It only takes briefly holding a soul fresh from heaven to feel sorely inadequate. She a holy celestial orb, Me a clutzy dirty rag. I wish I could shake the comparison, but I find it difficult with each passing sleepless night.
As I look down at my sweet daughter in my arms, I feel sorry for her because she didn’t get a very good mom. Sure, we’re both feeling our way through our new life together, but I’m the one whose thoughts meander into the dark woods while hers drift off to blissful sleep. (Ah, sleep. Perhaps, a chance to dream.) I’d heard of the baby blues, but, man, they suck when they are no longer just hearsay.
I’m still waiting for that moment, the one that takes my breath away and wraps me in soft billowy joy as greeting card poetry swirls in my mind heralding thoughts of adoration for my baby and refreshed role as mother. I look at my baby and think, "she’s cute," but I don’t have an overwhelming gush of adoration. I hear it comes in different time frames for different people. For some, it’s immediate love at first sight. For others, it comes after months of sharing a life and growing together, so I’m patient. With time, we’ll share inside jokes and create you-had-to-be-there stories.
I had heard PLENTY about the fears and pains of labor and delivery, so that’s what I had braced myself for. I had heard some about new parent exhaustion, but I had mistakenly thought my insomnia during pregnancy prepared me for the sleepless nights invited by a newborn baby. I had been warned to give breastfeeding an adjustment period, though I had not understood the painful learning curve required to do it. What no one mentioned was the after-party, the gamut of emotions that follow the big event. What happens when you get home and emotions escape like shrilling banshees out of Pandora’s Box?
Everyone is eager to share their labor stories, but no one mentions the real horror stories, the ones about when you get home with your child, you don’t sleep, you can’t think, and thoughts of inadequacy and frustration lead to anger and sadness. I suppose no one feels safe sharing that when surrounded by blow-up storks and well-wishers.
“You must be so excited!” I hear.
“Um, yeah, sure,” I mumble.
I’m not advocating being the wet blanket at the baby party, but surely, the temporary pain of labor is not as vital information as the longer linger of postpartum blues. What a disservice to women everywhere to pretend it doesn’t exist. It leaves many a mom to feel alien, wrong, and even, evil.
I’m completely aware that every woman is different and some may exude only sunshine upon giving birth, but I'm convinced that more often than not, there are women wrapped up in the guilt of their dark thoughts directed at the helpless and innocent creatures in their care. I am advocating that women release that guilt and the hushed tones of the non-Smurfy emotions they experience shortly after coming home with baby. I don’t think we need to each wear our emotional story like a morbid badge of honor, but I do think a frank and open acceptance of the matter would serve each of us better. Suppose that saying "I hate being a mother today" was just as acceptable as saying "I am having a bad hair day today"? We'd feel a whole lot more supported in our developing roles as mothers and actually feel... normal.
At 3 a.m., I sit awake, awkwardly feeding a hungry baby, and I daydream (nightdream?) of sleep. I have the blues today, but I'm learning they are normal and temporary. Boy, I can't wait to again feel Smurfy.