“Oh my goodness. She is just so precious! Do you even remember life before Madison?” a family member adoringly asked as she cooed at my then 1-week-old daughter.
I know what she was expecting me to say. I know what I was supposed to say. And I said it: “No, I really don’t!”
But the honest answer?
Yes. Yes I do remember life before Madison. And during my first few months of motherhood, I wondered resentfully where the heck it went. Was I a bad person — a bad mother — if I wanted it, or at least some version of it, back?
Why did none of my friends with children tell me I might feel this way? Why didn’t they tell me that motherhood wasn’t going to feel as magical as the diaper commercials led me to believe (I cried through every single one of them while I was pregnant)? Why didn’t they tell me about how hard it was going to be, that I was going to have to mourn the loss of my old life before I could embrace this new one? Did they not feel the same way? Was I alone in this?
My daughter is almost five months old now. And while I still do indeed remember life before her, I’m happy to report that I much prefer life with her in it. Every coo, every touch of her hands to her toes, heck, even every cry, now melts my heart. All I can do is smile, reach out, and snuggle her.
This is the magic of motherhood I expected to feel the minute she uttered her first cry. I expected to take her home from the hospital and take her upstairs into her nursery to feed her. I would rock her in my fancy new rocking chair, stroke her hair, breathe in her baby smell, and marvel at her tiny little head as I gazed lovingly down at her. I would be smiling, and my heart would be growing bigger by the minute (cue sappy diaper commercial music here).
Instead, I fed her on the couch in the living room. I pursed my lips and took a deep, labored breath every time she latched onto my breast because it hurt so much. I feared every little whimper or cry because frankly, I had no idea what it meant, and worse still, I had no idea what to do. I was too emotionally and physically drained to even be aware of her smell, the touch of her hair, or the shape of her cute little head.
I loved her, of course. But I loved her because it was the unconditional thing to do. The politically correct thing to do, if you will. I loved her because I knew I had to (and deep down in the mess of my postpartum hormones, I knew I somehow did).
When you’re a new mom, you really and truly have no idea what you’re doing. It’s tough. A well-rested person of sound mind and body would have trouble knowing what to do. But there you are, still healing from the labor, sleep deprived beyond your wildest dreams, sore in all kinds of places, and you’re expected to look past it all and see only love and rainbows. The fairytale.
That is the idea that I bought into. And I was shocked when the fairytale failed to be my reality.
What I didn’t know then was that it doesn’t make you a bad person to have those thoughts. It doesn’t make you a bad mother. It doesn’t mean you love your child any less. Further still, having those feelings — of not only not feeling like motherhood is the magic it claims itself to be, but also, of mourning the loss of your old life — doesn’t mean that you necessarily have postpartum depression.
I realize now that those feelings were all normal. It didn’t mean I didn’t love my daughter. It just made me human. And if you are a new mother, I want you to know that, too. We may be mothers now, but we are still human. And before we were mothers, we were just ourselves.
When my daughter was born, I expected to take one look at her and fall in love. But I didn’t. She was a new little being taking up space in my life, but I didn’t know her. And to my disappointment, I wasn’t excited. I was scared. I was resentful. I was confused. I wasn’t prepared for the rush of these emotions that clouded any possibility of me feeling the magic and the love I expected to feel. I couldn’t understand why I was feeling this way. Surely there must have been something wrong with me!
But I filled out the postpartum papers at every doctor visit. I didn’t have thoughts of killing myself or others. I didn’t have thoughts that life was no longer worth living. I didn’t have thoughts of hurting my baby. I didn’t cry all the time (though I did break down a few times a week). By all definitions, I didn’t have postpartum depression.
What I did have was a case of the perfectly natural baby blues. But I didn’t think it was normal. No one else was talking about it. I would see other friends who had babies around the same time as I did posting pictures of their children with captions like, “I’m so in love!”
And all I could think was, Really? How are they so happy? Am I missing something? Aren’t they sleep deprived? Aren’t they on a steep learning curve like I am? How do they even have time to post a picture? I don’t even have time to pee!
Every post only served to make me feel completely alone in feeling so underwhelmed by the magic of motherhood that — to me — didn’t feel so magical at all.
I was way more obsessed with — and sideswiped by — the ways in which my life had changed. I found myself wondering, Will I ever get to go to the bathroom alone again? Cook again? Eat again when I’m hungry? Finish a meal in one sitting? Shower without being afraid of the water hurting my nipples? And for that matter, will I ever get to put a towel around myself again without cringing (on account of the sore nipples)?
Will I ever feel normal again?
And the answer, thankfully, is yes. Yes, I will get to do all of those things again, and then some (and in fact, I already have). And the icing on the cake is that the most mundane of tasks now feel more magical than they ever did before. Because the magical thing about having a newborn is that they allow you to experience everything for the first time again.
If you’re a new mother, fear not, mama. You will get there soon. You will some day soon find yourself sitting in your fancy rocking chair, gazing lovingly down at your child. And he/she will almost certainly look up at you, smile, and coo. And your heart, oh your heart. It will melt. It will burst. You will unlock the magic of motherhood every other mother around you has told you about.
But in the meantime, it’s OK if you’re feeling resentful. You’re still in the trenches, mama! It’s OK if you’re missing your old life. It’s OK that you’re angry at your newborn for crying. It’s OK that you’re angry that you can’t eat when you feel like it, shower alone, or even leave the house to see your friends.
This is a tough time. You’re healing, you’re sleep deprived, and your emotions are all over the place on account of your raging postpartum hormones. You don’t know which way is up or down (or right and left, for that matter). And you don’t have time to heal or get right again because you’ve just been promoted to CEO of a business you know nothing or at least very little about (Parenting Inc.). And even if you thought you had prepared for it, nothing could have possibly prepared you for the actual act of living it.
So new mama, hear me: I see you. I feel you. I was you. And now that I’m on the other side of it, I can tell you: what you’re feeling is perfectly normal. Your life has just been turned upside down, and even though you may have asked for it, you certainly didn’t know it was going to feel this way.
Honor your feelings. Talk to your fellow moms about them. Don’t get down on yourself for not feeling the magic of motherhood just yet.
It may not be today, but I promise you, your fairy dust is on its way.More On