Courtesy Georgina Jones

Leaving My Newborn At Home For The First Time Proved That Mom Stigma Is Very Real

I'm surrounded by good friends, good cider, good music, and a couple of good spliffs. In about an hour, I know I'll be surrounded by more people, more drinks, and more tunes when we make our way to the club. But I'm already anxious. I'm so anxious that I can't formulate coherent sentences or move in a way that isn't clumsy and disoriented. I'm thinking about my baby. I'm thinking about leaving my baby at home for the first time. She's just under 2 months old and I have been by her side for a solid 50 days.

I know that I haven't "abandoned" my kid with someone entirely unequipped in the name of getting trashed. I know that I've made sure she has enough expressed milk to last through the night, as well as diapers, blankets, and clean clothes. I know that she's with my partner, her father: the only person who could ever possibly love her as much as I love her. I know that my breast pump is in my handbag, at-the-ready for a night of pumping and dumping.

And yet for two hours or so before we leave my friend's home, I'm on the verge of a panic attack. Every internal monologue-like pep talk I'd given myself up until this point — "You deserve a night out"; "You need this"; "You don't have to give up every facet of your life because you're a mom"; "You're not doing anything wrong,"; "The baby is safe and happy and healthy and fine"; "You have really missed drinking, dancing, and being with your friends" — is proving futile. The feeling that I'm doing something "wrong" becomes inescapable. And it's not until I've calmed down enough (with the help of some intoxication) that I can conceptualize that what I'm feeling is largely down to mom stigma; to narratives that suggest that motherhood cancels out identity; that motherhood must come with the abandonment of the self.

Courtesy Georgina Jones

Where my internalized stigma has come from, I'm not entirely sure. I had a babysitter when I was a kid, an almost full-time nanny who'd watch me whenever my parents went for a night out. Their nights out weren't infrequent, either. Even after my parents divorced, I still recall my mother making room to see friends or dates in the evenings after work from time to time. She loved getting dolled up. She loved dancing. She loved feeling alive in a way I doubt two kids and a bundle-pack of Disney princess movies can really satiate.

But women are always put into boxes, right? The conventionally pretty girl cannot also be a nerd. The goth cannot possibly like romantic comedies. The sexually liberated must not have any self-respect. The woman in the v-neck glitter bodysuit? She can't be an accountant! And the mom? Well, she's "just" a mom.

Ninety percent of the time, all the sacrifice feels worth it to me. In exchange, I'm getting to know the loveliest small human, one who'll play a crucial role in my life, and vice versa. I get to be part of helping craft her mind and soul. I get the joy of being the first person my daughter sees when she wakes up, as a tiny smile takes over her tiny face. But sacrificing elements of my life in the name of raising a child should never mean sacrificing all elements of my life.

So somewhere down the line, I internalized the belief that having a kid means giving up a whole lot of sh*t. Having a kid means always putting yourself second. Having a kid means forgoing vodka or Mary Jane or mini skirts or the crowded bar with loud music. Having a kid means not dancing until sunrise. Having a kid means utmost sacrifice.

Courtesy Georgina Jones

Although I haven't been a mother long, I can definitely understand that, in many ways, having a child undoubtedly correlates to sacrifice. You're sacrificing sleep. You're sacrificing having the energy to even want to leave the house, most of the time. You're sacrificing the ease of getting up and going, even if you did. You're sacrificing being treated as an individual — because many people will now only ever see you as "the one with the baby."

The moms who drink, the moms who partake in recreational drugs on occasion (even if not remotely at the risk of their kids), the moms who wear revealing clothes, the moms who go out on the town, the moms who leave their baby with dad, the moms who aren't content to "just be moms"? Those moms, we are usually told, are not the "good" kind.

Ninety percent of the time, all the sacrifice feels worth it to me. In exchange, I'm getting to know the loveliest small human, one who'll play a crucial role in my life, and vice versa. I get to be part of helping craft her mind and soul. I get the joy of being the first person my daughter sees when she wakes up, as a tiny smile takes over her tiny face.

But sacrificing elements of my life in the name of raising a child should never mean sacrificing all elements of my life. I've met plenty of moms whom this is true for — ones who proudly boast about giving up their friends, or their jobs, or their yoga, or their hobbies, or their nights out, or their weed, or their hot sex lives, or their love of makeup, or their book-reading, or their traveling — all in an effort to "be a better mother." And most of the time, they speak of their kids with a bitterness that's always incredibly striking and incredibly saddening.

Because I don't know for sure, I imagine these moms were very likely taught the same thing I was: that this is precisely what moms are "meant" to do. The moms who drink, the moms who partake in recreational drugs on occasion (even if not remotely at the risk of their kids), the moms who wear revealing clothes, the moms who go out on the town, the moms who leave their baby with dad, the moms who aren't content to "just be moms"? Those moms, we are usually told, are not the "good" kind.

Courtesy Georgina Jones

The trouble is, there is no recipe for motherhood. Maybe for some folks, giving up all of the other things truly is the best course of action. Maybe immersing themselves into baby-land 24/7 is rewarding in a way that few can understand. But for others, like me, eschewing personal identity can be toxic. I know that in those first 50 days of new mom-dom, I felt myself slipping away. I wasn't taking time to read. I wasn't taking time to take a bath. I wasn't taking time to see (or even talk to) friends. I wasn't taking time to just be me.

In retrospect, I probably needed those 50 days to recover. I needed them to bond with my daughter, to heal from my wounds, to perfect a breastfeeding latch that proved one of the most trying challenges of my life. But I realize now how easily it would've been to not take the first step, to allow myself to fall into a pattern of thinking, Well, this is my life now. This is my entire life.

I was nothing short of an anxious mess on that first night out. I had moments where I thought to myself, You're a horrible person. I had moments of thinking, This is not what Carol Brady would do. Until I remembered that I'm not Carol Brady, nor would I ever want to be.
Courtesy Marie Southard Ospina

I consider myself a strident feminist; a generally open-minded, progressive person. Yet I was nothing short of an anxious mess on that first night out. I had moments where I thought to myself, You're a horrible person. I had moments of thinking, This is not what Carol Brady would do. Until I remembered that I'm not Carol Brady, nor would I ever want to be. Some folks might judge how much I drank that night, how late I was up, how absolutely gone I look in every photographic remnant of the evening. But they are not the ones in charge of my life, my child, or my decisions.

Contrary to what these people may believe, I'm not "just a mom." And it's perfectly OK to do things that remind me of the simple fact that I'm a 25-year-old woman who likes to stay up all night sometimes for reasons other than cleaning baby poop.

Ultimately, my baby was perfectly taken care of that evening. And so was I.