This Is The Hardest Part About New Motherhood

by Elizabeth Broadbent

You knew about the sleep. You knew you would get very little of it, were prepared for the dark hours that blur that once-easy delineation between night and morning. You’d knew you’d see dawn, cold coffee, and 3:00 am flash night after night after night. You knew the exhaustion would seep into your bones like something you’d expect from marathon running or long illness.

You knew this.

You knew the whole life-change thing would be hard. Because all of a sudden there’s a human you are responsible for keeping alive — which is both exhilarating and terrifying. They told you, and you knew, that you would give up so much of yourself. Motherhood changes you, they chanted. You knew this and it was hard and you cried, cluster-nursing on the couch and realizing you’d never go out with your girlfriends so easily again, or standing in front of your closet and realizing that your favorite dress didn’t fit, or giving up whatever you wanted for whatever the baby needed.

You knew this. And it was hard.

But nothing was as hard as — and nothing prepared you for — the day when you would look down at your baby and look up to that stillness. Suddenly there was you, and there was him, and that was all. That was all.

A baby can suck the life out of you. A baby can give you someone to love. A baby can give you something to hold hard and fierce, to give your life to. But a baby can’t talk back. A baby can’t laugh. A baby can’t commiserate about the love-so-deep-it-soars-moments or the diapers-exploding-someone’s-screaming-boobs-leaking-utter-exhaustion of having said baby.

And you need to tell someone. Your whole being is exploding with a need to tell, to talk, to ramble at someone who will sit and listen and understand you. Preferably someone who isn’t our partner (if you have one) or your own mom, if you’ve got one of those around.

You are craving the company of those who have been there, done that, who have babies your baby’s age, who are in the same place as you, who can laugh knowingly when you sort of joke about cold coffee. Who can sit through your entire birth story.

You need someone to sit through your entire birth story. Or your adoption story. You need to tell them about the gore, about the nurse who wouldn’t bring you ice chips. About the embarrassing parts, about the stitches, about the moment you saw your baby for the first time and he was sort of weird looking and you wondered, is this normal? You need to tell.

But there is no one to tell.

This is what it means to be a new mother in America: that there is no one to tell. No one to share this with. Yes, you can go to library storytimes. If you’re lucky, you have some firm ideological stance on babywearing or something and that will buy you some immediate buddies for an hour a week. But other than those times, you are alone. You are alone with your baby. You are alone with your thoughts. You debate if it’s worth the trouble to go to Target. You nurse in parking lots, alone. In Starbucks, alone. You mix formula in the mall, where you went on a flimsy excuse and a desperate desire to see human beings who are not your own beloved child.

You may have verbal diarrhea at the Target clerk. At the old lady who admires your baby and insists he needs socks. You see another new mom in the store, and you smile and make a joke, maybe ask how old her baby is. But what you’re really saying is, “Are you as freaked out as I am? I’m so exhausted right now I put my pants on backwards twice.”

But she will say, “He’s six weeks,” and you will smile, and you will both push your carts into the rest of the day, and into the loneliness that waits in the car, through the long afternoon of feedings and naps, through the evening, through the long dark night of the isolated mother’s soul. On into motherhood. On into us each figuring us this whole thing out in our little box in the city or the suburbs or the country, with only Google to guide us.

They told you about so many things.

But they never told you about the crushing loneliness that comes with motherhood in America.

They didn’t want to scare you.