Sometimes Being A New Mom Feels Like Being Trapped In 'Baby Jail.' Here's How To Cope.
I think any mom, if she was being real with you, would admit that motherhood can really suck sometimes. It’s incredible and life-altering in so many good ways, but sometimes it just isn’t good.
Imagine that you have a miserable head cold, your husband works long hours, and your baby is suffering from a stomach bug and literally crawling all over you to find relief. But your head is pounding and you know you have four to five more hours before someone will be home to give you a break. You also know that in those four to five hours, you may have six or seven more dirty diapers to clean.
Or imagine that friends have invited you to go get a pedicure after work, and you really need one, and really want to go, but no matter how you work out the logistics in your head, there is no good way to get childcare for that night. And rescheduling doesn’t work for your friends, so you just have to miss out.
Or maybe Beyoncé is coming to town on tour for her boundary-smashing album — a once in a lifetime show — but you just pushed a human out of your body, and you’re still bleeding and leaking milk and totally home-bound. (I may or may not still feel sad about this one.)
Those are the moments I’m describing here, friends. Maybe they come from a selfish place sometimes, but we are just human. I have a newsflash for the rest of the world: Moms can have their own wants and needs, and wanting to act on those shouldn’t always be translated as selfish.
I fell into a deep, deep hole of sadness and self-pity after my son was born. I’m not going to call it postpartum depression because I was not very conversational with my doctor about how I was feeling, so I was never diagnosed. Postpartum depression and anxiety are real and should be taken seriously, so I am not going to play doctor here.
But, I can say with 100% certainty that I was suffering from the following:
1. Sleep deprivation
2. Violent hormonal swings
3. Envy of my many, many childless friends who couldn’t understand what I was feeling
That is a lethal combination. I knew I was letting myself be overcome by the sadness and pity. I knew that I wasn’t really trying to find ways to feel better. I felt like my life was over forever. It was not pretty.
If I could go back and talk to new-mom me, this is what I would have told her.
1. Be realistic about what you would really be doing if you weren’t a parent.
I remember feeling really disappointed that I was a mom at 26 and my years of world travel had been cut short. I would cry to my husband that now we would never be able to just up and go to France if we wanted to.
Ummm, we definitely didn’t have a trip to France in the works or anything at all before my son was born. Also, I had studied abroad in college and taken several international trips in high school. I had done far more world traveling than most people I knew, and I hadn’t felt that travel bug for a few years. Also, my husband and I are teachers. What were we going to do, use our cushy salary to take us on a European adventure each summer? Nope. Wasn’t going to happen.
When I started thinking realistically about what I actually would have been doing with my time if the baby weren’t there, it wasn’t really all that spectacular. Sure, there were some sacrifices that had to be made, which is why I also should have told myself…
2. Know that this is just a phase.
This doesn’t last forever. The way that I felt trapped on the couch nursing my son the first two months of his life is so different from the way I feel about doing things with him now at 11 months. He requires less stuff to leave the house now. He can go longer without eating and napping. It’s far less of a headache to take him places, and it happened so fast! When he’s 2, I know it will only be simpler to toss him in his car seat and head somewhere fun.
If you want to travel, go to more community events or go out to eat at new restaurants. Babies eventually grow into kids who can do those things. After they’re kids, they become teenagers who wouldn’t do anything with you even if you paid them (as I remember doing to my parents), so soak up this time.
3. Remember that this time is an investment in your child’s future, NOT a loss in your present life.
This whole parenting thing was most likely a choice you made. Your entire life’s purpose shifts once your body starts creating that little baby, whether you like it or not. Missing out on things to stay home and nurture them is going to pay off for their development in the long run. Are the things you are skipping out on today really as important as that?
4. Take charge of creating brief, happy moments for yourself throughout the day.
Even when you feel like there is nothing you could do to take care of yourself or give your mood a boost, I promise you that there is. For me, my dark spot was my physical appearance. I had stretch marks, acne, my hair was falling out. I felt like I was completely hideous and that I had no time to do anything about it.
5. I made the terrible mistake of waiting for my husband to read my mind and offer to give me a break.
Chris is an awesome husband and father, but he’s never been a mom or birthed a child, and he wasn’t in my head. He didn’t know how I was feeling about myself, so he didn’t know how to make me feel better. When I just started saying, “This is what I want to do to take care of myself today. When will you be home so I can do that?” he was wonderful about making sure he was free and available to help me out. I would pump a bottle, leave the baby with him, and go for a walk or a run free of mom or wife guilt (because both are very real).
Treating my husband like a mind-reader created a lot of resentment, and it made my “I’m trapped” mentality far worse.
6. Work with your partner to figure out your love languages. Vow to start speaking them.
As I was just describing, there were lots of times that I felt disconnected from my husband, who I felt was supposed to be my partner through all of this, but I was in such a low place emotionally that I was making it hard for him to help. I wasn’t taking the steps to make myself feel better, and I was punishing him for things I was suffering from that he couldn’t prevent or fix.
Most of what was making me feel like I was trapped new motherhood were feelings of isolation. It was tough to feel like my closest friends couldn’t relate to my new life, but feeling like my husband could only half-understand what I was dealing with was the real kicker.
Here’s the thing: Our husbands can’t totally relate to what we’re dealing with — crappy but true. My husband took lots of night shifts, changed lots of diapers, folded lots of laundry, and I was still upset with him. I think I was wanting him to empathize with what it felt like to heal from giving birth and have the crazy hormones and the thinning hair, and all of that obviously wasn’t going to happen.
We started to discuss how the craziness of new parenthood had taken our focus off of each other, and we weren’t speaking each other’s love languages anymore. T0 get around this, we started referring to our “love tanks” a lot. It sounds silly, but that was the easiest way for me to express my feelings in passing conversation. When I was especially down and he was trying to get to the bottom of it, I could say, “My love tank is really low today,” and he would know that this meant that I was needing some intentionality from him that day. I needed to hear him speak some words of affirmation to me and create little moments of quality time together.
Same for him. I would make it a point to give him the physical touch that he needed to feel like he was appreciated as a husband and father. We had stopped holding hands, giving each other hugs, kissing each other goodbye — which used to be everyday things prior to the baby. When I started working these gestures back into our routine, it boosted his self-esteem and confidence our marriage, and in turn, boosted mine.
At the end of the day, I can’t make new motherhood (or even seasoned motherhood) any easier of a job. But knowing these things going into my second baby phase will make motherhood feel easier to deal with. I hope the same for you, Mama.
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