Recently, a really good friend of mine asked about the “joy” of motherhood. She asked when, exactly, it hits because nursing every two hours and not sleeping for four months is not exactly “joyful.” And it’s not. I think people who tell you those first few months were a joyful time in their lives are either lying, don’t remember, or they’re God.
I sure as hell am not God.
Her question stuck with me for a long while. It found its way in to the pit of my stomach and sat, festered, and grew in to fear. I was honest when I answered her. I was honest to say that to this day I do not exactly embody a “joyful” mom. We have joyful times. We enjoy life more now as she’s older and can interact with us. We mesh a little better. But joy? It’s kind of a stretch most days. And, honestly, the days I find “joy” are the days LB takes a long, long nap after having a lovely morning out with fresh air and playing.
Does it say something that my most joyful times are after an hour or two of alone time? Does that mean I am an awful mom? Does that make me a selfish person who should never have procreated? These are the questions I struggled with after I initially answered her weeks ago.
To women who do not have children yet, and I speak from my own thought process as I transformed from woman to alien incubator over two years ago, there is a tremendous amount of pressure to find joy in your children. There is pressure to have children because that is the meaning of life. To procreate. To be a MOTHER. Everything maternal is idealized and you feel the expectation of society breathing down your aging uterus. I struggled with my own fear of being able to conceive a baby, having never even tried. I struggled with waiting too long, with being too selfish, with enjoying the “pre-kid” time too much. I felt that if I didn’t jump on the mom wagon, I might miss my chance. So I jumped. I got knocked up. Then I really fell to bits.
Even as I waited, in those later weeks, for LB to arrive, I had a preconcieved notion of how life was going to be. I was going to glow with pride. I was going to have my daughter, my go-baby, and we were going to be out doing together. She’d be an extension of who I was merged with my husband and I couldn’t wait to take her out to see the world. Reality was such a slap in the face that I reeled for months struggling with post partum depression and wrestling with the demons of expectations. I had to distance myself from friends and family to keep from hearing “She’s so wonderful!” and “What a blessing!” I remember visiting an old church of mine and introducing LB, at nine months old, to the Pastor. He looked at her and said, “I bet she brings you so much joy.” That sentence struck me so hard I remember the sinking feeling in my stomach to this day. “Joy?” Interesting.
Joy came. Joy left. Joy came back. And left again. We’ve enjoyed times in her life more than others. There are honeymoon phases in her life where she seems in balance, were we seem in balance, and things click. There are other times we all seem to clash and the lack of sleep or growing teeth or tantrums cloud the harmonious memories. Just last week I turned to Mr. Flinger and reflected on how much more fun she is right now. We’ve turned a corner. I don’t know if was finally getting over the hump of turning two, adjusting to our new home, or climbing out of the exhaustive first trimester, but we both seem to have a little more patience for one another and find things a little more funny than we did two months ago.
I’m trying to be realistic with coffee bean. I’m trying to not put so much pressure on myself to have to tell everyone how much I love new babies. I’m trying to remind myself that the bad times don’t last just like the good ones wont. Motherhood is about more than showing off your children. It’s more than bragging about them, about telling everyone how much you love them, about the mask you put on when you step out the door. It’s about being someone your children can count on, depend on, find strength from. It’s about being real to your children and showing them how to deal with hard times as well as happy times. Mr. Flinger reminded me once that LB is going to see me depressed, and angry, and crying. If I try to hide those emotions from her she may grow up just as disillusioned as I was when it’s time for her first child. Instead, I try to show her emotion, allow her to have her own emotions, and find a way for us to be individuals sharing a daily routine that sometimes doesn’t mesh.
And even on some days, to find joy in each other. Because even if I’m not June Clever, I still enjoy my child. I’d like for her to know that because she feels it, not because I tell her.
oh lord, i hate new babies. i already know this about myself because that first year with each of my girls was hell so why should i kid myself about this next one? that said, better out than in. so when i am evaporating from no sleep, and my nips are killing me from yet another case of mastitis…while my sac-like belly pulls slowly upward and back into a more human shape, I will peer down at that baby and thank the LORD she is out of there. Anyone who thinks motherhood is just one continuous joy after another is also that same person who claims married life is a dream come true and is therefore automatically completely discredited as a factual source for information. The reason why this is called life is because LIFE IS HARD. Thankfully there are a lot of little nuggets of joy interspersed tho to make it bearable.
