It was a fair point. He can get the baby to sleep far more easily than I can, and my daughter knows this. But given how rarely he does it these days, that fact is infuriating enough on its own. There was no point in calling for help (or for sympathy) because he wouldn’t pick up. He was working out of state for the fourth time in a month, and the enormity of my stress and exhaustion couldn’t be pushed away any longer. In that moment, I broke, something I’ve done more easily since having my second baby and finding myself alone most of the time.
There is no way around it—that night, I was a terrible mother. I didn’t just feel like one. I was one.
While I’m typically a person who thrives very much on solitude, parenting alone is a different kind of discomfort. As a mother of two, one in diapers, there is almost no time in my day for my most basic needs like showering, going to the bathroom and getting dressed. I know it’s a cliche, but I’m practically a professional at wearing exercise pants while rarely exercising and eating over the sink. Yet how much I resent this is not part of the cliche.
While not every day is completely and utterly defeating, being in over my head is a feeling I’ve become pretty well accustomed to. I’ve struggled with making time to write, something that serves both my soul and my family’s financial stability equally. I’ve struggled to find the time and energy to exercise, with feeling comfortable in my own skin and with giving my children an engaged, energetic, loving mother at all times—or lately, most times.
This past year has been undoubtedly the most challenging one of my life, and I say that as someone whose past included an extremely rocky adolescence, the ramifications of a highly addictive personality and some pretty disastrous boyfriend choices. But nothing holds a candle, as far as I’m concerned, to the soul-shifting challenges of motherhood.
While perhaps I’d held on too tightly to the belief that becoming a mother for the second time wouldn’t be so earth-shattering, it was, and is, in every way. While my first child knocked me down hard, it wasn’t long before I got back up, better, stronger and wiser than I’d ever been. After the first year of my daughter’s unexpected, overwhelming and beautiful entry into the world, I felt good.
The year had been a whirlwind. I’d lost friends, battled anxiety and PTSD after my daughter fell ill, then recovered at 8 weeks old. But by the time my baby turned 1, I was healthy, managing a few hours of work a day, sleeping well and overall, enjoying my family. In essence, I’d overhauled my life, but in a good way.
A year into having my second child, and my life feels just about as chaotic as it did when my son was a newborn. I’m still waiting for the calm to come even though I know better. I know I should stop waiting. In fact, it’s the only advice I’ve ever intentionally given to anyone with a baby. Don’t wait for things to slow down. Learn a new normal. Embrace the craziness. Let go, and you’ll be better for it.
These days, I have trouble embracing as much as I want to because I’m too busy doing to simply be. I have trouble letting go because when I do, everything falls apart. I can’t slow down because if I stop for a minute, there is an inevitable tantrum or meltdown or a crying spell—and I’ve got to gather up my patience and get back to neutral. So I keep moving out of necessity, to hold everyone else together, and sometimes, I’m the one who ends up crumbling.
Being an overwhelmed mother is not something I had ever aspired to be—does anyone? It’s not what I envisioned. When I thought about having my second child, I imagined us all, a family of four, gathered on the front porch, my husband and I playing our guitars while my daughter danced and the baby learned to crawl. In this picture, maybe I wasn’t back to my pre-pregnancy weight, but I was healthy. I was taking care of myself. I had a lot to do, but my life felt balanced.
In reality, the baby has been crawling for months and my guitar is sitting in the corner, untouched and missing strings, not strummed since his birth. The picture in my head didn’t show a feisty 5-year-old, dropping the baby on his head instead of gently kissing his cheek. The picture didn’t show the witching hour when the baby whines from 4:30 p.m. until bedtime every night and still waking—without fail—three times a night at a year old. It didn’t show that I might have actually gained weight, not lost it, since giving birth.
The picture wasn’t a total lie. It exists, in some form, but rather in glimmers than a glaring light. I don’t need my motherhood to be easy, and it usually isn’t, but I do crave the ability to breathe easy, to not always be someone’s pillar. But for better or for worse, I am deeply invested in every part of my motherhood experience and that doesn’t often allow for a lot of personal and emotional freedom.
Sometimes I want not to be in so deep. Sometimes I wish I could easily escape for an hour or a day. Sometimes I am so goddamned jealous of my husband who is sleeping soundly in a hotel room without a tiny body, or two, wrapped around his ribcage and elbows in his ear. But I am also extraordinarily grateful for my children, even on my worst day. And sometimes, that makes the guilt at failing them even harder to swallow.
I am not a perfect mother by any stretch of the imagination. I am incredibly flawed, more so than I ever thought I would be. I’d imagined being stronger, but I’m finding strength. Now, my greatest lesson in motherhood is to love myself, even my undeniable flaws—my anxiety, my fear—and to teach my children about how to fail and how to grow.
Even if I’m a mother who always struggles, and struggles often, I will also be a mother who never gives up. My motherhood experience might not look like anyone else’s. It might not always be pretty. But I’m owning every minute of it and in my heart of hearts, I’m hopeful.
I’m learning to believe that motherhood doesn’t look the same for everyone, or for anyone. I’ve always known it to be gritty and beautiful, sometimes in the same breath. For me, parenthood might never be bliss. But it will be real, it will be mine, and I will be better for it in the end.