Four-ish years ago, my firstborn was 3 weeks old and had just fallen asleep on top of me. I squirmed and adjusted very slowly and quietly until I could position him next to me on the couch, on his back with nothing dangerous around him.
Nothing dangerous, that is, except the thoughts swimming through my head.
Several people I know had their first children around the same time I had mine. On this particular day, a woman whom I adore messaged me to ask how things were going. She talked about her son and his sleeping and eating habits. She ended with, “Don’t you just love being a mom?”
My gut reaction was, “No.”
No, I did not love being a mother. The first six weeks of my son’s life were the hardest six weeks of mine. For so long, I thought I was a bad mother because being a mother terrified me. Sometimes it annoyed me. I worried that maybe my husband and I had a baby too soon.
Someone who never felt that way might not understand that you can still love your child while disliking being a mother. At the time, I loved that kid so much that it shook me to my core and paralyzed me with fear (something that still happens on occasion).
It wasn’t until talking to a very special mother in my life that I realized that other women feel that way, too. She and I talked about how difficult, frustrating and painful breastfeeding can be. We talked about how sleep deprivation makes everything 10 times harder. We talked not knowing what to do to get the baby to just stop crying. We talked about feeling helpless.
Most importantly, we talked about how it is OK to talk about how hard, scary and frustrating it can be to be a mom, especially when there are people around you who so effortlessly make it seem like a joy.
I am fortunate to have that woman in my life. She took an enormous amount of stress off my shoulders by simply saying, “I understand.”
To this day, I am comforted by her brutal honesty. “Things won’t necessarily get easier, but they will change,” she said.
She was right. My son and I eventually figured out nursing. I learned his cues for hunger, sleepiness and just plain old fussiness. The sleep thing was a problem for much, much longer, but I learned how to function.
I will never forget how dark and lonely those first weeks as a mother were. I ache when I hear stories of women who continue to sink further and further into despair without anyone knowing what to say or how to help.
That’s why I always tell new mothers that I really struggled when my son was born. Most times, I get a look of confusion and a change of subject in response. But there are times when a rush of relief comes over the mother, and she cries, “This is so hard!”
I remember those tears. I remember those feelings. And I will always remember to tell her that she is not alone.