By texasbelle on 2007 01 25
LOL, see, I am one of those people you hate who talks about the dream come true called marriage. It really has been flawless for me.
I kinda (no, REALLY) expected motherhood to be the same way. Not necessarily effortless of course, but not at ALL how grueling it’s turning out to be. The diet restrictions due to her allergies is really what gets me down. It is pure hell on most days.
So I’m there with ya, Les. Here’s to hoping those brief idyllic moments get longer and the sleep regressions get shorter. Some day they’ll be in college and out of our hair/off our boobs; /thEN we can REALLY enjoy them.
By Laura on 2007 01 25
oh lordy this is true! i’m one of those people who does.not.like. the newborn thing. i was so afraid to admit that to myself, let alone anyone else, that i was miserable until well after my son’s first birthday. i thought there was something crazy wrong with me because all these women around me kept oohing and aahing about newborn this and newborn that and don’t you just luurrrrrrrrrrrrrve the newborn stage. um, hello? no! it’s not fun. especially with a colicky baby like my first born was. the girl was easier. much much easier and i kinda sorta got a glimpse of what it must be like to love the newborn stage, but mostly i still hated it because it’s painful and scary and it feels endless when it’s happening. (it IS easier the second time around, though, i swear—mostly because you know how to say “this too shall pass” and believe what you’re saying is true). and can i shut up now? i think i will. bye!
By moxiemomma on 2007 01 25
This is one of the most heartfelt and honest things I have read about the misconceptions about new motherhood.
When I was pregnant the first time I was so ready to just “have her out!” and meet her. But one of my good friends surprised me by saying, “You know…she’s a lot easier to take care of inside your belly, than outside.” And my own mom would tell me, “new babies don’t do anything but eat and poop and pee and sleep.” I am not that crazy about newborns. Honestly when someone brings their newborn to my office to show them off, I never really want to hold them. Maybe I’m weird?
But still, I think you are right that we feel like motherhood is this idyllic state of bliss. The first six weeks are so are hard as hell, even with a lot of help (and believe you me I milked the help from our close by family as much as I could.) I don’t know how new parents handle the newborn phase without help.
As a mom to a 4 1/2 year old and a 22 month old, it does pass by quickly and before you know it you sometimes miss those newborn days.
By Jamie on 2007 01 25
I love being pregnant, find birthing to be a powerful and moving experience, but having a newborn? No thanks, all done. Yes, there are moments of sheer joy as you hold your new baby and marvel at how they could possibly be so perfect, all those little toes and fingers… which I somehow imagined like little doughy bits rather than the perfectly formed piano fingers I would stroke. But for the most part, it’s really really hard and really really emotional. At least it gets better!
Do me a favor and look into Sam-e for depression. It was very helpful for me!
By Elaine on 2007 01 25
Amen, amen, hallelujah, and A-FREAKING-MEN!
By Kate on 2007 01 25
Thanks for your honesty. I agree - there are many joyful moments, but it is hard to feel joyful all the time as a mom, wife, and oh yeah, still find ME under all that.
LOVE your words: “It’s about being someone your children can count on, depend on, find strength from. It’s about being real to your children and showing them how to deal with hard times as well as happy times.”
A positive note about the newborn thing the second time around - it is a lot less of a learning curve (not as terrifying to put a onesie on that little body!)
By AmyM on 2007 01 25
Oh, man, I am failing miserably if I need to find joy in every moment…
and I want your “virgin” line so badly for my blog..can I buy it from you?:)
By recoveringwino on 2007 01 26
Hear, hear. Right on the money, Mrs. Flinger!
By Ali on 2007 01 26
Thank you for saying what I am just beginning to figure out. The joyful moments are amazing, but I was surprised at how many times during the week I ask myself what I’ve gotten myself into!
