This article is the fifth in a series of guest posts. I have invited a few select friends and family members to contribute to my blog. I have chosen them based on two things: 1) I personally go to them for help; and 2) I am fascinated by their unique parenting challenges, because I want to hear how they make “okayest” work for them.
Allow me to introduce you to my good friend, Jen. I was actually friends with her husband first – he was one of my best friends in college. We met when he, um, started “hanging out” with my roomie. Anyway, after college, when he married Jen, I knew that they didn’t plan to have children. Now she is mother to a 4-year-old and is due with baby #2 any minute, and her feelings about motherhood are beautifully complicated. Having a treasured friend like her who knows that motherhood isn’t all “sunshine and rainbows” (i.e., a friend who encourages my snarky side) definitely helps me on my bad days. Here’s Jen:
I am both flattered and surprised that Mrs. Okayest asked me to guest post for her blog. Flattered, because she’s awesome and is clearly a talented writer, so it’s truly an honor to be asked to be a part of this incredible space of hers on the internet. Surprised because, unlike Mrs. Okayest, I’m more of that upfront, in-your-face, snarky friend that often says inappropriate things like “breastfeeding was horrible, it made me feel like I was in prison,” or “I can’t handle the newborn stage; they’re like a rude houseguest that just demands food and screams at you for 6-8 weeks before even offering up a smile.” Yes, I’m that friend. To my credit though, saying some of those things out loud really helped some fellow struggling moms to feel less guilty, and that’s enough for me.
Let me introduce myself and say upfront that I’m not one of those women that readily or easily embraced parenthood. I kicked, screamed and pouted my way through my first pregnancy (and with my current pregnancy as well) and the seemingly endless newborn and baby stages. It might seem shocking, but not all women were wired to enjoy being new moms and have newborns, some of us have to muck through it. For me, I celebrate each passing year with joy. I love my beautiful girl getting older, more independent, interesting and interactive. I don’t miss the newborn stage or the baby and early toddler years. I’m not one of those blissful women who find be-all-end-all life fulfillment in changing diapers, wiping noses, and dealing with the adult version of the Neverending Story: Laundry. Please don’t get me wrong, I love my daughter fiercely and wouldn’t change her for the world, but she’s not my entire life. Despite what an awesome kid she’s turning out to be, and how much I’m (mostly) enjoying it, I still have rough days where I want to hide in my closet and not have anyone talk, touch or even look at me for just a few minutes. That being said, how does someone not wired naturally for motherhood even start to make “okayest” work for her and her family?
There’s a lot of ways that I’ve made “okayest” work for me (store-bought baked goods and avoiding socially expected preschool playdates is a large part of that), but I think the most important okayest moments for me came in the first days, weeks and months of having a newborn. When you’re a first time parent, everyone tells you how amazing and special having a baby is going to be with all “the firsts.” The “newborn baby smell,” the snuggles, the bonding, the cuteness, the rainbows and the unicorns. Luckily, some seasoned mom friends will be helpful with tips about the weird stuff; breastfeeding conundrums, your recovering body, sex issues, and so on. For some of us, however, those adorable firsts and bonding experiences are overshadowed by dark days of serious hormonal imbalances and the onset of depression; and the breastfeeding, body and sex issues only serve in feeding the downward spiral. Worst off, because we’re expected by a polite society, that still stigmatizes mental health issues, to only feel blissful joy at this new life, shame sets in. Nothing fuels depression quite like a stinking pile of shame.
I’m not going to lie or sugarcoat things; there were times in those first few weeks of having a newborn that I’d find myself wishing the MAC truck barreling down the road would run in to my car, or that my heavy-footed loud neighbor would cause the roof to come crashing down on my head, or that somehow I’d find the nerve enough to swallow the entire bottle of Percocet that my doctors had prescribed me for the immense amount of physical pain I was in. I truly didn’t think I could do the whole mom-thing and survive. Having a screaming, unhappy, newborn (it’d be two months until we had her diagnosed with severe reflux which, once treated, changed things for the better) didn’t help my doubts or fears, and of course, I didn’t want to admit out loud to anyone that I didn’t think I could do it.
Long story short, there’s very little I remember from those dark survivalist newborn days other than forcing myself daily to repeat (in whispers to myself, of course) that I couldn’t let my daughter grow up having a mother who’d committed suicide. I knew that suicide was a selfish act and I survived one hour at a time until things started getting better. Forcing myself to get outside and walk; with or without the baby with me helped me to clear my mind, as did deciding not to feel guilty about asking all the grandparents to come and babysit so I could take a nap, go grocery shopping by myself, and even once, see a movie. But what helped me the most was being vulnerable and putting my ego aside by talking to my good friend Beth about how I felt. I honestly just needed someone who I trusted and respected and who’d survived the infant stages twice already, to tell me that yes, it was hard and sometimes terrible, but that above all, I was going to be okay. That it was okay to ask for help, or go see a counselor, or take antidepressants, because what my child needed most from me was for me to be healthy.
After that talk things slowly started getting better. There was no overnight miracle, but the relief of knowing I wasn’t alone was enough to help keep putting one foot in front of the other. Finally getting used to the rhythm of things, finding help for my daughters reflux, getting more sleep, and physically healing all helped as the weeks went by. I stopped feeling so alone, and was finally able to start enjoying this new little life; especially after she actually started sleeping and smiling more!
So how did I make “okayest” work? I stopped worrying about what everyone else thought and did what was right for me, with the encouragement of my husband, my friend Beth, and a few other friends who to this day may not know how much they helped me survive those first few months. “Okayest” is different for everyone, and new mommas (or seasoned ones who might have found their way to this post), please know that it’s okay to do what’s right for you and your family. Maybe it’s going to counseling, maybe it’s spending a kid-free weekend with your spouse, or going out with your girlfriends. Perhaps it’s just getting some fresh air, getting a babysitter or grandparent to watch your kids so you can get an extra hour of sleep, or making sure that when you’re feeling the most vulnerable that you’re not alone. And know that you are not alone in this struggle, there are other women out there than can empathize because they’ve survived this as well. I’m living, snarky, opinionated proof of that.