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I Didn’t Count on Motherhood Being So Hard

I didn't count on motherhood being so hard

By Andrea Bowland |

Something happened when I had my first child, and I’m not referring to the monumental feat of bringing forth a new life onto the planet from my very being. Something happened to me that clearly created a “before” and “after” division of a once completely sane individual. Parents talk about this type of thing all the time:”It changes you forever.” “You have no idea until you actually have children.” But those comments are usually explained by undying love and affection, or, well, sleep deprivation.

Days after giving birth to my son, my free-spirited, world loving, life-embracing self, was bitten by a nasty bug that has yet to completely detach itself – a kind of tapeworm of the mind which has leeched away my spontaneity, clarity, and confidence.

While pregnant, I had conjured up this pretty little world that baby and I would cohabitate. I had a reasonabe basis for this – I was reared in a very traditional environment where mothers stayed home, creating meals from scratch, gardens from seeds, curtains and even clothes from material! At the same time, I also viewed myself as a “modern woman”, and planned to go back to work. I felt sure that my child would be a tofu-loving, sound sleeper who went everywhere with me as I resumed my career.

What actually occurred was four months of colic (baby), coupled with a fear of just about everything (me), which meant that leaving the house was pretty much not an option. In the very early stages of motherhood, I was convinced nearly every night that someone was breaking into our basement. I often woke up in the middle of the night, sure I had left a stove or oven on. I could no longer watch the news, nor could I drive with the baby unless I checked the car seat an absurd amount of times. I developed a crazy fear of heights. I became slightly hypochondriacal. Basically, I developed Momma OCD.

For the first time in my life I couldn’t create a solution, or just come up with a better plan. Instead, I had to stick it out with something I wasn’t great at, or in certain cases (breastfeeding, calming a colicky baby) even particularly good at. Having learned early on in life to identify my strengths and steer clear of weaknesses, I was at a loss.

I was reared in the generation of women who were told we could be anything we wished, and succeed. Our expectation, our greatest achievement in life was no longer wife and mother – we had evolved! Our focus was on career, success in business, making a name for ourselves. Our mothers, grandmothers, and even great-grandmothers had fought hard for the opportunity to be something outside the home. And I appreciated that, so much so that I assumed my purpose in life was simply me:what can I do, who can I be? I was of the evolved generation, a product of women’s rights! What I didn’t count on was that motherhood, something that is supposed to be biological and natural, would be the most challenging.

Thinking I was a defunct model, I decided to educate myself. I became a scholar of motherhood! I read every book I could get my hands on. But book after book of smiling women dressed in Ma Ingalls prairie dresses, and relishing in the fact that they were as big as the circus lady, told me nothing. Those books weren’t designed to address defeat; they were written about the biological imperative, the time honored process of incubation. They didn’t tackle what happened after.

Generations of women longed for the right to work outside of the home, and raise families. It was about “having it all,” and I felt like I needed to rise to the occasion for the women who paved the way for me. I had a conversation with my grandmother, who has since passed, and whom I still consider to be the greatest women I have ever known. I loved picking her brain about women’s lives in the past. I asked her if she considered life to be harder for her generation, or mine, and she simply said with a smile on her face, “Well yours honey. We may have wished for more, but our roles were already planned. It was easier to feel that you had done a good job, when it was the only job you could do. Now there’s enormous pressure to have a job, a house, and a family, and do it all well.” With that one statement, my grandmother nearly absolved my fear of failure.

There was a flaw in the logic I had grown up with. Just because you can “have it all” doesn’t mean you’ll be instantly good at having it all. And just because you’re not instantly good at something doesn’t make you a failure.

We have a saying in my now two-child house. “Epic fail!” It’s meant to be a declaration of humor when Momma and Dad haven’t lived up to our full potential. This can apply to our work, our personal relationship, meal preparation, dog training, bathroom cleaning, getting dressed before noon (me), appropriate hat attire (him), budgeting our finances (toss-up) but is most often reserved for parenting our children. We have been known to cower in our kitchen, and whisper back in small voices that the kids are “winning.” (For the record, they are 8 and 2 and a half.)

It’s been nearly ten years since I was pregnant with my first child. I’ve had a long time to digest this period in my life. I can’t pretend I have some soothsayer solution to making it easy, everyday. But I do know that whether it be motherhood or every other aspect in my life, I have embraced the utmost importance of the “epic fail.” In simplest form, it’s the ability to look at life’s most difficult moments, find the funny in the situation, and get on with my day.

