By the time my first son came along, I had a lot of preconceived notions about what motherhood would feel like. Almost all of my associations with motherhood were positive ones, distilled from social media posts and pregnancy magazines. In addition to the things I expected to feel, there were the things I thought I had to feel after my baby was born. The downside to having feelings you think you're supposed to feel? When you don't feel those things, you can't help but wonder if you're doing something wrong or if you're broken or if you've made this catastrophic life mistake. It’s kind of like knowing that when the doctor hits your knee you’re supposed to have a reflex. When you don’t have that initial reflect, the problem might just be with you.
I was deeply disappointed to find that all the negative parts about me didn't wash away with the blood and guts that came out of me during my c-section surgery when my baby was delivered. I had expected to emerge from my son's birth a better version of myself. You know, a person without lists, a person who didn't feel like she was missing anything in her life, and a person who was supremely confident in all of her choices. Most of all, I expected to feel immense gratitude for having my wish for a healthy baby granted. That's what we are all supposed to feel, right? Deliriously happy and "hashtag blessed" about our baby joy? So why wasn't it happening for me?
The things I thought I was supposed to feel after my son was born were harmful to my psyche. It would have been better had I gone in with few expectations on myself, and more of an open minded attitude of "come what may." Maybe then I wouldn't have been so hard on myself. So, if you're staring labor and delivery in the face, be kind to yourself. Don't hold yourself to an unrealistic expectation of new motherhood and postpartum life, and don't assume you should automatically start to feel the following feelings:
Like My Life Was Complete
It is hard to ignore the heavily marketed notion that having a baby completes a woman and closes some empty space in the circle that is her well-rounded life. In fact, not only did I fail to ignore that narrative, I internalized it. I honestly thought that once my baby was born, I would sigh heavily in contented maternal bliss with a feeling of "this is it!"
It is hard to be immune to messages in the media that push the idea that a baby just makes everything in life better. You guys. Babies are awesome, but they do not make things "better," they make things harder. A baby opened up my heart and made my life a lot of different things, but the cool little person that that baby turned into is way more fun than the baby version he came into the world as originally.
Like I Could Cross Everything Off Of My List
I'm a crazy list-making person. Leading up to my first son's birth, I had notebooks, scrap papers, and post-its full of lists of all the things I had to do leading up to his arrival. In the days before my due date, I had actually for the first time in my life crossed everything off of my "to do" list. For some naive reason, I thought that's how things would stay — completely crossed off with nothing else to add. My thought process was something along the lines of, "My whole life must have led up to this great big feat of having a baby, and now I've done it I can relax now." Ha! Well, well, well. If only I'd known that it was just the beginning of an endless list of things I'd have to do for the next oh, I dunno, 20 years?
Like I Would Know Just What To Do
I didn't read a lot of baby books because I was told by older members of my family that I would know "just what to do," like mothering is a super power waiting to be unleashed the minute someone pulls a baby out of your body. So when my son peed on me for the third time in a row in the middle of the night and I couldn't find his cloth diaper, and he nearly rolled off the bed while I was trying to find it and then I almost broke his arm trying to put on his onesie, I felt like I'd been deceived. I had no idea what I was doing! Where was my inner mom intuition? My secret maternal superpower? I soon learned that while the desire to be a good mother is innate, the ability to mother is largely learned (through much trial and error).
Like I Was Lucky
We didn't know the gender of our baby throughout the pregnancy. But when the baby was born, my first question was not, "Is it a boy or a girl?" Instead, it was "Does the baby have all their fingers and toes?" I just wanted to know that my newborn was healthy and had all the necessary parts a baby needs to have. I knew that having a healthy baby was not something every person gets to experience, and that I was insanely lucky that mine was perfectly in tact.
While I was able to consciously realize I was lucky, I still did not feel grateful for having become a mother after my son was born. Instead, all I could focus on was the crying, the incessant diaper changes, the endless laundry, and of course, the sleep deprivation.
Like Every Day Was A Gift
I had seen other new moms basking in the glory of every new day with their baby like it was a precious gift. I heard stories of moms who would stare at their sleeping newborns waiting for them to wake up. This was not my experience. My newborn simply screamed at me and seemed to never want to sleep, so as my sleepless days and nights accumulated I sunk deeper and deeper into postpartum depression. The sky may have been blue, but to me it was too blue, the sun was too bright, and all I wanted to do was crawl back under my covers. Alone.
Nervous About Breastfeeding
People warned me about how difficult breastfeeding might be, and so I had braced myself for the cracked nipples and the possibility of a low milk supply, as promised. I went into breastfeeding feeling pretty terrified about all the possible things that could go wrong.
I was very, very lucky (and surprised) that nursing came pretty easily to me. In other words, I could have spent less energy freaking out about something that didn't actually come true in my case. It took me a while to accept that nursing was going well because I was so wedded to the idea that I was supposed to be having a hard time with it.
I had heard that postpartum hormones can make a mama go cray, and had expected to break out in hysterics at the mere whiff of my baby's sweet-smelling head.
Oh, I cried hysterically alright, but my tears or feelings of despair did not feel irrational or purely hormone-driven or something I could laugh away as simply "mommy feelings." Everything felt very real at the time, and very serious. Since I knew I was only supposed to feel mildly crazy, and instead I was feeling like I was going out of my mind, when my doctor asked me at a checkup about how I was "feeling" I was able to answer her honestly without trying to whitewash the situation.