By Allison Schneider, the mama 'hood Co-Founder
There is a myth running rampant in our culture - it is slowly and sometimes lovingly, sometimes vehemently - being broken down, but running none the less, that claims becoming a mother is the most rewarding, satisfying, joyful thing a woman can accomplish. The brigade setting out to dismantle this myth comes in several forms, but for the most part humorous social media posts are leading the way. The viral video of the mama hiding in the pantry to eat candy whilst little fingers can be seen wiggling beneath the door. The hilarious parental twitter accounts and deliciously ridiculous toddlers whose parents can make light of this whole parenting thing. And, let me be the first to say, Hallelujah. Praise the good (insert deity here) that we are no longer expecting mothers with perfectly kept homes, a cold drink and warm lamb chops on the table every night. Parenting has become a bit more real and so many can find the absolute humor in it.
Then there are the mamas who say, yeah, if only. If only I could get to the point where I was hiding in the pantry to sneak Twizzlers instead of trying to decide if I should actually put the baby in the crib, walk out the front door and just keep going. This is not just the thought of mamas suffering from Postpartum Depression or another perinatal mood disorder. This is the thought of so many new mamas and daddies who can’t believe how hard and overwhelming this is. When a new mama has these thoughts they are almost always followed by thoughts of guilt for feeling this way or fear that they aren’t a good parent, not cut out for this. Not two weeks ago, I had a mama in Postpartum Group who has a four month old, tell the mama with the three week old, “Please, don’t feel bad, as recently as two days ago I thought maybe I’ll go knock on the door and see if the neighbors want a baby.” First of all, feeling like this does not make you a “bad” mom and not feeling like this does not make you a “good” mom. In fact, there’s no such thing as a good or a bad mom. There, I said it. There’s no such thing. Women have babies every day. Several times a day all over this country and the world. Some feel great and are so overwhelmed with joy, and others wonder when the overwhelming sense of joy they were anticipating will kick in.
We as a culture are getting better about acknowledging not all new parents feel joy and uncontrollable love for their new baby. We are not, however, getting very much better about addressing it. We were never intended to do this parenting thing is isolation, from a couch armed with only a mobile phone and non-stop internet access, and no community. When a new parent is feeling overwhelmed, guilty, ashamed, and like they are a “bad” parent, it’s our duty to say, like the mama in Postpartum Group did, “It’s ok, I felt like that too.” I still feel like that sometimes and there were times I thought we had made the biggest mistake of our lives. Like we shouldn’t have had a baby. Our job as members of this larger parenting community is not to tell any parent how they should feel about this new tiny human in their lives. Our job is to acknowledge all of the joyful and scary feelings of the newest members of our community and do our best to let them know they aren’t alone. They aren’t strange or sick or disgraceful - they are new parents and navigating the choppy seas of new parenthood are difficult even for the most experienced sailors.
Ok, but how? Be the one to say it first. Say to a new mama in your life, “Hey I was right there, where you are now, not twenty four hours ago, or two months ago, or 10 years ago.” It doesn’t matter how far removed you are from the time, let the new parents know they aren’t alone. And if you never experienced those feelings, keep it to yourself. Just be a good person, shut up, and listen with your heart instead of your head.
So, when your friend has a new baby at home, drop by with food for lunch - hopefully one of her favorites, as well as dinner to heat up, and then don’t ask her how it’s going, because it’s exhausting and amazing, and perfect and overwhelming, and lovely and terrifying. Tell her to go hop in the shower and while she’s in there get her lunch out, put it on a plate on a placemat at the table. Crack her a bottle of kombucha or Chardonnay or an IPA, and set her a place. And then when she emerges she has food, and drink and someone to hold the baby while she eats. Because we were never meant to do this alone. Historically we have lived in tribes and groups so when one mama needed a rest another could hold the baby.
And mamas, when your friend comes over to hold the baby, let them. The baby will be just fine - in fact better for the fact that her mama is feeling a bit better, refreshed and nourished. Then, in a day or two when you are feeling mostly lonesome for adult company, find your friend, or her friend who you’ve never met but who just had a baby, or a La Leche League group, or a postpartum group, so you can have company and feel like you can say to someone that while you’re glad you didn’t you may have felt like leaving the baby at the neighbors’.