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About Andrea Bowland

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Andrea Bowland

Andrea Bowland enjoys the freedom of freelance writing in her little green office, often at midnight. When she isn't tending to the needs of her two adorable children, she can be found working on her latest venture about coastal beach life, http://www.shorebread.com.

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11 thoughts on “I Didn’t Count on Motherhood Being So Hard

  1. krystle says:

    Thank You for that article, I am having an epic fail day! Lol, as I write this, I am hiding in the bathroom with my smartphone. It’s nice to know that I’m not alone!

  2. Anonymous says:

    Best article I’ve read on babble in a LOOOONG time. I hear ya on the OCD! Why don’t they put that in books?

  3. Diana Wright says:

    loved this article now that is something worth reading!!!! motherhood or fatherhood for that matter is a profound thing, its not how its portrayed it can be easy and it can be hard and it will change you for ever, there is no such thing as a sane parent lol you try your best ,hope for success and look to the future.

  4. Pam says:

    This made me tear up. I was Sooooo confident going into motherhood. Why wouldn’t I be? I grew up taking care of kids. My mom ran an in-home daycare for 17yrs, I volunteered at youth centers, I was a nanny for a time, I helped raise my nice, I worked nursery at church, and I babysat all the time starting at about 13yrs old. I knew how to do it, but it was still harder than I ever imagined. I want/ed 4 kids but there are days that Idk if I can bc am I already screwing up enough with the two I have. The difference in watching other people’s kids is that you don’t have the guilt. If it’s a bad day or the kids are horrible, you can simply blame the parental for not disciplining their children properly. And you get a break. No matter how much you take care of them, at the end of the day you have some time for yourself. I am a sahm now, and we’re military, living an extreme distance from any family or friends. I NEVER get time away and sometimes it’s just exhausting. It makes it worse that we can’t sympathize with other parents when they “fail.” No matter how many times you’ve screwed up, the second you see someone else lose their temper and yell or give in to their child’s temper tantrums, we look at them like they are crappy parents and that just increases the pressure. I already feel like I have an awesome mom who did EVERYTHING with/for us on poverty level income, by herself (dad wasn’t around) but now I have to live up to random stranger’s expectations too. It’s a tough job. :)

  5. christinky says:

    almost no one talks about this subject. i was not prepared for any of this. when my son was born i was dismayed by my reaction. i did not have that tv-movie gush of tears and joy and i was afraid to touch him for a few weeks. i did fall in love eventually, and we had a few months of fairly relaxed happiness in infancy, but things have gotten a lot harder now. he has been diagnosed with ADHD and aspbergers. i didn’t expect his early childhood to be so hard. i couldn’t have imagined that people would be so cruel to me and to him when they don’t understand his behavior. one is not able to truly imagine these things when one is pregnant or thinking about having kids. however, all of this difficulty does not mean that i love him any less than any of you love your children.

  6. Mami2 says:

    OMG! Thank you. This column is an EPIC WIN! I constantly get mad at the woman’s lib movement and feel that title IX is a bad word. I too was raised to think that i could be whatever i wanted to be and HAVE. IT. ALL. but there’s a lot of fine print that goes with “having choices” and the tradeoffs are often more than I can bear.

  7. Kim R says:

    I couldn’t have read this at a better time. I’m a type-A control freak who’s currently trying desperately to figure out what it’ll take for this little person to take a nap. I’m reading the books, looking at discussion forums on the topic, talking with friends… and all the while I’m second-guessing my every move, wondering how much I’m screwing up my kid with each decision I make. I never imagined this aspect of parenting – the enormous weight of responsibility and intense anxiety that goes along with it.

  8. Heather Novak says:

    AMEN! You should see if there is a Listen to Your Mother show starting up near you! This would be a great story. I can totally relate…I did a bit called Reluctant Motherhood for our NW Indiana show. I love what your Grandmother said, that makes a lot of sense. You are a GREAT mother!

  9. Liz Williams Chatwell says:

    “They are WINNING!” OMG, yes!! LMAO! Ditto for what Heather said! Find a Listen to Your Mother show, girl. You have a story that needs to be read aloud!!

  10. Heather Speed says:

    omg you just described me nice story

  11. Hilary L says:

    If anyone is going through some of these intense feelings within the first year of having a baby please consider you might have Post Partum Distress (PPD) This article sounds a lot like someone who had Post Partum Distress (which can be depression and/or anxiety and/or OCD behaviors it’s not always depression and 15-20% of women can suffer from it within the first year after giving birth). It IS treatable, and it’s not your fault! Yes, motherhood is hard, but some of what is being discussed in this article goes beyond typical adjustment issues. Go to http://www.postpartum.net/Get-the-Facts.aspx for more information.

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