Motherhood Bliss. I heard about it, read about, talked about it and expected it. It is in part, why I was so excited to get pregnant. Is there anyone who doesn’t want to coo over tiny fingers and get lost in the first smile of a newborn? And then there is the other side. Post partum depression. As a psychologist I knew all about that too. I understood the diagnosis and was ready to look for symptoms. My midwife and pediatricians were great about checking in with me to make sure I wasn’t suffering from a serious depression that may interfere with my ability to care for my child, or myself. They would run down the list of symptoms. Mood swings? Well, my hormones were pretty wacky, does that count? Anxiety? I was terrified of doing something wrong as a parent, worried about my baby’s every breath, does that count? Disrupted sleep? Come on, really? Is there a new mom who sleeps peacefully? Irritability? I was sleep deprived and my boobs hurt. You could say I was irritable. Uncontrolled crying? I find myself welling up from time to time, usually overcome with an overwhelming love and awe for the little person in front of me, does that count? Sadness? Well, let’s talk about that one. Between you and me, there was something there, way in the back of my mind. I didn’t dare acknowledge it out loud, because that might have meant that I was not experiencing motherhood bliss. And I must have been blissful, because I couldn’t say I was depressed and those were my only two options right? So I pushed it away. Never mind, no sadness here!
Somehow my midwife and I came to the conclusion that I was not experiencing post partum depression. Excellent, I was in the midst of motherhood bliss. Good to know. My friends and family told me I looked great. I was glowing. Excellent. Good to know.
Most of the time I believed them. Most of the time it was true. Most of the time, I was in utter love and complete awe of the magic that was transforming my life into something that I never imagined was possible. Some of the time I even felt like the moms in movies and on the cover of magazines, vibrant and alive with a lusty obsession with my baby. For the most part I was content to stare at him sleeping, and when I was not staring at him, I was probably staring at pictures of him, afraid of missing one tiny miniscule moment of his life.
And then, the sadness would pop up. Just a glimmer of it. A nudge really, elbowing me in the inner recesses of my mind. A thought formed….”who am I now?” I was quick to answer, I am a mom. And mostly I loved the answer. And then another thought…”what did I use to do, what did I use to like?” I was not sure. How did I ever think any of those things were important? I wondered if I was previously just an incredibly shallow and unenlightened person or did the things I use to like to do really matter in another world, in another time, to another person. The old me. The childless me.
Where is that me? I would try to remember. I used to really love my career. I used to love to travel, to eat out in great restaurants with friends, a good bottle of wine, a good book. I used to love hot baths and long phone conversations and movies. Do I still like these things? Absolutely! And I would do any of them in a heartbeat….any chance I get. But they are secondary. They have ceased to be my first priority. Now, my career is a means to provide for my children. Travel consists of packing up to go the park or the zoo and eating out is limited to restaurants that have a train table. Last time I picked out a bottle of wine I grabbed the first one I saw with one hand as I reached for my toddler who was running down the aisle with the other. I still read, but a book takes me months to finish and while I used to bask in the profoundly beautiful writing of Marquez and Hemmingway, I now am obsessed with Eric Carle, Richard Scary, and Dr. Seuss. Hot baths? Well, I’m lucky to get a quick shower and that doesn’t happen without someone poking a head in or throwing a plastic dinosaur in with me. And as for long phone conversations, well, find someone who will tolerate talking for long when my part of the conversation is splattered with “please take the dinosaur out of your nose” and “please don’t lick your brother’s head”. When I do manage to squeeze in a conversation I am hard pressed to have something interesting to say that doesn’t concern poop.
I have become the person I always said I would never be. I have become the typical mom. I am dying for a minivan and instead of surfing the internet to find a great band to see with friends tonight I am surfing to find out what time story time at the library is. I am a parent to toddlers. The things that used to define me are mere memories, whispers of a life that seems too far removed from my reality now to be obtainable. I am sure, that some day I will get back there. I will read something that has more than 10 words per page and have interesting thoughts about the state of the union. I know this is true but somehow, right now I can’t imagine it.
And thus, the sadness. A bit of grieving for the person I was. Not an overwhelming sadness. Not an uncontrollable, diagnosable, depressed kind of sadness. It is a quiet feeling. An afterthought really. But it is real and true and undeniable. And for some reason we don’t talk about it. At least I didn’t.
Maybe I am afraid of admitting that the “motherhood bliss” isn’t really all blissful all the time. Maybe I am afraid that admitting to a certain level of sadness may diminish my love for my children. Maybe I am afraid that people won’t think I am supermom. Maybe I am afraid they will diagnosis me or label me with post partum depression and that will somehow make me less successful as a mother.
The reality is that both are true. We can be in motherhood bliss. We can thrive on being with our kids and at any given moment we would probably rather be with them than doing anything else. We can be supermoms. We can breast feed and baby-wear and make homemade baby food from our organic garden and do art projects and trips to the Children’s Museum. We may love it all.
And we may just be a little bit sad.
When ever I talk about this with other moms the same thing happens. A collective sigh comes from all the supermoms in the room. The usual banter about diapers and nap routines is suddenly punctuated by a heartfelt commonality that we all seemed to understand but rarely speak about. We were all in the midst of a drastic identity change and while we all embraced the profound meaning of motherhood, we were all a tiny bit sad about the profound loss of the things that use to be important to us. Most importantly I think we all felt closer having taken the risk to admit to the sadness.
Just knowing that other supermoms feel the same way was an emotional elixir that soothed my worried soul. It seemed as if the worrying about the sadness was more troublesome than the sadness itself. Like I said, the sadness itself was an afterthought. A fleeting feeling of loss that emerged from time to time. The lingering result was the fear that experiencing this sadness somehow meant I loved parenthood less. That I was less than the supermom I wanted to be. Knowing that all the moms I look up to, all the moms that seem to have it all together, experience the same thing as me changed my outlook. Maybe the loss wouldn’t feel so lonely. Maybe the change wouldn’t be so scary. I wish my friends who foraged the road to parenthood ahead of me had been able to talk about the downside a little bit more. I wish I had been in a place to listen to them if they had. I hope I can talk a little more honestly to my friends who will enter parenthood after me. Maybe together we can learn to celebrate the change, rather than ignore it.