I recently read a blog post by Jenny Studenroth Gerson titled "They Should've Warned Me." I am all for women sharing their truths. This author shared her truth, a beautiful story of how harmoniously she adjusted to motherhood, how naturally it came to her, how she easily shed her baby weight, how her marriage only got better and how she had no interest in revisiting her pre-baby life -- in fact, she felt sorry for her old self for not yet having met her baby. Her basic message was that, despite all the "warnings" she heard from people before her baby was born -- sleep while you can, enjoy the silence, be prepared to never wear a bikini again, better enjoy alone time with your husband while you can -- she is actually far happier now and had an extremely smooth transition to motherhood. Take that, haters and naysayers!
I get it. It is beyond aggravating to hear all the doom-and-gloom predictions of friends, family and strangers on the street before you become a mother. What's with all the negativity? It all gets to be a bit too much; how does that "just you wait" garbage really help a pregnant woman, anyway? Nobody ever had a true learning experience from someone scaring the crap out of them with their birthing horror story or wagging a finger about how much harder your life is about to get. Not. Helpful. Those well-meaning purveyors of wisdom often have a hidden motive, whether or not they are conscious of it. Perhaps they are just self-important jackasses. Perhaps their need to be a know-it-all knows no bounds. Keep walking, Mama-to-be.
But... (you knew that was coming, didn't you?)
I believe that all mothers, regardless of how smoothly or horrifically their transition to motherhood unrolled, should be part of changing the cultural dialogue about new motherhood. It is so beautiful, powerful, important, magical -- of course it is. But it can be hard, and it doesn't come naturally or easily to many women. Our babies don't all coo blissfully and sh*t unicorn glitter. Sometimes they never stop crying. Sometimes we have no idea what to do with them. As I read Gerson's article, I kept thinking, How would a woman suffering from postpartum depression feel while reading this? Defective, discouraged, humiliated, I suspect. Perhaps even like a failure.
Is it the author's responsibility to take into consideration the experiences of all other mothers everywhere? Of course not. She is allowed to speak her truth, and she did so. Kudos to her for ignoring the warnings, overcoming the negativity and rocking motherhood.
But I also think our society is at major risk of internalizing this kind of glorified commentary of motherhood as fact. Yes, yes, I'm well aware that many people are tired of the negativity and complaining. But it's about more than that. It's about our culture's absolute lack of support and understanding when it comes to the postpartum period. We embrace an archaic view of motherhood, and, more disturbingly, of the smooth and natural transition to motherhood. This mindset does not serve the 38-year-old former career woman who is sobbing over her bleeding nipples and wondering what the actual f*ck just happened to her life. It does not serve the 29-year-old woman who has been dying to become a stay-at-home mom for her entire life and is now in the throes of undiagnosed postpartum depression.
Gerson shares the affirming reality that her husband tells her often how sexy she is, which is awesome. But yikes -- most moms don't have the word "sexy" in their postpartum lexicon. She talks about how proud she is to be able to feed her baby from her body alone. A lot of women struggle to breastfeed, and then experience crushing guilt when they quit.
It is not the author's responsibility to speak for all mothers. But it is all of our responsibility to open our minds to the myriad experiences of postpartum women. I'm going to be honest here: the three months after my second daughter was born were maybe the happiest of my entire life. The two of us melted into each other and I melted into the couch, happily spending hours and hours of my day holding her while she nursed and napped and my 5-year-old was at school. I had a beautiful postpartum experience. I was lucky.
So to be fair, this isn't really about me. It doesn't mean I didn't struggle with other stages of motherhood, though. Toddlers, anyone? Threenagers?
But I have a hard time reading glowing accounts of new motherhood when I am well aware of the women who struggle painfully with their transitions. We need to find a way to prepare mothers for the possibility that they may struggle, and that it doesn't make them bad mothers. We need to give them the tools and support to thrive after their babies are born. We need to be a loud chorus of "Me, too," and "You're not alone," to those who are brought down by postpartum mood disorders or ambivalence about their new roles. New mothers who may not be loving every minute can say, I'm so glad they warned me...
- That sometimes you don't fall in love with your baby right away, and that's OK.
- That you might miss your old life, and crave your lost freedom.
- Breastfeeding can be really hard work, and it may not happen for you.
- That postpartum depression happens, and that it's not my fault.
- Sleep deprivation is a first-class mindf*ck, and it's no laughing matter.
- That your marriage may need a long, difficult period of adjustment. It's normal.
- That you may even resent your husband.
- And worse, that you may sometimes resent your baby and your new lifestyle.
- That it's OK to ask for help. There is help.
- It's OK if you don't feel like getting back in shape for a while. Take your time.
- You might not feel like yourself at first. You'll come back.
- Every baby is different, and if yours is harder than your friend's, it's OK.
- You might feel like you suck at this. You don't.
I'm sure some of you are thinking, "Why does everyone have to talk about how hard parenthood is? Can't someone just write a positive blog post about motherhood without people criticizing her? Isn't it wonderful that she loves motherhood?" It totally is. I'm so glad that Jenny Studenroth Gerson had a beautiful transition to motherhood. And if you didn't? If you struggled? If you are struggling? That's normal, too. You're not alone, Mama.