I wrote this article thinking about you. I know how strong you are. How you’re doing everything you can to make everything in your family work. The child is taken care of, the house is clean and you – despite everything – you are wearing clean clothes and even simple make-up.
But I don’t want to talk about what it looks like on the outside. I want to talk about things you worry about. You look like a happy mum content with her life. Everything’s fine. Only I’ve been through that myself and I notice the small things. I know what it feels like when it was supposed to be great, only it is not.
It’s not really about the child, right? They are really sweet. And make you tired, too. You don’t know why they’re crying all the time. They can eat all day round, sleep too – but only on you. Gradually, you’re turning into a Tai-Chi master, slowly, inch by inch, moving with a sleeping baby at your chest to their bed, holding your breath, quiet as a mouse and without sudden movement. You gently roll the baby over your forearm, place them softly on the mattress and then you freeze. They’re asleep! You move away like Catwoman, all fluid silence and just when you allow yourself to think that it’s time to get a shower… you hear the baby crying. Their mattress is not as warm as you, doesn’t smell like you, nor does it breathe like you.
You must have realized that your life, so routine and organized until now, has changed completely.
Everything is different. Of course, you were expecting that – you’re a clever person, you read books, observe other people and intellectually, you know that a child changes a lot in a parent’s life. You know that new parents are tired, sleepy and worry about a lot of things. You thought you were ready.
But I have a feeling that one thing really caught you by surprise. The feeling of loneliness.
I don’t know you well enough to know what you really need right now. But I can tell you what I felt in the first weeks and months after my first child was born. I think the most difficult and surprising was the fact that everyone took offence and expected me to act as an intermediary.
It happens very often after a new child appears in the family. The mother – focused on the newborn, tired, but feeling more and more confident in her role. The father – still stunned, but full of energy he has to spend somehow. The grandparents (all 4 of them or even more in a patchwork family) – excited, interested, ready to do something. And aunts, uncles – always ready to give advice. A lot of emotions, of conflicting ideas, sometimes financial and housing difficulties – sooner or later it leads to arguments.
The in-laws, parents, siblings or husband take offence. Or all of them at once. The mother is left between the devil and the deep blue sea. Under the family’s scrutiny, she is supposed to take a position, ally with one side and show the other that they overreacted. Only the thing is that it is the mother who needs help now from the family, not the sulks. She needs understanding and support, not other family members.
This was my first discovery. That a woman who becomes a mother falls into such a paradoxical trap. She can’t be truly alone, because the child is with her all the time. But she is completely lonely in all that because not many people understand what she is going through. Everyone expects something from her and she curls inwardly, hiding her emotions from the world.
Even if family members offer help, it takes the form of what they believe you need. “I’ll take care of the child and you rest a little,” says the grandmother. She comes over and criticizes everything, changes everything the way she likes. Expects you to make her tea and then you’ll talk while she’ll be holding the baby and explaining that back in her days infants were fed every three hours, not when they requested.
The husband returns from work and gets down to business. Which means he goes grocery shopping. Disappears for 2 hours and leaves you alone with the child.
Childless friends call you when you’re busy bathing or feeding the baby. They don’t even realize it’s not a good time. Over time they call less and less often, because their life is all about work, meetings, plans – and yours has adjusted to the baby’s routines. And even though you’re really trying to keep in touch, your friendship enters a new stage.
Friends who actually have children of their own are usually too busy with everyday life to accompany you. Sometimes you feel that you have more in common with strangers on Facebook groups than with family.
I remember that in the first stages of motherhood I felt that my own body was an alien thing. I couldn’t accept that I lost control over it. My breasts produced milk; sometimes quite unexpectedly I would feel a cramp and a wave of warm milk would spill on my clothes. After a year I just couldn’t look at the clothes I wore then: shapeless, loose, with feeding slits, I remember them as a prison uniform. Because that’s how I felt – imprisoned. At home, in my loneliness, in the uncertainty. When I managed to go to a shopping mall without my child I wanted to hug everyone, shout that I was a mother who escaped. But when I answered the phone and heard the impatient “when are you coming back?” accompanied by my daughter’s crying in the background, I felt infuriated and guilty at once.
I felt guilty all the time, anyway. With my child – that I’m not trying hard enough, because I turned on the TV instead of babbling with her on the blanket. With my husband, because I was so tired that I fell asleep. With my mother–in-law, because I didn’t clean the house. After returning to work – because I was enjoying the clean desk and hot coffee, while the child was left at home with a sitter. Or the other way round – I felt guilty because I stayed at home to take care of the ill child, and I had an important project to do at work.
Do you feel like that too?
Being a mother changed everything in my life. I have two daughters. It was easier with the second one, because I knew what to expect. And I had someone close, much closer that I’d ever guessed – the older daughter. She was only 4, but she really supported me. Not because I’d use her for help, no. Just because she was near – her joy, smile, she was the sun after the rain. Running next to her little sister’s pram, she would catch my hand on the handle, half-close her eyes and say: “Bzzz, attention, pumping the fuel of love!” Truth is, I was the one who “refuelled” then. My tank for happiness and meaning of life was being filled up again.
When I became a mother, I felt lost and lonely; not physically, since there were people around me, but somewhere inside. I look back at that time and notice something I didn’t see then. I didn’t understand that someone new had appeared in my life, with whom I’d forge a connection so strong and important – my child. At the time I just felt obligation, loneliness and tiredness, but now I realize that that is how the most beautiful and enduring love of your life emerges.
If what I revealed in any way resembles what you’re going through, know that you’re not alone. After birth, a lot of us feel as if a tsunami has washed away everything we knew. What is more, it is bad form to say aloud that something’s wrong. If I can give you a piece of advice, just remember:
- this will pass. You will take back control over your life, you’ll learn flexibility, you’ll return to your hobbies and other activities.
- look at your family from a perspective, as if you’ve just met them. Here are the grandparents who completely fell in love with your child and sometimes act stupid. Or the other grandparents – cold and distant because they don’t know want to offend anyone. Here is the guy who is still unsure as the new dad, that’s why he pretends he knows best how to carry a baby. They’re not without their shortcomings, sometimes it is difficult to understand them, but their intentions are good.
- think what you really need and ask your family and close friends for it. Calmly, without demanding or accusatory attitude. Just express your need, don’t explain or accuse.
- think about someone who has good influence on you and who doesn’t judge your choices. Talk to that person, feel the empathy.
- if nothing makes you happy, you feel overwhelmed or you think you’re a bad mother – you really need to talk to a therapist.
- share this post, since a mother who feels the same as you may be among your friends. Maybe now you’ll be able to get closer, support and understand each other?
One more thing. Kiss your baby from me. Tell them that they have the best mum in the world and that everything is going to be good soon.