Her questions were pointed. “Do you want to hurt yourself?” “Do you want to hurt your baby?” “Has your interest changed in things you normally enjoy?” I was pacing around the dining room table talking to the nurse, phone pressed so hard against my ear that it hurt.
Like many new moms, I spent my days nursing, changing diapers, soothing my fussy baby and counting down the hours until my husband returned from work. I’d been feeling unhappy and insecure, but figured I just had the baby blues.
As the nurse’s questions droned on, my mind shifted to the moms who would give anything for a healthy baby like mine. The moms who made it work without the support network and financial security I was taking for granted. I muddled through an easy first baby, and when my second baby had reflux and an extreme temperament, I crumbled like a house of cards. The verdict was in and it was unanimous: I was an inept, weak, ungrateful failure of a mother.
It started with anxiety. I was nervous about leaving the house when McKenna was just a few weeks old, so I walked laps around the family room with her in the Ergo carrier. I was afraid she’d cry, and that people would stare. I was certain her fussing would bother people and they’d see me as the fraud of a mother I was.
Instead I sat in our dark basement, watching reruns of America’s Next Top Model and looking down in disgust at my own flabby stomach. I called my husband three times a day and begged him to come home early, dissolving into angry tears on the rare days when he worked past 4 p.m. On one particularly bad day, I called and made a case for shortening my maternity leave because I just couldn’t take it anymore. I resented him for getting a break every day and hated myself for wanting a break of my own.
Good mothers don’t need a break – they want to spend every moment with their babies, so says Society.
That December, I declined almost every holiday party invitation and rallied for just one: a holiday get-together with co-workers that I felt obligated to attend. I dressed up, did my hair and makeup for the first time in weeks, and tried my best to convince everyone I was a blissful new mom. As I passed my screaming, drooling baby around the crowd, I sweated through my fancy top, wondering what kind of mother can’t present a sweet, cooing baby to her co-workers. Eventually, I escaped downstairs to nurse, sobbing quietly as I realized I was getting yet another breast infection. I couldn’t stop thinking about what my colleagues thought of me and my ugly, fussy baby.
Society says, good mothers innately know what their babies need – they’re confident, peaceful and warm.
During my first maternity leave, I went everywhere and saw everyone. With McKenna, my social interactions were limited to my mom and two girlfriends who had babies the same week as I did. I struggled seeing even these friends because I resented their sweet baby boys who slept three to five hours at a stretch. I was consumed by jealousy…and embarrassed to have those feelings about people I cared about.
I multitasked and nursed, refreshing Facebook every few minutes and noting which friends congratulated me about Kenna’s birth and which ones didn’t. I didn’t have the energy to reach out, but felt dismissed because people didn’t come to see me. To make matters worse, the friends who did visit got an earful about how difficult my baby was…and often didn’t return. My parents and in-laws listened as I vented – but they couldn’t be at my house 24-7 to tell me I wasn’t a complete failure.
During my maternity leave, people frequently asked me if I was loving life as a new mom, and I rattled off my socially appropriate response: “Yes, it’s wonderful, and I’m grateful to have this special time at home.” I couldn’t give the real answer: that I hated my life and couldn’t wait to go back to work to do something I was actually good at. I had to keep my secret or risk being shunned.
According to Society, good mothers dread the end of maternity leave.
A few months after Cassie’s first birthday, I got pregnant for the second time. At my eight-week doctor’s appointment, my husband and I cracked jokes and discussed plans for our second June baby. But just a few seconds into the ultrasound, we knew something was wrong. The beating heart wasn’t there. Dr. Smith kindly put her hand on my shoulder and told me I’d suffered a “missed miscarriage.”
I always thought miscarriages happened to other people and if it happened to me, it would be no big deal. I was wrong.
My innocence lost, I was fearful and anxious when I got pregnant for the third time. I announced my first two pregnancies at six weeks, but this time I hid under baggy sweaters, pretended to drink at parties and constantly checked my underwear for blood. At eleven weeks, my first trimester test results came back with a high likelihood of Down Syndrome – and I spun out of control. The Chorionic Villus Sampling a week later confirmed that I was carrying a “chromosomally normal” baby – but I spent most of my pregnancy playing out worst case scenarios in my head.
McKenna Christine Halter was born on September 30, 2011 – and was a big, healthy baby girl. For the first two weeks, she seemed a bit restless, but then, at two weeks and three days old, she started crying – and didn’t stop. I nursed, walked laps, rocked her in the Ergo carrier, put her in the swing and took her on drives, but her wails of pain and frustration continued.
Good mothers can stop their babies from crying when no one else can. They don’t get frustrated by tears – they see them as a puzzle that they are uniquely qualified to solve. – Society
Our pediatrician diagnosed McKenna with reflux and put her on medication, and Mike and I shifted into survival mode. We cared for Kenna in five-hour shifts at night, bought an angled crib and worked out the dosage for her reflux medication. I cried constantly – because I couldn’t make my baby stop crying, because I was ignoring my two-year-old, because I was exhausted. I couldn’t stop thinking that Kenna and Cassie deserved better. I hated myself for not being the loving, patient, resilient mother they deserved.
Diagnosis – And Awareness
When Kenna was three months old, my friend Amy called to say she was worried about me. In addition to being mostly housebound, my typically humorous Facebook persona had grown dark, and I was quiet and subdued. Initially, her call made me feel even worse. I had a supportive family, a healthy – albeit fussy – baby, a sweet two-year-old, a wonderful husband, lots of friends, a rock-star nanny, a nice home, and the ability to take a four-month maternity leave without financial worries. Why was I so ungrateful? Why couldn’t I handle a colicky baby with all that help? What was wrong with me?
Good mothers handle challenges with grace and count their blessings, knowing that children grow up fast and time is precious.
I had postpartum depression.
The diagnosis was validating…but I continued to struggle with feelings of inadequacy and shame. After all, it’s not socially acceptable to be miserable during a time that’s supposed to be magical. I felt like the only new mother on earth who wanted to fast-forward my life to a point where it didn’t feel so hard.
As mothers, we’re conditioned to believe that self-care is selfish and your children always come first. My children are two of the most important people in my life, but they’re not the only people in my life. I finally started to move forward when I stopped feeling guilty about having needs beyond my children and talked openly about my struggles with postpartum depression. I learned I wasn’t alone – my mom went through it, as did a childhood friend and one of my co-workers.
Good mothers take care of themselves and ask for help so they can nurture, support, and enjoy taking care of their babies. – Sanity
Today, my six- and four-year-olds are confident, funny, compassionate, secure, loving little girls. And that, for me, is what being a good mother is all about.