It’s not fair, but moms in the Western world have been misled about motherhood. And it’s all the stock photos’ fault.
We saw pictures like this:
And we were like, “Oh my gosh, breastfeeding. It will just be cuddling and sweetness. Look how wonderful it’s going to be.”
Then we saw the birth videos where the mother holds her baby and laugh-smile-cries and, if we weren’t totally freaked out bey then, we were in awe of their amazing bonding moment, and we were all like, “OMG! That is gonna be me, I can’t wait.”
Now I get it. Not all women discover they are pregnant and feel happy. I have as many friends who were dismayed as ones who were delighted over news like this. Life as we know it is about to change – forever. That is overwhelming to any thinking person. But some of us felt ready for this, and wrong as we were, we were excited.
Regardless, you had expectations, and they were likely influenced by friends and social media and movies and pregnacy brochure photos. And they just didn’t tell the whole story, did they?
When many of us birthed our babies, we didn’t feel anything for the tiny human. Well, we felt something, maybe, but not like we’d been sold.
Now, some women’s hormones kick right in at birth. The feel-goods turn on, there’s tears or joy or something. It’s beautiful. There are feelings.
But my first birth was notably devoid of emotion. Perhaps it was the 24 hours of labor that I was pretty sure I wouldn’t make it through. But it didn’t help that back then I just wanted to be tough, one of those non-maternal, not squishy and gentle mothers. So even though I wanted the feel-goods of motherhood, I didn’t really want the vulnerability that inevitably comes with crazy love. Jesus set me straight on that a couple year ago though.
<Back to my first birth though: it wasn't magic. It hurt like hell, frankly, and I kept wondering if I would forget the pain like everyone said I would. I wasn't sure I could do it that way again. I snuggled my baby and smiled for the camera, but something was missing. Feelings.
I was confused. I didn’t feel like a mom. I had a baby, and I was pretty sure I loved him, and quickly I realized I did. But I had this weird feeling that I was just babysitting and some day soon, his real mom was going to come and get him.
Over time, the mommy love emotion grew. I didn’t plummet into postpartum depression, as is so common, but likely because I had support from my spouse and our family and my other new-mommy friend, Kim.
But many women don’t have this. Their spouses aren’t emotionally available or they travel for work or there is no spouse at all. Their mothers don’t know how to be truly helpful and they find themselves disconnected from friends. They hope they’ll at least have their baby as a companion in the loneliness, but when we enter motherhood void of the joy we thought was imminent, it can leave us crashing in the wreckage of our expecations. (I’ve noticed that moms who had intense labors or birthed children with intense personalities tend to struggle with a feeling-less stage of motherhood as well. But I’m sure there are so many other factors.)
There we are, breastfeeding, changing diapers, rocking this little bundle to sleep, terrified because maybe this lack of feelings means we don’t really love our babies. And we thought love was automatic.
So let’s get a few things straight:
1. Love is two things: commitment and hormones. It’s a verb and a feeling. But after a long night of being mostly awake with a sick baby, there are few feel-goods left over. In those times, love is a verb, a great and heroic act that overcomes the feelings – or lack of them.
So for all the days we can’t feel it, we can still love with our hands and our feet and our words. You might not have the hormones today, or tomorrow, but if you have the commitment, you are loving your baby.
2. You don’t have to feel love to be a good mom. We don’t always “feel” love for our partners or parents or friends. We appreciate them. We are glad they are there, but the overwhelming emotion of love isn’t 100% present all the time. So why do we require this for ourselves in motherhood? It’s unrealistic. When we practice the acts of love, the daily care and engagement our kids need, we are being a great mom, even if that means fewer trips to the park or more TV than is recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics. Give yourself a break and encourage yourself – all this love is exhausting, isn’t it?
3. The other thing is: Love, the feeling, grows. It really does. I promise. But let me not diminish how much it sucks not to feel anything as a mom, because if nothing else, the sensation of love is the long-awaited reward of the pains of our labor. And I don’t just mean childbirth. We want to feel the rush of affection and adoration when our baby smiles at us for the first time. We want to enjoy play with our little ones. We want to be present when they discover their first steps and words, rather than awash in a blurry state of nothing, or worse, resentment of these little people who have absorbed our lives. But for many moms, the act of love grows love.
4. But don’t forget support. Please don’t do this by yourself. Depression suffocates our feelings of worthiness. In the darkest places, we find ourselves alone with ugly, scary thoughts we’re afraid to say out loud. This only makes our feelings that we are The Worst Mom Ever all the more vivid. If that’s happening, if you’re still there, it’s far more common than you think. No, really. Talk with a mental health professional or a trusted friend. Let the scary out. The worst part of a motherhood that is disappointing is being alone in it, and you just don’t need to be.