Courtesy Marie Southard Ospina

We Need To Talk About The Emotional Labor Of Being A New Mom

Ad failed to load

Your discharge instructions probably had some stuff about counting wet diapers, nursing on-demand, giving sitz baths a spin, and, generally, responding to your baby when it cries. There was likely a leaflet on the baby blues, and maybe some coupons for formula, should the whole breastfeeding thing not work out. What I don't remember seeing in my hospital goody bag was anything that could prepare me for the emotional labor of being a new mother.

A lot of moms are quick to share the harrowing details of their birthing experiences, so ahead of my induction last winter, I knew to expect the gore and the pain. Going into labor, you're focused on how you feel, how the contractions feel, how painful things are, or where it feels like the baby is positioned. On the other side of the divide, your attention switches to your baby: nurses train you on the cues to look for; your own body knows to respond to your baby's cries. There is a fundamental shift from responding to cues about your own body to being completely in tune with the cues about someone else's. Your new job is to make this baby feel safe, warm, fed, happy, and it occupies all day every day. This is the very definition of emotional labor.

Even without the emotional consequences of sleep deprivation, there's the absolute absorption of raising a child.
Ad failed to load

The first 10 months of my daughter's life have been the most difficult of my own. Even if I wasn't someone with a history of anxiety and depression, I get the feeling that this would still be true. I understand the pressure to feel like a modern-day Supermom. When I first found out I was expecting, many of my friends, co-workers, and relatives were quick to tell me that I had this. I was going to be such a cool mom. I'd slay in the office and in the nursery. I was strong. I'd be just fine. I wanted to be just fine — for them, for my baby, and for myself.

Courtesy Marie Southard Ospina

In truth, I haven't been just fine. I know a few people whose infants learned to sleep through the night by three or four months old, but my daughter Luna has never managed that feat. The thing about sleep deprivation is that it isn't just your body that grows fatigued and sore. It's your mind, too. Everything becomes more difficult to deal with, even the most mundane of tasks. Going to the grocery store, or filling the car with fuel, or taking a walk down the street, or doing some vacuuming, or catching up on emails become epic tasks.

Ad failed to load

Even without the emotional consequences of sleep deprivation, there's the absolute absorption of raising a child. A baby cannot do anything for themselves. Anything at all. They are incomparably dependent on their parents. While I don't necessarily struggle to dress my kid, or feed her, or change her diaper, or tuck her in at night, I do struggle with the reality of her unconditional need for me. It's a need that allows me little time for anything else, including time for myself.

Courtesy Marie Southard Ospina

Before becoming a mom, I took me-time for granted. Not only that, but I never considered how crucial me-time actually is for my mental health. Setting aside a couple of hours in a day, or in a week, or even in a month in which to regroup alone or with loved ones is a surefire way to stay in tune with your wants and needs. When I used to take a soak or get my hands on a new novel, I could check in with myself. I could catch my breath, setting aside my obligations for a short while. I could chill the f*ck out after a hard day.

Ad failed to load
If I want to go to the cinema, will I have enough milk pumped to leave her?

These days, however, there is rarely any chilling out. There are many hard days, and through them all, I never get to be selfish, because every decision I make has to take my daughter into consideration. If I want to go to the cinema, will I have enough milk pumped to leave her? If I want to visit a friend, do I take the time to pack all of Luna's essentials, or do I try to gather up the funds to get the sitter in? If I want to take a bath, will she settle with her dad for long enough? Even if all I want to do is take a walk through the moors, can I muster up enough energy — both physical and emotional — to get my jeans on and walk out that front door?

Courtesy Marie Southard Ospina
Ad failed to load

Often, the answer to all of these questions is no. I don't have enough time to pump. I don't have the money for a sitter. I don't have the energy for the walk. On the rare occasions that the answer is yes, I try to savor every moment. I try to relish in the deviation to my day-to-day regimen. More often than not, however, the moments fly by too quickly. Or they're interrupted by the reality that I have a baby who needs something else — usually, something only I can give her.

None of this is to say that it's not worth it. I love my daughter more than I ever dreamed I was capable of loving anything. Even so, the emotional labor of motherhood is trying. What's worse is that it often feels as though we cannot discuss just how difficult it all is for fear of seeming like questionable, if not entirely horrible, parents.

Courtesy Marie Southard Ospina
Ad failed to load

With a baby in the picture, what we often term "selfishness" often has to go — though I'd call it self-care. No one prepared me for that. No book, movie, or great aunt could've told me how difficult the abandonment of self-care, and impulse, and spontaneity would actually be.

I love my daughter, but I don't believe I can be the best mom possible unless I'm taking care of myself, too. The struggle to balance being a new parent with being a human being who has their own needs is all too real, and it's one that I find absolutely draining. The silver lining is that on the rare occasions that I do admit all of this to a fellow parent, they tend to suggest that it'll get easier with time. And perhaps they're right.

In the meantime, however, maybe I'll be more forthcoming about the inner challenges of motherhood: About the self-doubt, the anxiety, the exhaustion, and the emotional whirlwind of it all. I'm not Supermom, and I doubt I ever will be. But maybe no one is. Maybe we shouldn't expect them to be.

Ad failed to load

Maybe it's that expectation that screws us up in the first place.

