When preparing to bring home a new bundle, you read tons of literature on “what to expect.” It’s fair to expect at least 20 pounds of weight gain, a birthing plan gone awry, sleepless nights, an up-close-and-personal relationship with another person’s bodily waste.
Somewhat more difficult to prepare for, and less often described at polite functions like baby showers, is how motherhood shifts around all our molecules and makes us fundamentally different people, even before we take the baby home from the hospital. Suddenly, we possess bodies and minds we don’t quite recognize, and we’ve committed our lives to a tiny person we’ve just met. Pitch any of this to a rational person, leaving out the word “baby,” and see how many bite.
Intellectually, we know these things will happen: that hormonal changes will make us weepy for days, or weeks, maybe months; that “life, as we know it, will change”; that our remaining wild oats will remain unsown; that alone time with our husbands will be in short supply. I gladly signed away carefree convenience and took home that little pink lizard child who had been C-sectioned out of me and who is now a beautiful toddler.
I admit, though, to being blindsided by the dreaded Mom Guilt™. This patented torture is fueled by other moms’ social-media posts — viewed through bleary, unfocused eyes — of bouncing, smiling babies; by Pinterest posts of perfect crafts for toddlers and homemade, organic baby-food purees; by the mere suggestion that someone else has both small children and a tidy house with crumb-free floors.
Suddenly, we’re tending a small, precious thing who looks not unlike ourselves, gazing at the kid and intermittently crying with joy and … what is that? A feeling of total, irredeemable failure?
My mom guilt usually struck about 7 p.m., after I’d worked until mid-afternoon and then tended the baby until her bedtime, just a short time after witching hour. Clothes were still moldering in the washer, nagging to be transferred to the dryer. Dinner was going to be a random assortment, microwaved. And that beautiful, sweet baby had morphed into the little monster from Eraserhead, ceaselessly yowling. Sometimes I thought I must be the worst mother, unable to soothe the baby, or myself; unable to meet my own expectations; wanting to lock myself in my bedroom for 20 minutes and abdicate all responsibility.
But I got better at soothing my daughter and myself; at realizing that some days dinner wouldn’t be destined for Instagram and that dust bunnies would probably continue to colonize my hardwood floors. And each day I’ve grown more confident that our little family’s real life is, really, just fine.
I recently read some Internet article listing questions everyone should ask her mother while she still can. My favorite was, “What’s your favorite thing about me?” It’s perfect because it recognizes Mom as a mirror and reflects back love and worth.
I immediately thought of my daughter, who turned 3 years old last spring. I would tell her she is so wonderfully forgiving, and she has taught me how to turn some of that innate compassion toward myself.
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