Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Mom Thoughts

It still feels as if one day I might wake up from this dream (or nightmare, depending on how I'm feeling)—that's how surreal motherhood has been for me.  I have about three months of mothering under my belt, and I still feel totally lost a lot of the time.  A lot of people have told me in the past that I would be "such a great mom" because they had seen me interact with their toddlers, or because they know what I do for work (pediatric occupational therapist in the school setting), or probably because of the naturally bubbly energy that I bring to social gatherings.  When I was pregnant, I was imagining all of the fun things that I would do with my kids—crafts, sports, shows, hikes, reading, cooking, rolling through the grass, you name it.  I also imagined that I'd be fun-loving, tireless, and gracious.  Of course I knew that I'd have to get through the newborn phase, but hell, I don't think that anything could have prepared me for just how exhausting and mentally challenging this time has been.  

The first three months after the baby is born is often termed the “4th trimester,” and it is notorious for being the hardest of all. I used to think that it’s because you have to heal from childbirth, get used to sleeping less, and learn how to breastfeed.  Like, basic baby management stuff and physical recovery. But it’s so much more—it’s when you are essentially born again, but as a mother.  Being a mom has put my patience with myself to the test.  It’s been a time of immense stress and exhaustion, but also I’ve seen how strong and resilient I can be.  Now that I have been getting more sleep than in the first month or two, I’ve been able to look at my reactions with a clearer head.  It’s so easy to feel incompetent and guilty when little things don’t work out.  I feel that there is always pressure coming from all sides to "be a good mom," a lot of it is probably because I want to prove to my husband, family, and friends that they were correct—I am a great mom. 

But what is a great mom?  Is it someone who sacrifices everything to be one-hundred-percent present with their child?  Maybe that's what the rhetoric has been in generations past up until now, but I am unable to reconcile that image with a lifestyle that feels fulfilling to me.  Personal goals, friendships, and hobbies might dim, but they cannot disappear with becoming a mom.  I am not about to give all of that up, but it's definitely been really hard to balance those pieces of me with the very large responsibility of momming.  I do realize that free time is scarce, I can't be there for everyone, and I might have to put some fun things on the back burner for now.  It is a fact that I am not who I used to be, and I will never be that person again.  This sacrifice is a part of what I signed up for, and all other women who are doing the same thing.  Part of becoming a mom is grieving this loss, and the other part is being proud of my newfound identity.  

Just because I am not the same person as who I was before, does not mean that it is impossible to put myself first sometimes, though.  Sadly, "mom guilt" exists as a term because it is so common for moms to judge themselves and blame themselves when things go wrong.  It is hard to rid myself of this guilt cycle, since it comes from a place of sincerity and selflessness.  But, a mom who is constantly beating herself up is not setting a good example for her children.  The last thing I'd want is for Zoe to get into the habit of putting herself down.  Also, I think that taking time to do things for me that I've always enjoyed, prior to becoming a mom, is helping to break this guilt cycle.  It's sort of paradoxical because I could choose to either come out of doing these things with even more guilt, or realize that I feel so much more ready to deal with the stress of motherhood after a little time to myself.  I believe that if I cannot dedicate some time to self care, I cannot be a "good mom" to Zoe.  I am definitely more patient, more resilient, and more myself after doing some yoga, taking a nap while Wes watches the baby, or sitting here and blogging.  

So I ask myself again, what makes a good mom?  I think that it lies in self-worth.  Believing that I'm a good mom automatically makes me a good mom.  It's not easy to just slap that "good mom" label on myself and fully believe it, but it helps to understand that for all moms, messing up is normal, feeling frustrated is normal, and being anxious is normal, too.  I grew up glorifying my own mother and it seemed like she always knew what to do, and it's hard to see her as imperfect despite her flaws.  Also, there are so many experts out there whose voices are louder than my own.  But my worth cannot be measured by how much time I spend off work, how quickly the baby starts sleeping through the night, how often I ask for help, how "chill" I act, or how closely I can emulate my own mother.  It is important for me to feel satisfied with my efforts, confident in my abilities, and optimistic with adversity.  I mean, it's always been important, but now it's more important than ever.  Having secure self esteem makes life easier for Zoe, for Wes, and everyone attached.  "Good mom" implies that there is some kind of standard that moms need to live up to.  But honestly, no matter how many times others tell me that I'm a great mom, it doesn't matter until I believe it myself.  I cannot be perfect, but I can do my best.  I believe that my best is truly enough because my love for Zoe is infinite, which makes me the best mom for her.

