You aren’t the first to confess this to me with tearful, lowered eyes and an embarrassed, awkward half-smile, and you won’t be the last. I promise to see, hear, and honor you, Mama, even if you don’t think anybody else will.
I see the weight of this transition to parenthood. I see the anxiety that snaps you to attention as you desperately try to settle in for the night, afraid to go to sleep because you’re afraid to wake up. You’ll wake up too soon, too suddenly, scrambling frantically for the light beside the bed as the alarm of your new baby’s wail pierces you behind your eyelids, and the adrenaline begins to pump again. You’ll be running through a checklist of what he might need and how you can get it as quickly as possible for the sake of you both.
You’ve been waking up even when the baby doesn’t, gasping for air and clutching the bed sheets, sitting straight up, confused about where you are. It happens almost every night, the panic interfering, if the baby doesn’t do it first. You’re becoming a waking shadow of your former self.
I see you struggling somewhere between gratitude and resentment. Perhaps you ached for this baby after a pregnancy loss, or after many fertility treatments, or to complete the powerful circle of love between yourself and your partner. Perhaps you envisioned these early days differently as you gingerly hoisted yourself from the hospital wheelchair into the car beside the shiny shell protecting your baby in the back. Perhaps in those moments, you felt you wouldn’t need medicine ever again because you were finally complete in a whole new way. You were still high, maybe, from meeting that little one for the first time, after finally knowing what it was like to labor and endure and from welcoming this precious new miracle into the world.
Now, your nipples are cracked and bleeding. You bring that sweet child to your breast and instinctively pull away. You want to feed him, but you’re afraid of the pain. You judge yourself for that, for caring about your own physical needs first while the baby is just doing what babies do. You judge yourself for considering supplementing with formula. You judge yourself for not being more excited about all of this.
You can’t help but wonder, Mama, if you were right to do this in the first place. You didn’t think you would feel so alone when the person you spent more than nine months carrying inside you is now your constant companion. You didn’t think the anxiety about all of the terrible things that could happen to him now that he’s on the outside would be so disabling. You didn’t think you’d be so angry at your partner for leaving the house during the day, for doing work things, while you struggle with whether it’s okay to leave the baby in the bassinet while you go to the bathroom. You can’t remember the last time you showered.
These early days are dark, Mama. They’re darker than you might expect, and they’re tempered, of course, with bittersweet joy as you shed your former skin to become the everything for someone else.
Nobody told you it would be so hard — or if they did, you weren’t ready to hear it. However, this is one of the hardest, if not the hardest, journeys you’ll ever make. It’s a long and arduous one. Just when you think the path is predictable and you’ve got this, like an old school Etch A Sketch, the scene is shaken up again, the landscape shifts, and once more you’re in foreign territory. This is the reality of being a new mother.
So, if it gets to be too much…
If the pain becomes more overwhelming than any other sensation…
If you wonder if your baby would be better off without you, and you can’t see any other way out…
Mama, it’s okay to take the medicine.
No matter your story, you are a warrior, and warriors need weapons and shields. Sometimes they aren’t made of shiny metal but powdered ingredients that give your brain what it needs to endure this new way of life.
I see you, Mama, afraid of the side effects or what it will do to your breast milk. You were doing so well without it during your pregnancy or maybe you never needed it before. You’re so afraid to make that call and ask the doctor for fear of looking like a failure because everybody else makes this seem so easy — for fear they’ll take the baby away from you because you aren’t enough, and new moms don’t look or sound like this.
The truth is we all have our secret weapons, and they come in different forms. For some of us, it’s the medicine that helps us sleep, helps us live in the moment, and brings us back to the present where this tiny baby is here and representative of you and the love you feel, as overwhelmingly powerful as it can get. It helps make it all just a little more manageable.
You may not need it forever, but for now, taking this medicine could be one of the greatest gifts you give your new child. It’s a lesson you might teach them one day about self-preservation, humility, and knowing when to ask for help.
So, yes, Mama, I give you permission to reach out and ask for help. It’s a brave thing to cry and break the bonds of silence that have suffocated you every day and night, during these endless hours when your life feels like one long waking day.
I give you permission to make the call, ask the questions, and fill the script. I promise the tasks of new motherhood won’t immediately feel less daunting, but over time, you’ll start to appreciate the mastery you’ve gained of it all and how far you’ve traveled since those first days. In order to get there, Mama, you might need a little help, and this is not weakness. It’s strength.
So, Mama, go ahead and do it. It’s okay to take the medicine. I’ll be here waiting on the other side, cheering you on. You’ve got this.