We don't say it enough but, according to author Leslie Ann Bruce, You Are A F*cking Awesome Mom ("so embrace the chaos, get over the guilt, and stay true to you," goes the full title of the book of the same name). As a mother of two small children, and creator of the parenting platform Pacified, Bruce knows what she's talking about and hopes that her message to frazzled moms everywhere will cut through the clamor of screaming toddlers and roaring white noise machines. The book, which could be considered a memoir, explores all of the different ways she struggled with motherhood. Yes, her body turned on her. Yes, her relationships teetered into near extinction and yes, she dropped her baby. It's a resource Bruce hopes will find its way into the hands of moms who need to hear it ("It’s available at Target!" she points out to Romper).
What you will find in Bruce's book are stories you'll relate to on a level so deep you didn't know it existed. "It can feel pretty jarring to walk through the door of motherhood and have it close so swiftly — and so firmly — behind you," Bruce explains, hence the need for catharsis. You will laugh, you will cry, and you will find yourself asking, yet again, why didn't anyone share these things with you while you were struggling, too?
Below is an excerpt from Chapter 5 of You Are A F*cking Awesome Mom.
Lesson #5: You Are F*cking Awesome, Even If You Drop Your Baby
I dropped my six-week-old.
I cringe even now, four years later, seeing those words in black and white. I dropped my beautiful baby girl onto her crib mattress, much more carelessly than I like to admit. It happened so quickly that I can’t be certain at what point my fingers released her, but I remember it startling her enough that she began to wail. I hadn’t slept more than three hours straight since before she was born, I was roughly twenty-four hours away from embarking on a really fun new adventure called mastitis, and I believe now that I was suffering from a degree of postpartum depression.
While those three things are absolutely true, they are also excuses I’m making because I feel wildly ashamed knowing that people are going to read this. But I shouldn’t, and that’s the point. I dropped my precious Tallulah, my heart outside my body, because I was losing my mind.
I spent those early days alone in my home with a young child who rarely slept while my husband was at work. Most of my friends had already come through the revolving door for their obligatory meet-and-greet and had since returned to their lives as well. I felt as if the world kept moving forward while I was stuck in some version of mom life purgatory.
She was wide awake but momentarily calm, and that’s when it washed over me, a guilt so horrible that I don’t think it will ever leave me.
My every waking minute was devoted to my beautiful little girl, who demanded all of my attention as I tried, hopelessly, to read her mind and meet her needs while I was myself recovering from an abdominal surgery during which a small person was pulled from my body. I was teetering on the brink of insanity because I experienced sleep deprivation so severe it could’ve broken most hardened criminals—which explains why it’s often used as a form of torture.
Night after night, I spent hours trying to pacify a newborn who routinely wailed for no apparent reason.
Regardless of how little or how much she slept the night before, we woke up for the day by five a.m., but if I managed to get us out of the bedroom before eleven, that was a major cause for celebration. Looking back now, I can’t be certain where those hours went; it was as if I had fallen into some newborn time warp. We woke up, fed, burped, and changed (her, not me). I rocked her back to sleep, which took anywhere from ten minutes to an hour (if she slept at all), before gently placing her in the bassinet, silently willing her to stay asleep during the transition. It was like handling a live grenade: slowly, cautiously, and with extreme precision.
If her eyes stayed shut (which they rarely did), I then needed to decide: Do I pump or shower? Shower or pee? Should I pee or eat? What order should I do them in? She would either sleep for fifteen minutes or fifty, so it was a complete coin toss. I could feasibly shower, pee, and eat at the same time, but if I were to pump, I might actually be able to leave the house that evening to get to the store, go for a walk, or cry by myself in the car.
But what if I pumped for fifteen minutes and then she woke up crying? I would have no milk left in my boobs to feed her, so I’d have to give her the bottle I just pumped, and then have nothing at all to show for all that “free time” I had: no shower, no bathroom relief, no full belly, and no promise of a future escape. (You can see just how quickly the “crazy” starts to kick in.)
It wasn’t Tallulah’s fault. She was a baby, and she was just doing what all babies do. The blame rested on my shoulders. My poor little girl needed a better mama than I thought I could be. Social media was already this blaring reminder of how motherhood should look; unfortunately for my daughter, she had just drawn the short straw in the new mom lottery.
You know how sometimes you just need a good cry? I needed a really good cry, but didn’t have the energy or the time to dissolve into the mental breakdown I deserved, because my beautiful little girl depended on me for every single facet of her young existence.