Below are some vignettes of a few occurrences in my new role as a mom thus far.  It's truly therapeutic to write them down objectively like this, and look back on how far I've come since each moment.  I also hope that this gives whoever is reading this a realistic idea of motherhood if you are not a mom, and if you are mom, that you are not alone.


I pull on a pair of jeans that I had proudly scored for a discount in my size once upon a time.  The fabric is soft and stretchy, the skinny silhouette is flattering, the dye a deep indigo blue.  These jeans struck a balance between both professional and fashionable.  They were perfect for the squatting and kneeling that I do at work as well as going out on the weekends.  Well, I pulled them out of the drawer and shimmied them up my legs.  I couldn't button them.  It bothered me a little, but not to worry, I have more pants.  I laid those aside and grabbed a second pair.  Lightly dyed, casual and beachy with the cuffs rolled up, loose from what I can remember.  I put them on, and nope, the button wouldn't button on these either.  Now I'm feeling more unnerved.  I'm not only different on the inside, but also on the outside.  My waistline has changed, my jawline, my hairline.  Everything that I loved about myself before.  I was glad that many of the pounds that I had gained from pregnancy were gone, but there was just something different about my body.  Not sure what to think right now, but the first thing I did was order some high waisted shorts for the summer and some wide leg pants.  I've read some inspirational things online about how some women love their postpartum bodies because the loose flesh and new folds remind them of their baby, but I'm not sure that I can really say that yet.  I'm in no rush to get rid of it, but I'm secretly and probably foolishly hoping that maybe I'll get my old body back.

The Nap Trap

I am rocking my baby in my arms.  I have been at this for who-knows-how-long.  I had just read from multiple sources online that my two-month-old should only be awake for one hour at a time, lest she become "overtired."  That dreaded word.  Lest she cries and fusses, that dreaded sound that makes every mom's brain explode a little.  So I rock her at the one-hour mark, at the first sign of sleepiness, which I'm not even sure qualified as a true "sleepy cue."  But who cares, it shouldn't be a big deal, rocking your baby into dreamland.  Moms are made to do this.  Except I've been doing this now for thirty minutes and she's still wide awake and fussier than she ever was before, and I'm about to burst into tears of anger.  This is the third nap that Zoe has refused today, and I keep hearing the voices of my friends whose babies nap on schedule and stay asleep for hours.  I'm exhausted and just so pissed at her, at me, at Wes, at the world.  Why does it feel like I'm the only mom who can't get her baby comfortable enough to doze off?  Wes ended up taking her on a walk, but I confessed to him when he came back that I had been crying.  He was so sad that I felt like a failure, and he didn't try to logic it out this time.  He just listened, and I felt so much better after that.


Wes and I usually go on a walk together after he is done working, but there was this one time that he was too busy and needed to work overtime.  So, I took Zoe out in the stroller myself.  She was awake and looking about, so I pushed back the canopy and started to name things that we were walking past for her.  I began to name things that we could, see, hear, smell.  I talked about how the sun felt, the occasional breeze.  I was inadvertently using grounding techniques, a way to cope with anxiety.  It was beautiful to behold our mundane neighborhood through Zoe's newly developed senses.  I instantly felt better, and it hit me that through connecting to her, I was mindfully connecting back to myself.


