Motherhood is full of high highs and low lows, and it seems it’s only socially acceptable to talk about the high highs, or, if you’re confessing to feeling a low, quickly caveat it by saying how lucky you are.
But the thing is, you can feel both the high highs and the low lows at the same time – they aren’t mutually exclusive.
I can be happy to do our sweet bedtime routine and settle in on the couch with the baby monitor in full view, while also mourning the loss of a Saturday night out with friends.
I can be grateful that my body carried my sweet baby boy, while also resenting the loose skin around my middle.
I can hate pumping while still feeling grateful for my ability to breastfeed.
I can feel overwhelmed at the amount of laundry and cleaning while still marveling at his tiny socks and rainbow-colored toys.
I can resent being the one to do the bedtime routine while also savoring the moments alone with my son.
When William was just a few weeks old and was still getting used to his big new world, it was isolating to hear his constant crying and feel like I couldn’t talk about it. Why did I feel like admitting that his wails were wearing on me would somehow take away from my delight at my tiny human? Of course, I love him. Of course, there were amazing moments. But hearing him cry was exhausting and emotional and just hard.
I had an idea of the type of mom I thought I’d be, based on how I am in a work setting and assumptions I made about myself and my baby before he was even born! Turns out, I’m not the mom I thought I’d be. Here’s how:
Our son isn’t on a nap schedule, which surprises me based on how scheduled I tend to be. While we stick to a sweet bedtime routine that has worked for us so far, we generally just wait for signs of tiredness and then put him down for a nap.
I find some of the gross parts of parenthood hilarious. When our son pooped in the bath for the first time (yes, I said first time as it happens semi-frequently), my husband was horrified. While gross to be sure, I started laughing and so did the baby!
With cleaning and certain household tasks, I tend to like it done my way – so I assumed I would want things done a certain way when it came to our son. Turns out, I am completely fine if my husband doesn’t button William’s onesie the right way, and haven’t really been concerned with how our daycare does things as long as our son is healthy and happy.
I’m actually a better mom because I’m not the mom I thought I’d be.
One in seven moms suffer from Postpartum Depression (PPD), and black moms are more likely to experience PPD. Despite the prevalence, there’s been little research done about PPD. For these reasons, I’m proud to be part of an ongoing study to learn more about PPD: Mom Genes.
Mom Genes Fight PPD is a study designed to learn why PPD happens, why some mothers experience it and others don’t. The study is collecting 100,000+ DNA samples via mail-in spit kits from mothers, like myself, who have been affected by PPD. The goal is to have a statistically viable amount of DNA to draw conclusions, enable better treatments to be developed, and hopefully, find a cure one day.
Imposter syndrome is usually spoken about when referencing women in the workplace, and it’s something I’ve personally experienced. I never thought about it in the context of motherhood but, as a byproduct of my postpartum depression or, just slower transition to motherhood, it’s a feeling I’ve become familiar with as a new mom. Whenever my instincts kick in I feel like a “real mom.” That’s a ridiculous thing to even write since I am indeed a mother, but it’s true.
Recently my son spit up and I caught the spit up with my hands without thinking twice. In addition to being gross, it was also a proud moment. I felt like a “real mom.”
There are a lot of these moments now, but they surprise me. When I look into my son’s eyes it’s like we’ve known each other forever, but there are also times when I feel like I’m playing the part of an experienced mom. With work, I’ve come to realize that everyone is just trying to act like they know what they’re doing and I think it’s the same with motherhood.
Here I am (above), wearing my son for a meeting. Pretending like I know what I’m doing!
When I found out I was pregnant with my son, I started to think about the things I’d have to tell him and teach him that I wouldn’t if I were having a daughter. I thought about gender stereotypes and how we’d eventually need to talk about consent. I thought about a lot of things, but it wasn’t until this past week that it occurred to me that there a lot of things I hadn’t and haven’t thought about telling my son. These are things that hadn’t occurred to me because we are white. The list includes what to say if he were stopped by the police and how to feel when he encounters racism. The thought took my breath away.
Nothing prepared me for how sweet our son would be. My husband laughs because I’m always asking him, “Can you believe how sweet he is? Can you believe he’s ours?” He is officially seven months old, so here are seven things I don’t want to ever forget about this sweet boy at this moment in time.
1. His eyelashes are a mile long, like my husband’s. When he cries, his tears pool in his lashes, clumping them together.
2. When we lift him out of his crib every morning, he gives us a huge smile before turning his head away in shyness.
3. He has started to do a deep belly laugh. More often than that though, he does a silent, open mouth laugh, throwing his head back.
4. His miniature hands are like perfect starfish, always reaching to hold my hands or memorize the shape of my face with the pads of his fingers.
5. His feet chubby feet resemble a pastry piping bag that’s a little too full of frosting.
6. He loves to “stand” on his changing table and does the sweetest little jig, so proud of himself.
7. When rock him in my arms, telling him that I love him, his dark eyes stare, unblinking, up at me.
People always talk about your baby’s firsts. The first time they giggle (the best sound in the world). The first time they roll over (scary!). The first time they eat solids (avocado was not a hit).
What people don’t tell you about are the lasts. The last time they fit into newborn size diapers. The last time they wear the tiny blue and pink striped cap from the hospital (see right). The last time they sleep in their swaddle, because of said rolling. The last time their cry sounds like a newborn cry.
The firsts are exciting for sure, but the lasts are what make my heart ache.
After being diagnosed with postpartum depression, which manifested mainly as anxiety for me, I worked with my doctor and a therapist to find ways to cope and start to feel better. I’ve often heard people discuss “feeling like themself again” after having a baby, but I don’t think that the goal should be to return to your former self. How could you? I read somewhere that a mother is born alongside the baby and I believe that.
In addition to medication and therapy, I worked hard to find tactics and routines to help me each day. I hesitated to write “get through each day,” but that’s truly what it was for my first few months as a new mother. In some ways though, my postpartum struggles prepared me for sheltering in place. I’m lucky to be healthy, employed, and living close to Golden Gate Park, but I have really missed making plans and having things to look forward to beyond Zoom calls and nightly walks. I do think I would have slipped back into the melancholy mood of early motherhood without some of the tools I’ve implemented below.Getting ready every day. Some days, I just changed into fresh pjs, but I still showered and maybe even put on some makeup. Now, instead of saving favorite clothes for when we are going out into the world again, I wear them even if I’m just on Zoom work calls all day.
Breathing in fresh air early in the day. There were days when going for a walk seemed so hard but I did it every. single. day. I notice a huge difference now that we are sheltering in place if I don’t get fresh air in the morning.
Implementing weekly rituals. We’ve been doing Taco Tuesday, Negronis and pizza on Fridays, and pancakes on Sunday. Little things to make these monotonous days feel a bit special.
Listening to music! Somewhere during the early days of motherhood I realized I’d stopped listening to music completely.
Completing small tasks and celebrating small wins. I realized that when I wasn’t working I had to shift what productivity looked like and also face how much productivity was tied to my self worth. While being productive isn’t everything, I am extremely goal oriented and it is crucial to my mental health to feel like I’m not stagnant. I finally reached a happy medium where I felt more comfortable not getting as much done, but set small goals that I can check off, even if it’s just going through photos on my iPhone.