“The days are long, but the years are short.” If you have a young child at home, I would bet that you have heard these words before. That statement is often combined with a cautionary warning to love and appreciate every moment of your child growing up. If you are a parent to a rainbow baby (babies born after miscarriage, stillbirth, or neonatal death), the pressure to feel joy over experiencing every skinned knee or new milestone is extra-strong. I should know — I am a mother of a rainbow baby.
After 5 years of loss and infertility treatments, I was over the moon happy to finally be a mother. I remember listening to other mothers complain and gripe about so many things about being a mother when I was trying to conceive and promised myself that I will appreciate the honor of being a mother and never (ever) complain.
At the time, I looked at these women as so lucky to be up with a newborn for their 2 a.m. feeds and to be able to snuggle with a sick kid who can’t stop puking. I would have given anything to be as “fried and exhausted” as they were.
When Hannah finally arrived, people advised me to get a babysitter so my husband and I could enjoy some quiet time together. I remember going out for lunch alone with my husband when my daughter was 6 weeks old, and it killed me to not be around her. What if I “missed” something?
I worked so hard to have her here that I have to LOVE EVERY MOMENT. During playgroups, while other mommies were griping about how hard being a mom is, I kept quiet. I would not allow one negative comment pass my lips. I made my own baby food, went to every mommy-and-me class, and rocked my daughter to sleep. When people would ask how motherhood is going, I would respond with an automatic I LOVE IT!
I quit my job to be a stay at home mom and “loved every minute” …. until I didn’t.
It came crashing down out of nowhere. My daughter was around two-and-a-half years old. I remember her having a meltdown over a combination of her not being allowed to eat a lollipop for breakfast, wanting to wear flip-flops in 30-degree weather, and being angry that I wouldn’t let her touch the alligator at the aquarium the day before. Combine that with the glimpse of her playroom where I saw an entire Costco-sized box of Cheerios spilled onto the floor with part of it already stepped on (and crumbled into the small crevices of my rug). Lord knows how she got her hands on that super-sized box.
It was at that moment that I finally admitted to myself that “I don’t love every minute.” I felt guilty, terrible, and a sense of relief when I finally was being true to myself — there are parts of being a mom that just don’t bring me joy. Cleaning up a box of spilled Cheerios is a perfect example of something that does not bring me joy. I felt so much pressure being a mom to a rainbow baby that I was not allowed to verbalize that there are moments where I wish I was anywhere but folding towels and fixing macaroni and cheese. I worked so hard to be a mom that I had to savor every moment.
Speaking with other rainbow baby moms, I learned that I was not the only one who felt this unspoken “pressure.” I cannot begin to explain how much happier I became when I was simply honest with myself. I did not want to do this 100% of the time. It was okay if a babysitter experienced a “first.” I will experience a “second.” I realized that I totally neglected myself and my feelings because I felt an obligation to be super-mom.
After some soul-searching, I made some changes and it seems like everyone is happier. I am now sending my daughter to school five mornings a week, I started my own business, and I am prioritizing self-care.
My take-home message from my experience is that no matter how your child was brought into your life, whether you became pregnant after the first try, underwent IVF eight times, or adopted, being a new parent is joyful and hard. Even though you may have wanted this child more than anything, you are also allowed to not love every moment of every second of every day. Most days are great, some days not so much.
Once I was honest with myself about that reality, I found a better balance in my life, a deeper relationship with other moms, and a better experience with this crazy ride of motherhood.