Too Many Things Held Precious
Too many things held dear.
“There has to be more” on one hand,
“Keep your head above water” on the other.
Surprise, another post about motherhood. Even when I try to write about something else, it always comes back around to this—although I guess that’s to be expected when something is your day job, your night job, your home life, your whole life.
I used to roll my eyes when women said they felt like they’d lost their identity after having a baby. Oh poor you, you’re taking a break from a career in which you’re utterly replaceable to become a mother, the shining heliosphere encompassing a child’s whole world. Well apparently it took the addition of a second kid to thrust me into this crisis for myself, and let me tell you, I don’t glibly brush it off anymore.
As a mother, yes, you are absolutely everything to your children when they’re little. But your importance is almost so huge that it transcends your unique personhood. Your kids don’t care about your personality, or your special skills, or your sense of humour. They just want you to do all the things that every other mother instinctively does, and has done since time immemorial. They want you to do a thousand little tasks that, largely, could be done by any adult. But they don’t want any adult to do it— they only want you. You, you, only you. For a while it’s endearing, almost humbling that someone wants this much of you. But string together enough days of this and gradually, the sweet feeling of being loved and needed can morph into a sensation of being smothered and chained.
You always hear people say to moms, “it’s okay to ask for help,” with that knowing, problem solved, idiot! tone. But it’s not that simple.
It’s hard not to be, at times, resentful of the “dad” role. Tom can leave his children for nine hours a day and not shed one thought about whether the kids are doing okay. The kids are with their mother. They are 100% handled.
I can’t do that. I can’t leave my kids with their mother because I am their mother. Even when I’m away from them and out of the house, I can’t fully, mentally leave. It’s only a matter of time before I start thinking about whether Owen stayed napping or if he woke up screaming and is hungry, or if Adam’s throwing a meltdown tantrum over some slight imperfection in his life. I feel guilty leaving because I’m the only person on earth that can calm them down quickly, but for 2-3 hours, I’ve asked someone else to just muddle through.
Saying, “it’s okay to ask for help” to a struggling mother is like saying, “it’s okay to eat a meal,” to someone who’s starving. If you really want to be helpful, find out what has kept her from asking for help. Maybe—
- she doesn’t have anyone she feels she can ask
- she feels like asking would be too much of a burden
- she’s afraid of how the kids will behave for someone else
- the planning and preparation involved with leaving (pumping a bottle, working out napping arrangements, mentally bracing for the moment of separation) feel like too much work, etc.
And you know, the reasons might sound small and negligible, but the mental and emotional state of a new mom isn’t always at peak form. Reassurance may take some exaggeration— tell her which days you’re available to babysit and assure them that hearing a baby screamcry into your ear is something you really don’t mind at all. In fact, you miss that! (Sounds silly, but that’s nearly the level of affirmation I’d need in order to not feel miserable about the situation.)
Adam has always struggled with separation anxiety. I know it’s something he’ll grow out of, and I was the same way as a kid. But because I still have memories of feeling scared and exposed when away from my own mother, I totally indulge his shyness and don’t push him towards independence as hard as I know I should. Tired of the fight some weeks, I let him stay with me at my morning ladies program instead of going into the awesome childcare. Normally Owen just falls asleep nursing, so I thought I could handle both while still getting something out of class. But not this time. Adam ceaselessly asked if we could go home, and Owen couldn’t settle and just kept screaming.
I left halfway through, only holding back the tears of frustration and resentment until we got to the car. Seriously, two hours a week I try to connect with friends and pursue something scholarly and I couldn’t even have that?
I didn’t even notice it transpire, but all of a sudden I realized that I was having a lot of bad days. More bad days than good days. When did that happen? For weeks after Owen was born, things were going great. Recovery was easier than I expected, and even though the nights are hard, you’re a rockstar when you have a newborn. Everyone gives you food and presents and love.
But the shine wears off slowly. Sometimes, too slowly to realize you’re actually sad and lonely at the same time as you’re craving some alone time after months of acting as a baby’s milk truck while fielding a toddler’s absolutely relentless barrage of requests and questions. That you’re exhausted from the hustle, because if you stop for one minute, someone’s crying over something trivial. That all your days are so repetitive and similar, so boring that you want to throw up.
Tom asked me what we could do to make me feel happy. That day, I couldn’t think of anything. All my hobbies felt like a chore— boring or pointless. I knew that was a red flag, so that was the day I started to get help. I reached out to friends, and put myself on a postpartum depression watchlist with the nurse at Owen’s 4-month vaccinations. Talking helped. I got so much help from my friends. And I went to the mall on the weekend. Got my nails done and went to the optometrist. The kids survived.
Sometimes the glimmer of hope comes from unexpected places. On one of the hard days, I was just feeling like a mom robot, good for nothing except wiping butts, faces, counters; scraping peanut butter onto bread for the four-hundredth time; just doing whatever it took to stop the whining and crying coming out of one or the other. Then that night, a friend messaged me because she needed help identifying a font. It was an easy one. It was Quicksand. Through the damn tears I defiantly thought, “I am still in here somewhere. I am still here.”
Things got better. Now that Owen actually sleeps, on a somewhat predictable schedule, life has improved. I am grateful for my support people. You know who you are— thank you. Though the line is blurry, I don’t think I had postpartum depression. But I do think I made it to the brink and looked over the edge. It was scary enough to go that far— a glimpse into the reality of many. Check in on a mom this Christmas season. This job ain’t easy, but it’s a lot better when you know you’re not alone.