Ad failed to load
Must Reads

8 Things That *Will* Go Wrong Every Time You Plan A Kid-Free Night

The last time my husband and I went out to dinner alone was… actually, I can’t remember. But I can count on one hand how many times I’ve seen a movie in a theater in the last year. Before we had children we used to go out all the time. But even with …
By Liza Wyles

These Photos Of North West Then & Now Will Take You On A Sweet Trip Down Memory Lane

When Kim Kardashian welcomed her first daughter, North West, with her husband, Kanye West, in 2013, her whole life was changed. The social media and reality TV star became a mom for the first time and her Instagram presence took a very adorable turn.…
By Casey Suglia

11 Photos You *Must* Take During The Last Days Of Your Pregnancy

During my first pregnancy, I took a photo each week to document my growing belly. I stopped around 36 weeks, though. I hated how I looked in those pictures, and didn't think I'd want to relive those moments. I was wrong. My second pregnancy was a dum…
By Steph Montgomery

This Is What It Means If Your Pregnancy Test Changes Overnight

The time between when a woman suspects she might be pregnant and when it is confirmed for sure is the longest of her life. Regardless of whether you are hoping for a positive or a negative result, the odds are good that you are sweating bullets when …
By Shannon Evans

6 Red Flags To Definitely Look Out For After Your Baby Falls

The first time my infant son tried to take a few steps, he tumbled and bumped his head on the coffee table. My blood turned to ice in my veins and I froze. There truly isn't anything quite like the feeling a parent gets when their little one gets hur…
By Sarah Bunton

These 9 Instant Pot Recipes Will Make Even The Pickiest Eater Happy At The Table

Like any parent, I've had my share of parenting hits and misses, but one of my favorite "wins" is my daughter's diverse palate. I don't even know if I can take credit for it, but I would like to think I had something to do with her love for lentils, …
By Caroline Shannon-Karasik

Turns Out, Kim Kardashian's Favorite Mom Products Look A Lot Like Your Own Faves

Being a mom is really hard work, especially for the first few months, and Kim Kardashian West is no different in that regard. Now the mother of three, Kardashian says that there are a few products she just can't live without when it comes to raising …
By Abi Berwager Schreier

Soda Might Hurt Your Fertility, Study Says, & Here's What You Can Do

Who doesn't love sugary drinks? I stopped drinking soda years ago, but I still love gulping down those fancy Starbucks coffee beverages. I don't have a big sweet tooth, but I am a sucker for sugar-sweetened beverages every now-and-then. Turns out, th…
By Annamarya Scaccia

10 Things No One Tells You About Having A Baby In Your 30s

If you're like me, you evaluate the pros and cons of any major life decision. When my husband and I were considering starting a family, I thought about my career, education, and financial stability. I wanted to know how a pregnancy and childbirth wou…
By Steph Montgomery

This Woman Thought She Had An Eyelash Stuck In Her Eye. Then It Moved.

I'm not a person who is easily icked out. As a kid, I collected bugs and thought I was going to be an entomologist and asked Santa Claus for ant farms and nets to catch bees. I'm still super curious about anything that flies and crawls, which might s…
By Karen Fratti

5 Red Flags Your Toddler Isn't Eating Enough

Toddlers are notoriously picky eaters, at least in my experience. You offer mashed potatoes, they want french fries. You give them crackers, they scream for chips. It's frustrating, to be sure, but it's usually their way of vying for independence. It…
By Candace Ganger

11 Ways Your Pregnancy Will Be Different If You Have A Boy Vs A Girl

If you've been pregnant before, you might start comparing your previous pregnancies to that of your current pregnancy. A lot of things can change from pregnancy to pregnancy, based on a whole host of different factors (including how well you remember…
By Lauren Schumacker

35 Moms Share The Most Disgusting Things Their Husbands Do

I'm a human being who revels in challenges. I like when people present me with one, especially if they don't think I can meet or succeed it, and I like taking a challenge on, especially if it's unexpected. So when I aimed to uncover the most disgusti…
By Jamie Kenney

How Having Kids In Your 20s Affects You Later In Life

For parents, like myself, who had kids in their 20s, there are a number of questions that come to mind. When you're deciding what your future will look like, you'll likely consider what this means for your health, career, and more down the line. Thin…
By Tessa Shull

12 Moms Share How They Stay Healthy During Flu Season

Unfortunately, we're in the middle of the roughest flu seasons in recent memory. And we’re not totally out of the woods, either. People around the country are still getting the flu, and, sadly, some of them are having to be hospitalized due to flu-re…
By Priscilla Blossom

8 "Mistakes" I'm Glad I Made During My First Pregnancy

As an adult, I've learned you never really stop hating being told what to do. When I was pregnant I was getting instructions at every turn, from doctors, relatives, and complete strangers on the subway. I would nod and smile but then go about making …
By Liza Wyles

Study: Drinking Two Glasses Of Wine A Day Is Good For Your Mind — Here's Why

There’s more scientific proof that a daily drink or two isn't necessarily a bad thing and could have a place in an overall healthy lifestyle. A new study out of the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) in New York found that — in mice, at le…
By Tiffany Thomas

Research Says Eating Carbs Can Lead To A Healthy Pregnancy, So Bring On The Pasta

In the world of me, no food is better than bread. I know it's supposed to be pretty terrible for you, high in calories, low in protein, and full of that modern-day demon, gluten... but guys, it's really yummy. Especially warm out of the oven, when th…
By Jen McGuire

These Photos Of Prince George Then & Now Will Give You Serious Baby Fever

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are expecting their third child in Spring 2018. With all of the excitement surrounding the new baby, it's easy to forget all of the good times that have already passed. The couple's eldest is already well into the sc…
By Azure Hall

This Is, Hands Down, The *Grossest* Thing Babies Do Inside The Womb

Your baby's life in the womb may be safe and warm, but it's also kind of grody. Seriously, the whole process of growing into a human being includes more than a few icky moments along the way. But this is the grossest thing babies do inside the womb b…
By Lindsay E. Mack