For as long as I can remember, I wanted to be a mom. As a kid, I was obsessed with my dolls — I used to pretend they were each my child, and I would spend hours carefully deliberating over their names, their style of clothes, and how to best take care of them. I brought my babies everywhere with me, and believed wholeheartedly that I was a “good mommy.” In my small and naive 6-year-old mind, it didn’t take much to be a good mommy. I dressed the babies, took them with me on all my adventures, and laid them down to sleep at night. Voila! I wasn’t just a good mommy… I was the BEST mommy!
As life moved on and I stopped playing as much (and later, at all) with my baby dolls, I began to realize (likely through my own actions and the way my parents had to parent me) that being a good mommy wasn’t that simple. I still wanted to be a mom, of course, but now I wanted to wait a while… a long while. I wanted to hold onto my fun and carefree “kid-hood” for as long as I possibly could. After all, being a kid, and having people take care of me, seemed so much… easier.
Late in my 20’s, the desire to become a mom began to creep back in. Slowly at first, but over time, the pangs grew stronger. On the brink of my 30’s, when I finally met my husband in the summer of 2009, I was ready for it all: marriage, children… building my own family.
It wasn’t terribly long after we married that we decided it was time to try to have a baby. I was so excited and felt so incredibly ready.
And then I became pregnant, and the fear — the deep, debilitating, anguishing fear — set in.
It happened almost instantly after seeing the two lines signifying “pregnant” on that little stick; first there was shock and elation, and then there was panic and fear.
“Shit,” I thought. “I’m so screwed. There’s no turning back now. This baby is IN me! I’m going to have it… OMG… right at this exact moment I’m totally responsible for another human life. What was I thinking?! I can barely take care of myself!”
These fearful, anxious thoughts began to rapidly spiral. Over time, as eager as I’d always been to be a mom, I couldn’t feel anything but terror about actually becoming one. Looking back now with so much more understanding (why couldn’t my 31-year-old self have had as much wisdom as my 41-year-old self?), I realize that this was all due to an extreme lack of self-confidence. I never trusted myself to “do things well”, or to figure life out on the fly. Making choices takes me triple the amount of time (and stress) it takes others, and I always like to research all my options before making a final commitment. Clearly this was a choice I made solely on emotion, not research. And now I was committed to it.
I didn’t believe that this baby would come out of me, and that I’d just instinctively “know” how to take care of her. There was so much to learn, research, understand and do before her birth, and the perfectionist, type-A person I am simply HAD to do it all in order to prepare myself — and her! — fully for her arrival. After all, I would never be a “good mommy” if all her clothes weren’t washed, folded and put away in order of size and season; I’d never be a “good mommy” if I didn’t read all the (often contradictory) books on healthy newborn sleep and eating routines; I’d never be a “good mommy” if I didn’t have the bathroom ready to go with two sets of hooded infant towels, organic, tear-free infant baby soap, and a perfect baby bathtub; I’d never be a “good mommy” if I didn’t know exactly how to use the impossible-to-figure-out Moby wrap before her birth; and I’d never be a “good mommy” if I didn’t have the exact right “go to sleep” mix ready to play each night before putting her to bed.
I set so many expectations for myself — most of them ridiculous and impossible to meet — that I was constantly wavering between total panic (Why can’t I do all these things that “good mommies” do?!) and feelings of total failure and despair (I can’t do anything right… this kid deserves so much better. Who was I to think I could do this? I’m not a good mommy – I’m going to be a terrible mommy).
It was all exhausting, depressing and incredibly stressful. If I couldn’t live up to my own unrealistic expectations, my husband certainly couldn’t either (he was nowhere near as meticulous or type-A as me, after all), and with every passing day I became more certain that we’d made a giant mistake. Not to mention, over the course of 30-some years of life, I’d really grown to love my independence; I had the freedom to do what I wanted to do, when I wanted to do it. The farther into pregnancy I went, I would lie asleep late at night worrying to myself, “with the birth of this baby, my freedom — life as I know it, even my identity — dies.”
Anxiety is a crappy, crappy thing that I have way too much firsthand experience with. It squashes joy, steals the moment you’re actually living in, and forces you to worry about all the future what-ifs that may or may not happen. But man does it make those future what-ifs seem like full-on, real certainties.
All this angst, which I know now was part of a very bad case of pregnancy anxiety and depression, stole the pregnancy (and later, the postpartum period) I’d always dreamed of; you know, the one where I would spend hours staring gleefully at my belly, singing to my baby in the shower, and excitedly anticipating her arrival. Rather, on the day I was finally induced, I asked the doctors if it would be better if she just stayed inside… it would be easier for me to take care of her there (I was only half kidding… ).
This story goes on — I’ve written about it several times before, like here, and here. Postpartum anxiety and depression is a real bitch.
But what I’ve only come to realize well into my parenting journey (that “baby” is now 8, and my littles are 4) is that even after the recovery of my PPA/PPD, that constant, nagging voice of insecurity never went away: “You can’t do this,” it would say. “You should ask for help. Don’t trust your mother’s intuition — you probably don’t even have one — other, smarter, more experienced people than you will know what to do in this situation.”
I had ZERO faith in myself as a mother. After all, I was only beginning to gain confidence in myself as a capable, intelligent, worthy person. It’s hard to admit, but it’s true. When you don’t believe in yourself, you don’t trust your gut, your opinions and ideas, your value in the world, and you certainly don’t trust your ability to help a tiny human grow and thrive.
Over the course of my early mom-hood years (and until much more recently than I care to admit), I allowed others to dictate the path for my kids. I sourced out motherhood, so to speak. I asked for everyone else’s opinions, read every book I could get my hands on on how to parent effectively, relied on other caregivers to make choices that I, as a mom, should have been making for my kiddos. All because I didn’t trust myself.
In the last several months — since the pandemic began, really — something incredible has happened. I’ve done some incredible introspective, self-work, and had this major epiphany: I am NOT perfect. I’m not a perfect person, nor a perfect mama. I don’t always have the right answers, and there will always be other people out there who know things I don’t. But, I AM the mama that my kids want and need. These little people love me so much, and I love them beyond what mere words could express. They are literally MY LIFE, and as cliche as it sounds, I’d do anything for them. I may not always know exactly what to do in the moment, but, contrary to my younger-year self-doubt, I DO have a mother’s intuition, and it DOES speak loudly to me. I just used to shush it, bury it down deep, and suffocate it to death. But in recent months as I’ve let it rise to the surface and allowed it to breathe, an amazing thing has happened: I listen to it first, before consulting others, and it guides me in exactly the direction that feels right for me and my family.
It was in me all along — the instinct, the know-how, the skill — I just didn’t believe it. I didn’t trust me, or it. And I didn’t feel like I could provide value as a parent to my little people.
How sad? And also, how wrong!
In fact, as I’ve grown more confident in my parenting abilities, I’ve also grown to LOVE parenting even more. And my children’s confidence in both themselves and in me has grown exponentially, too. I’m in a better place now as a mom than I’ve ever been. And while I’ll never have all the right answers all the time (who does?), and I’ll never be the perfect parent (who is?), I will continue working on trusting myself, listening to my own instincts, and repeating the important mantra that I am exactly the mother my kids need and want.
To all you other mamas out there who are feeling, or who have felt, the same way: I see you, I feel you, I AM you. You’ve got this. You are the best mother for your children — the one they deeply love, want and need.