Laying in bed last night, trying to get to sleep, my mind ran over the past two years. I thought about how I succumbed to postpartum depression, and how it affected everything in and around me. I recalled conversations with friends, family, and strangers about motherhood and how it changes you. The phrase, “motherhood isn’t what I expected”, or “kids aren’t what I expected”, came up often throughout the months after Michael was born. But he wasn’t the problem. He was never the problem. The problem was me.
I wasn’t what I expected.
Did anyone take a test to see how they would react under the pressures and daily routines of parenthood? Is there a class out there that focuses on the parent-to-be that addresses questions not like, “How can I help my newborn baby sleep better at night?” but “How can I survive day after day of not sleeping very well, but still remain sane enough to care for my new child?” Or better put, “How do I react to sleepless nights, and how can I prepare for that for months, even years?”
You see, it’s not the kids with whom we have no idea what to do with. They’re cute and cuddly, and even the most inexperienced parent (or “babysitter”) has an instinct that will help them figure out the basics. And God made it easier on us by starting the baby with only being able to cry, sleep, poop, and drink milk. Every hour, or every 30 minutes. But I’m digressing…
It’s not that I was unprepared to take care of Michael — I was as prepared as any new mom with childhood dreams of having a dozen kids (no, I’m not having even half that amount) — it was that I was totally unprepared to become the new me. I had no idea what motherhood would look like on me, but I had dreams. No, I had expectations. I thought I knew how a mother would look, talk, walk, and feel. I thought a mother would be happy, fulfilled, joyous, dancing to music as she changes the 6th dirty diaper before 10am, walk in heels toting the cutest diaper bag with hair not perfect but surprisingly looking good. I thought a mother would not feel the utter hopelessness of the baby blues for any longer than the expected two weeks. I thought that a mother would be perfect, and I was determined to look and feel every ounce as perfect as everyone else.
What no one tells you are those innermost fleeting feelings that snatch the joy, quench the love, and destroy the self-image. I was not aware of how motherhood would change me, change my ideas, my dreams, my social interactions, my spiritual life, my relationship with my husband, and, mostly, my womanhood.
This high expectation led me to stress and worry and tear myself apart for all the imperfections that come to light, especially when sleep is elusive and babies are crying and dinner was forgotten. Did I know that I would be a human being and lash out at my kid or my husband, or even the cat? No, I thought that I would have moments where I’d be tempted to, but I thought that if I lashed out it would label me as a terrible mother. No, it’s just that I am a mother, and when you put a human being on lack of sleep (that sleep thing keeps coming up, doesn’t it?), lack of self-care, and near a wailing anything for 24 hours, that human being will become someone very different. It’s only by God’s grace that human beings are still sane.