It’s been 112 days since I became a mother, and some days I feel more deserving of the title than others. I often wonder whether I’ve earned it yet; I know I haven’t experienced even a fraction of the failures, victories, joys and lessons that can come with motherhood. Or I question my choices, beating myself up when I fall short of perfection. Why? Because society–men, our government, folks without children, and sometimes even other moms–do not accept imperfect mothers. Social media is ripe with examples of others sizing up the decisions of mothers, throwing around their opinions about what they would do, and what they believe qualifies a “good” parent. They say “A good mother would never do that” or “ If that were my child I’d do things this way.” As a result, many of us suffer in silence. Mothers have become masters of disguise – I know, because that fear of scrutiny quiets my willingness to share anything but the best of me.
When deciding whether or not to get an epidural, I saw a comment on Facebook that said “real” moms have their babies naturally. You can imagine the non-stop tears upon hearing I must have a C-section. After 60 hours of agonizing labor—24 of which were spent with my cervix stuck at 6 centimeters and my baby’s heart rate slowing–I felt so sad and frustrated, like my body had let me down.
I see mothers lambasted for both breastfeeding in public or choosing not to do it at all. I decided to try nursing, but when my daughter wouldn’t latch onto my breast, the disappointment was unbearable. Now, she even rejects the nipple shield I’d been using, and I’ve been exclusively pumping. I’ve thought about quitting several times because of the achy breasts, interrupted sleep, and constant pumping (at work, in the car, awkwardly in a public bathroom or during a wedding). Nothing should be shameful about that…and yet.
Even minor decisions became mountains instead of the molehills they actually are:
What car seat to buy? This simple question resulted in me agonizing over my car not accommodating the car seat in the middle of the back seat.
Should I use a pacifier? I chose to use one right away, because I couldn’t comfort her without it. But I’d read that it was best to wait 3-4 weeks before using one, so I worried I was making her dependent on it or affecting her ability to self soothe or nurse properly.
What diapers should I purchase? Organic, disposal, reusable? I use disposable but I read so much about the chemicals in them that I worried whether I’d made the right choice for her health.
These decisions (and the small panic that accompanies them) come daily or even hourly.
Comments on the forums I’ve lived on and from other new moms I’ve met have shown me that even the most prepared, ready and willing mothers falter, but we often hide our failures, doubts, or uncertainty and expose only the good sides of mothering for fear of criticism and scrutiny. We’re quicker to publicly share the cute photos or the video of her rolling over two months earlier than most and privately commiserate that two minutes before, the baby wouldn’t stop crying and you weren’t quite sure how to calm her.
So admitting publicly, now, that I have postpartum depression is hard and a little embarrassing. Ten days after my daughter’s birth, it was time for my partner to go back to work. Almost the minute he left, I took one look at my daughter and thought, I can’t be here alone with her. I burst out crying. I felt so overwhelmed by the loneliness and the responsibility that it scared me. I made a tearful call to the hospital where I’d given birth, seeking any support or help for how I was feeling. Less than an hour later, about ten paramedics and policemen showed up at my home and carted me off to the emergency room. My partner hadn’t even made it to work before he got the call from the hospital.
All the movies and reality shows I’d seen or books I’d read depicted mothers talking about feeling an instant connection to their child; I’d never heard anyone complain about how truly difficult it is to be a mom—especially through the first, sleep-deprived month. So I thought I was supposed to be strong, blissful, and attached to the baby, but I didn’t feel that right away. Even though I expected to enjoy every moment—even the hard ones—I wasn’t.
It turns out depression is common in new mothers. Then why, I wondered, hadn’t I heard more about it? I realized it’s probably because of the same shame and guilt that I feel. The reality is mothers are human, and like most people, they are imperfect, but we’re often unforgiving and ruthless toward imperfect moms—we think they should have it all together.
Well, it’s time to fight that unfair expectation. And so, 112 days in I’m trying to forgive my faults and accept that my imperfections don’t make me less of a mother. I now have my depression under control, thanks to family members and close friends who visited me often and rallied around me in my time of need. I started attending mommy and daughter support groups. I made sure that I took some time to myself, and I slowly stopped feeling regret or shame for taking a moment for me, to do things like my hair or nails or just going for a walk alone.
New moms are all a little uncertain. But now, when I doubt myself, I remember the times when I’m jolted awake by the almost quiet, but piercing “eh…eh…eh” sound my daughter makes when she needs a feeding, and my exhaustion immediately transforms into an adrenaline rush to make sure she’s fed. I am worthy. And I urge you, new mom, to remember that you are, too. Your motherhood is constantly growing and evolving. Society won’t always cut us some slack, but we need to give ourselves—and each other—a break. We’re in this together.
This is the first piece in a series entitled In Infancy. by guest contributor Keesa McKoy. Keesa is the multimedia journalist for Teach For America’s One Day magazine. She lives in Boston with her partner Aaron and daughter Azara. She’s an advocate for social justice issues and runs a culture and current events podcast, Talk360.