So, in a moment of true helplessness and absolute hysteria, I dropped my sweet baby girl into her crib. Let me set the record straight: I knew well enough to never actually harm my daughter, and I did not ever have the impulse or desire to, but I was hysterical enough to be pretty cavalier.
“Why doesn’t she ever just stop!?” I growled at my husband, who had been standing behind me, blurry-eyed, confused, and then alarmed. Tallulah was crying at a pitch surely only dogs and new mothers could hear. A pull inside me urged me to pick her up, hold her tight, and immediately repent, but it was too late. I had stuck my flag in the ground and needed him to see how close to the edge I was tottering.
I stormed out of her nursery and headed to the kitchen, for what, I’m not sure. I opened the fridge and froze. In front of me was a cardboard pizza box crammed onto a shelf at, roughly, a twenty-five-degree angle. I knew that there were only two pieces of pizza left, so why was the entire box in my damn fridge? What was so difficult about putting the remaining slices in Tupperware or a Ziploc?
Instead, my husband had shoved the entire fucking box into the refrigerator, leaving jam jars and soda cans wobbling on their edges, threatening to come tumbling out.
Social media was already this blaring reminder of how motherhood should look; unfortunately for my daughter, she had just drawn the short straw in the new mom lottery.
I looked at that giant, near-empty box and wondered whether he was expecting me to properly put away the remaining pizza. Why would he take the time to do it when he knew I would just eventually do it myself? I’d take it out, place the slices in a container, and take the box out to the recycling bin, like I had in the past.
But this wasn’t the past. If I told my husband to put away the leftover pizza like a normal human and take the box outside, I would inadvertently become the “nagging” wife every woman (and man) fears. If I did nothing and said nothing, I would become resentful.
If that box knocks over my breast milk, I thought threateningly, readying myself for a brawl. Four ounces of breast milk equated to about ninety minutes of freedom. How could anyone be so careless with someone’s freedom?
Whatever the casualty, I would definitely be the one burdened with the aftermath. Did he actually think I had time to deal with this shit right now? When? In between feedings while I scrubbed breast pump parts, did laundry, and fed the dogs? I barely had time to pee, but I was now somehow charged with teaching my adult husband to develop common fucking sense. (Upon reading this, my husband noted that he almost exclusively feeds the dogs nowadays. Someone should probably give him a trophy.) Either way, this giant fucking pizza box was now my cross to bear. To be fair, I knew I was snapping, but I didn’t know how to avoid it.
“Shhhh, baby girl,” I heard my husband whisper. “You’re okay . . . it’s okay.”
I looked at the monitor and saw him gently rocking our beautiful, tiny baby. She was wide awake but momentarily calm, and that’s when it washed over me, a guilt so horrible that I don’t think it will ever leave me. There he was, comforting my sweet, innocent, perfect little girl. My daughter. My best friend. The person I love beyond all measure, and who I would give my life to protect. This was the little girl who would one day crawl into my bed during a thunderstorm and ask me to kiss the booboo on her knee. This is the little girl who would sing Garth Brooks at the top of her lungs. This is the brave little girl who would get up onstage to dance, and I would sob because I never experienced a pride and adoration so profound. In that moment, staring at the baby monitor, I hated myself.
I tried to run to her, but my husband blocked my path. “Babe,” he said. “I think you need a break.” (Where was that logic 10 minutes earlier?)
My throat trembled with the shriek I wanted so desperately to release, but even at the exact moment of my own mental break, I knew better than to disrupt the momentary quiet.
I ran upstairs and locked myself in the bathroom, where I sobbed until I threw up. I’m not sure how long I lay on the bathroom floor before I fell asleep, but about two hours later I was gently nudged awake by my husband. It was nearly six in the morning and Tallulah was hungry. My husband apologized for not moving me to the bed, telling me that he thought it was more important to let me sleep.
I went to the kitchen to grab myself a bottle of water. The pizza box still taunted me from the fridge, but I ignored it. I would deal with that shit later. I would deal with my shit later. My priority now was my baby. I would make it up to her. I would get up, start over, and try again. And I would do it every day until I could become a mama my baby deserved.
This piece is excerpted from You Are A F*cking Awesome Mom: So Embrace the Chaos, Get Over the Guilt, and Stay True to You by Leslie Ann Bruce, copyright © 2019 by the author and reprinted by permission of Seal Press. Available in stores and online now.