By Shelly on 2007 01 26
I love new babies. Even with the colic Anna had and the PPD I had, I’d take a new baby over a toddler 8 times out of 10. lol
I hate toddlerhood.
But anyway, very well said!
By Sarah on 2007 01 26
“I’m trying to remind myself that the bad times don’t last just like the good ones won’t.”
You know, this is what gets me through the rough times. It’s all so temporary. All of it. The good. The bad. The so-so. Of course reminding yourself of this in the middle of a rough spell doesn’t always help… but of course it’s true. And it’s taught me to savor the joyful moments, because they are precious… and fleeting!
Great post from the heart, Leslie. Love ya hon!
By Marie on 2007 01 26
I am in the opposite category.
I love newborns. All my babies were great, no colic, pretty typical, nursed a lot, slept a lot. And yes, my house was still a disaster and I was exhausted, but I love newborns. It was when they hit about 6-9 months and started being mobile, that’s when I got frazzled. I told someone if I could have new babies, give them away when they started moving, and get them back when they’re 4, I’m good.
Toddlers wear me out.
But, I could lay on the couch all day long with a new baby sleeping on my chest.
I should look into a rental program with someone who has a newborn because I’m done having my babies. Four is enough!!
By Sonia on 2007 01 26
Thank you for this post. I’m kind of worried about the whole newborn thing, but I think (hope?) that giving myself permission to just get through it will help. My mom made no secret of the fact that she hated the tiny baby stage and she went through some pretty rough depression aftewards. Knowing what she struggled with (I was 7 when my sister was born) is helping me as I worry about my own struggles on the horizon. Yes, it was hard for her, but she got through it and was a darn good mom. So, yes, let LB see that things are hard sometimes, but you go on and things eventually get better. That’s the best example you can set for her and for CB.
On a completely different topic, you might want to check out Kristen’s post on baby boys and diapering <http://motherhooduncensored.typepad.com/motherhood_uncensored/2007/01/take_me_out_to_.html>
I totally had not thought about this, so, good to know in advance.
By LauraLou on 2007 01 26
I think Joy sneaks up on you - at unexpected times and moments.
I feel very lucky that I made friends with people while pregnant who told me how having a baby REALLY is. Transitioning to two was hard, but still easier than with #1 because I knew wtf I was doing.
I hope that’s true for you, too!
ps - I love toddlers. Babies are sweet, but they’re really just ways to get toddlers.
By rachel on 2007 01 26
What a beautiful post !
Most days I feel pretty much the same, 23 hours and 50 minutes of the day. AND it just takes a hug from my little one to get the love flowing from my heart
Very personally, I think you need a job outside your home (not that the evenings will be all joy, of course).
By Mimi in Houston on 2007 01 26
I swear, it seems like yesterday that mine were that little and all I wanted was a little peace and quiet.
Now, they’re slowing moving off to college….and yet still…..........
all I want it is a little peace and quiet.
By Friglet on 2007 01 26
I swear to GOD I could have written this. Thanks for doing it for me because I was too afraid to.
By Whitney on 2007 01 26
I think maybe we expect the joy to be huge, I found ( and still find) the biggest joy comes from the littlest things…the first smile just as you feel you can’t do another day of this relentless feeding/ crying/ feeding thing. Little hands that stroke your face as they feed. I do laugh at how when we are pregnant we want them to BE HERE and then when they are here the biggest achievement is to get them to sleep.
It all passes so quickly though, my oldest is 21 and my youngest 3, nature is either very cruel or very kind because it truly makes you forget the desperate times and makes you yearn to do it all again.
I love newborns, even the night feeds, I hate all the ‘stuff’ though, bags and bags of stuff to lug around everywhere, as much for a day trip as a week away. I always felt like a drudge with all those bags. I love being able to just leave the house these days and if anyone is hungry we can grab something on the way. Thats JOY. Oh and when they are teenagers and want something, it’s pretty great then because you can make them do almost anything.
By Helen on 2007 01 26
I agree with what Helen said… that joy is found in the little things, even though at times we are looking for it to be huge. I think we have to hold on to those little things, otherwise the big picture can be pretty depressing at times!
By Holly on 2007 01 26