Before having my daughter, the weight of mom guilt was unfathomable to me. The pressures on new moms are hard to understand until you experience them. But, just like throughout my childhood, Topanga Lawrence is dropping truth bombs that hit home. In a new and honest essay, actress Danielle Fishel wrote about mom guilt and infant son's and every new mom should read it.
In an essay Fishel wrote for Good Morning America, the new mom detailed her own experience with mom guilt, something she faced head-on when her son Adler Lawrence — her first child, who she shares with husband Jensen Karp — was born three months ago. She explained how she never understood how moms could feel guilty when their children “were happy, well-loved, fed and clothed.” But all that changed when her son was born.
"What was there to feel guilty about? Naively, and perhaps arrogantly, I thought, ‘I’ll never let myself have mom guilt,'" Fishel wrote. "Then I had a baby." Adler's early days were far from easy. He was born a month early and had to spend three weeks in the NICU due to fluid in his lungs, according to Us Weekly. And despite his strong health three months later, his health issues early on contributed to Fishel's feelings of guilt.
“My ‘birth plan’ included having a natural childbirth, free from any drugs, because I read it was better for the baby and ultimately better for mom, as well,” Fishel wrote. “Seventy-two hours later, due to a significant decrease in amniotic fluid, I was induced with Pitocin. My drug-free birth was out the window.”
From there, her guilty mom brain spiraled. She was asking herself questions like, "Why did my water break so early? Was it because I was on my feet working 12-plus hour days at almost 36 weeks? Was it all the spicy food I had been craving? Did I do something that will hurt my baby?" Unfortunately, the shame only escalated from there.
Adler suffered from a health condition called chylothorax, which is a “leak in the lymphatic system” that is worsened by breast milk, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information. That meant that Fishel and Karp had to put him on formula designed for his condition, according to People. And Fishel is far from the first mom to feel guilty for not being able or willing to breastfeed her child. She suffered from doubts about her ability to feed her child, as she wrote in her essay: "The guilt arrived with gusto. ‘Why is my milk hurting my child? Is my baby allergic to me? Formula is bad for him because it’s full of high fructose corn syrup. This is all my fault.'"
And then there was the shame of being a working mom. Her first day back at work kept her away from Adler for 12 hours, and that was far from easy. “As I cried over his sweet sleeping face, the guilt came back with a vengeance," she wrote. "‘Does he remember me? Does he think I abandoned him? Am I hurting my son by desiring a career outside the home? Am I selfish?’"
As Fishel's essay shows, mom guilt comes in many forms and no one is immune — not even Topanga Lawrence. In fact, research shows that pretty much all moms feel guilty for one reason or another, according to Today's Parent. “It’s there whether you’re a stay-at-home mom or work outside the house, but one there is one thing I know for certain each and every mother has in common: We are trying our absolute best 100 percent of the time,” Fishel wrote.
I couldn't have said it better myself. And increased visibility on this issue can only serve to encourage moms to reach out and open up about their feelings and needs.