might reflect directly onto the one who changed it all.
When you have a baby, all this guilt begins to rack up from (seemingly) out of nowhere. You'll feel guilty about not being enough, for feeling anything other than what you think you're supposed to feel. Even now, as my kids are 5 and 10, I feel guilty about nearly every choice I make. I've come to understand it's just part of being a parent. We're not perfect, we can only do what we think is best, and we can only hope everything turns out OK.
Am I supposed to get my baby every time she cries or let her cry it out? Am I to breastfeed or go to the bottle? What about sleeping? Should she co-sleep or be on her own?
I wasn't automatically a pro just because I gave birth, but it felt like I should've known what to do. Some instincts didn't kick in and I feared doing something wrong or messing up. The truth is, I did mess up. A lot. In fact, I still do. We're all uncertain in how to provide for our babies when we're first-time mothers. The only way to learn is through experience.
At times, I felt angry but didn't always know why. Being home with a new baby every day (and night) was taxing. There's literally no way to prepare for the kind of exhaustion your mind and body go through and, for me, it sometimes translated into feelings of anger and resentment.
I never acted out on these feelings, other than the slamming of a cabinet or arguing with my partner over a non-issue (still not OK), but feeling so angry only made mothering that much harder. Once my hormones settled a bit, so did the rage but my reactions, while not always called for, were valid.
I didn't bond with my baby right away. Back then, I was so ashamed my feelings for her weren't as strong as I wanted them to be, it often led to my detachment. As in, I'd hand her over when my partner got home from work and check out because, by that point, I didn't feel good enough for the job. Fear of never bonding loomed and, for a long time, I wondered if she felt the same about me.
Turns out, not all mothers have an instant bond and, factually, it's normal, too. Actually, most bonding isn't immediate and happens instead, over time. Remember that.
Who didn't I envy at the time? I envied my partner for leaving for work. Friends for living fun, single, child-free lives. My family for living so far away where they didn't have to insinuate themselves into my new life with a new baby. The woman walking her dog past our house every day. Everyone.
With all the responsibility of being a new parent, I missed the feelings of freedom.
From the moment I brought my daughter home, I was afraid. I wasn't sure I could do it and be an actual mother. I wanted the best life for her and still, with all the other feelings I struggled with, I feared I wasn't the one to give her that life. I didn't want to do anything that messed her up or caused any pain. The scariest feeling in the world is realizing you're in charge of another human life, there are no do-overs, and you have the potential to change everything for better or worse. The fear alone would keep me up at night. I know now, this is also a normal part of motherhood because all these years later, I still feel the same.
Being a new mother means not knowing what is, and isn't, a normal way to think or feel. Every woman is different with a different set of hormones, histories, and lens in which we use to guide us. At the core of it all, we want to succeed and whatever it is you're feeling in those early days, try to remember they pass quickly. Whatever it is you're feeling, you are normal.