I don’t know what I expected going into this whole motherhood gig. I guess I just assumed we’d go to the hospital, pop out a baby, come home, and everything would just return to business as usual.
So needless to say, when we brought our daughter home and our world was literally turned upside down, it shook me to the core. I didn’t know this was how things were going to be. I didn’t expect ANY of this. All the babies I’d had experience with in the past were smiley adorable little creatures that cooed and giggled and made the world a brighter place.
But MY baby? She was angry. Almost always. She was difficult to soothe. She didn’t sleep for longer than two hours at a time for at LEAST the first eight months of her life. She was nothing like the baby I imagined in my head, or the ones I saw all of my friends cheerfully toting around on their hips- or so I thought.
And dealing with my difficult baby left me feeling confused, lonely, and isolated. I felt POSITIVE that I was the only one struggling- like somehow everyone else was better at this whole mom thing than I was. It became all consuming. It became a quest to “fix” her so that it didn’t seem like I didn’t have a CLUE what I was doing. To figure out what was wrong. To make her happy. And for our sanity, to get her to FREAKING sleep.
I don’t know if it was the sleep deprivation or the constant monotony that is momlife, but somewhere in that first year postpartum, the walls started to crumble a bit. And before too long, I was drowning. My entire world became about the baby. What did she need? How long had it been since she’d eaten? When was nap time? Did she sleep today? Because if she didn’t, then she DEFINITELY won’t tonight… It consumed me, and in the process, everything else faded into the background.
I skipped showers (as we all do as moms, because WHO HAS TIME FOR THAT, amirite?!), I stayed in my sweatpants all day- and not even the cute ones; the grungy ones with the hole in the crotch that aren’t acceptable for wear in the public’s eye (don’t tell me you don’t own a pair like that…). I looked for excuses to not leave the house.
It’s too hard to do that with the baby, I’d tell myself.
Or It’s okay to not go, because I’m too tired from being up all night.
Or even, that would just mess up our daily schedule too much
All justifiable excuses, right? Only the excuses became a way of life. I would make plans and later cancel them because it felt like “too much.” My social life slowly began to wither away until eventually, I was an island. I can vividly remember being reduced to a puddle of tears almost daily as I watched my husband get ready to leave the house for work in the mornings because I dreaded the thought of being ‘alone’ for all of those hours until he returned, but even more than that, I dreaded the thought of actually having to GET OUT there and find someone to socialize with. I felt so out of place both at home with my baby and in the mom world of playdates and Little Gyms, AND as the social butterfly I once used to be.
Eventually, it came to a point where I knew I needed to make a change. I couldn’t keep living in hiding anymore, and I couldn’t pretend that everything was okay when it very clearly wasn’t. After sharing how I was ACTUALLY feeling with a close friend (not just the canned ‘oh, everything is great and I love being a mom’ response I gave most people), I came to the realization that somehow, without me even catching on to it, postpartum depression had weaved its way into my life, and I decided it was time to do something about it.
So, we joined our local Gymboree and took classes once a week. And at first it was scary, and it felt like it was too hard, and most of the time I wanted to hide at home in those grungy sweats instead of putting in the effort and going, but we went anyway. And I talked to other mamas who understood.
And we went to our local library’s free storytime. And at first it felt overwhelming, and made me anxious, and I wanted nothing more than to just spend another day binge watching Gilmore Girls on the couch instead, but we went anyway. And I talked to other mamas who understood.
And I finally agreed to all of those playdates with old friends and their babies that I’d lost touch with over the years (the very same ones who I’d cancelled on over and over again in the previous few months). And at first I felt nervous, and awkward, and out of my league, but we went anyway. And I talked to other mamas who understood.
And I started actually taking care of MYSELF for a change. And at first it felt like there wasn’t enough time, and I wasn’t strong enough, and that I didn’t deserve to be taking time away from the baby or the housework to be doing something that didn’t benefit anyone other than myself, but I did it anyway. I even joined an online fitness group that was FULL of other moms just like me. And I talked to them, and they understood.
And eventually, the overwhelming parts became slightly less overwhelming. The anxiety began to fade. I was still just as awkward as always (because that’s practically my middle name), but suddenly it wasn’t so hard to get up off the couch and out into the world. I didn’t worry so much about what people would say, or think, or do.
And it changed my life for the better. And now? I can never go back.
All because I summoned up the strength to do the things that were scary. And because I finally took the time that I needed to work on ME, and told myself that I was worth it. That is was OKAY if the house was a little bit messier if it meant I got to do a workout, or take a shower, or read a book for a few minutes, or watch mindless TV and just simply relax for a change. That it was OKAY to need more to my life than JUST being someone’s mama. That it was OKAY to admit that motherhood was a lot harder than I’d ever imagined.
So find the things that are scary, mama. Find the things that make you think twice, and do them anyway. Sometimes it takes getting just a little bit out of our comfort zones to open ourselves up to a whole new world of possibilities.
Shelly Levine is the creator of Live, Love, and Flourish where she helps moms find balance amidst the chaos. Learn more about her and what she does at http://liveloveandflourish.com/ or on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/liveloveandflourish/.
She has a great free guide titled “Surviving the day when you’re so exhausted you just can’t” and will be coming out with breastfeeding info soon!