Natural Mother in Training
When a baby is born, so is a mother and what we expect to happen "naturally" sometimes doesn't. Read about Gina's victories and challenges as a new mom.
When we asked Gina about what she feels are her "daily mom victories", she said, "Strangely enough, the mornings feel like the most victorious part of my day. I wake up and feel a reset. A new opportunity to do better, to be better for my baby and myself. The mornings are the sort of peaceful time in my house that you breathe in consciously. Everyone is just coming out of a sweet, snuggly sleep and it's obvious that we really are a happy family. Our mornings are full of cuddles and sing song voices. It's full of family breakfasts and play. But mostly it's full of gentle reminders that these moments are what I need to hold onto in the narration of my early motherhood."
Most of us probably feel that being a mommy is a work in progress. Gina states that she is always working towards becoming the mom she envisioned herself being. A mom that "daydreamed about moments that my little girl would be sitting on my lap in the grass intensely studying nature around her and I would be drinking up every ounce of wonder in her little mind. I always wanted to be that mom who enveloped herself in the little moments. And I do. I have to remind myself to, but I do. Not even in a drippy, sappy, overly-sentimental way. One that is real and perfectly sentimental."
But regular life doesn't stop when you have a baby. A lot of us still have to go to work on top of the laundry, shopping, dishes, etc. We can all relate to that overwhelming feeling of balancing our children needs as well as our own.
"The most challenging part of my day is being at work and feeling guilty for being away and then coming home and feeling exhausted by how much my kid needs me. It's an awful dichotomy where I always end up feeling guilty, either for not being there or for being there and not being able to be present. I spend my days at work yearning to go home and I pretend in my daydream to be that creative, crafty mom who loves to garden with her child. But then I get home and that all sounds like so much work that I would hate myself for starting any of it. So instead I try to get dinner ready and she inevitably ends up crying at my feet and I start to lose my patience. All I want is for the world around me to continue and for me to not have to participate in the forward motion of it. I just want to hold my kid and have her be sweet and not feel so incredibly tired so that I can enjoy her."
Struggling with the realization she wasn't a "natural", Gina questions why motherhood was not easy for her. She assumed her baby would sleep because she read all best baby sleep books and took all the classes. Or that she, for sure could function while sleep deprived herself. Or that when she heard her child crying, she'd instantly understand her. She had all the answers...or did she?
She claims, "All of that was a sham. I didn't know what the hell I was doing. My baby never slept. I didn't know what she was trying to say when she screamed in my face for three months. I didn't know what things to try to get her to stop. I wasn't prepared for the radio scramble my brain reverts to when her cries get to a certain decibel. I wasn't aware of the hundreds of things that could go wrong or that I'd constantly feel inadequate. I wasn't ready for feeling like a failure every moment of every day. I wasn't prepared for postpartum depression and isolation. And I certainly wasn't prepared to not enjoy the first few months of motherhood."
"What surprised me the most is that I lacked, for what seemed like a very long time, the *love* feeling most women seem to feel (or pretend to, anyway). I had heard it a hundred times and seen it countlessly on social media "She's here and I'm so in love!" I thought I would be instantly in love with this tiny human I created. I thought that I would feel a bond with my baby the moment she entered the world from and through my body. But I didn't. I knew I felt protective of her. I knew I'd do anything to save her, or make sure she's happy and comfortable. I knew that I didn't want people holding her for longer periods than me. I knew that she was mine and that it was my job to now keep her alive and thriving. But I didn't *love* her. It took me a while to love the tiny baby with the loudest voice I'd ever heard. She is a whole new person in my life, someone who has different likes and dislikes, who I had to pretend to mind read. I had to get to know this person, I had to come into respecting her *as* her own person. And it took some months before I did feel like I understood her. It took some time before I could honestly say "I am *in love* with my baby". Sound familiar? A lot of women feel this way! It's normal!
When you have a baby...everyone you know will give you advice on everything. Some of its great, and some you just take with a grain of salt and nod like it makes all the sense in the world. But most of us might agree, that we could all learn a lesson or two from our "future mommy self." With some experience under her belt, Gina's advice to her pregnant self is, "I would say NO visits lasting more than an hour unless they are there to help you. Having guests is exhausting and makes you feel so much pressure to perform and be a good host. You feel like you have to love being a mom in front of people instead of crying about how bad your boobs hurt because the baby slept too long and you're now engorged. You feel like you need to be a professional breast-feeder so no one is wise to the nip-slip. You feel like you need to walk normally instead of like you've just rode a horse because, well, lets face it, your nether regions feel like you birthed a watermelon. Because you did. You feel a nagging detrimental amount of pressure to keep the house clean and to cook healthy meals. None of which is really healthy for you, your healing, or your bonding with your new family member. So no guests. Only people who want to help you." We agree.
Read a small part of Gina's postpartum story below:
"A huge part of my postpartum experience has been to encourage women to be radically honest, with others and themselves. We spend a large portion of our motherhood pretending that everything's okay when life is burning down around us. We put ourselves at the center of discomfort so that everyone else is comfortable and happy. We carry the mental load so that the house can keep moving forward. We talk to friends and tell them "Oh everything's great. Yeah, I'm fine." We do all of this with a smile. Sometimes that smile IS honest. Sometimes that smile happens because we DO feel like super heroes, as we should! Sometimes we have the patience of a Saint and we smile because we know we are being the best version of ourselves. But sometimes that smile isn't earnest. Sometimes it's there because if it's not there, we'll break down. Sometimes it's there because the heat of the fire is so intense, if we were to try to function with our real feelings everything would fall apart. Sometimes that smile is there because it's too much to explain to someone why it's been hard for the last week; No one's been sleeping well, we're getting teeth, someone's got a cold. That smile looks different for every woman, but we all have it. We all can spot a mom pseudo-smiling through the thick of it. A lot of times we ask those moms with all the love in our hearts "How ARE you?" Sometimes those moms answer honestly, and sometimes they don't. Sometimes that smile is a place holder for the real one we're waiting for to return. Talking about why that "place holder smile" is present shouldn't be coaxed out of us. As mothers, we should be relieved when talking about our hardest days and our people should be eager to hear the ways in which we're struggling. Even if not to help, but to just listen. But that's uncomfortable, for most parties involved. But only because its not the norm. Being radically honest gives you a place to put all your weirdly contradictory feelings. It hands your feelings to strangers and friends and family as if to say "Here, hold this. I don't want to anymore". It's a huge relief when you say "Oh yeah I'm not great today. Jonny didn't sleep and Ellie has been teething". Telling people how you actually are is so shocking that it feels liberating. You're actually freeing yourself from the burden of yourself. That's what I found anyway. I found it necessary to my mental health to not pretend; to smile through it, but to be honest about *why* I'm smiling. Pretending gets us into a mess of weighted blankets of our own feelings. They get suffocating and hard to sift through. If I've learned one thing in this last year postpartum it's that motherhood is a heavy job. You have to let people help you carry the load."
Nicely said Gina.
Photography in this post by Sophia Williams.