I burst into tears at the kitchen counter while Wes holds me, we are both helpless.  This is after frantically googling “engorgement" and doing everything I found.  Placing ice packs over my breasts, going into a hot shower, wincing as Wes massaged the rock hard breast tissue, muddling my way through pumping, and then feeling horrible about it later as lactation consultants told me that it was the wrong thing to do.  I’d heard of mastitis and I was freaked out, clearly catastrophizing.  I could barely lie down, the pain was too much to bear.  But I was so tired from breastfeeding every two hours that I did fall asleep.  It didn’t help that we found a milk blister on the side of my left nipple the next day, and I barely had the energy to do all the things to get rid of it.  Like soaking it in Epsom salt water, warming compresses, olive oil on a cotton ball, three or four times a day.  Finally, Wes took a sterile needle to it.  I love breastfeeding now, but nobody ever told me how painfully that journey would start out.

My Heart

I had just finished feeding Zoe, and what I usually do is place her back into her bassinet, return the burp cloth to the nursery, wash out my milk collection cup, wash off my breasts, pee, log the feeding, and take a few more drinks of water.  Then, my favorite part is when I walk into our dark bedroom and hear Wes and Zoe breathing.  It's the sweetest sound and warmest feeling, and I feel that all is right in the world.  In the dead of the night, when no one else is awake, I'm taking care of them.  As my eyes adjust to the dark, I can make out both of their dark hair and the lumpy shape of their bodies.  I just want to hug Wes (and I do), and bury my face into Zoe's cheeks again (but I don't).  I forget all about how exasperated I was when I had to wake up.

Sitting Down to Dinner

Wes is setting the table with tortillas, a juicy piece of salmon, sliced chicken, homemade salsa, sauteed mushrooms, and chunky guacamole.  It smells great and I'm hungry.  Zoe is on the play mat, and she thrashes happily at the rattle hanging above her head.  I take my vitamins, Wes washes some knives, and we settle down.  I load up a warm tortilla with a little bit of everything and I take a bite.  Zoe begins to fuss—she's hungry too.  Wes immediately gets up to hold her.  I feel guilt as I try to eat my taco faster.  He tells me it's fine, take my time, he will distract her.  But I eat really slow.  He sets her into the swing, and I feel more guilt.  He comes back to the table to eat.  After a few minutes, it is clear that she is not letting us get away with this.  He leaves the table and plays with her, telling me to just keep eating.  But I feel horrible about delaying her milk, and horrible about Wes delaying his meal just so that I could eat.  Finally, I finish eating what I can while Wes changes her diaper, and then Wes sits down to finish dinner without us.  I realize that this happens and there's no need to feel so bad, and there are dinners that go more smoothly than others.  It's nice that we at least try.


I was trying to take a nap when I hear Zoe's little voice crying from the other room.  She has been so patient—she entertains herself for a while before asking for attention after she wakes up from a nap in her crib.  I remove my eye mask to get her.  Too tired to bring her to the play mat or read a book, I lay Zoe on our bed in Wes's spot and I stare at her.  She stares back at me—a new thing that she's been doing—and I feel so, so whole.  I realized that I should just do this more.  It's so simple, it's just us looking at each other, but it's so amazing.  She looks at me with those innocent eyes and I think to myself, I am her world.  I think, this exact feeling is what I've wanted, what I thought I couldn't have, with the recurrent miscarriages in the years past.  She coos, and I coo back.  Then I laugh, and she smiles.  And then I cry.

For my first ever Mother's Day, I requested to take some nice family portraits together.  I knew that Wes could pull them off at home with a tripod and his best photography equipment, and I was not disappointed!  Zoe also just turned a hundred days old on May 6th, and she's starting to grow into herself for sure.  We've never taken photos with a baby before and it was definitely an experience—from timing it between a feeding and a nap, to selecting the proper shutter speed and ISO to accommodate for a constantly squirming subject, to making sure that I held still so that the focus would be consistent across the hundreds of photos that were taken.  There was probably 1 good one in every 50, but to be honest, I love all of the hilarious out-takes too.  Here are a few favorites!  It was a very happy first Mother's Day.

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