The ‘Bluey’ Episode That Helped Me See Myself As A Good Mom

I was telling myself the wrong story.

Written by Laura Onstot
Beautiful young mother teaching her daughter how to walk in the park.
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My daughters are on the couch watching Bluey and eating their fifth snack of the hour. In the pause between hunting and gathering new snacks, I’m unloading the dishwasher. Or I was – until finding myself glued to the TV with a plate in my hand. In dog kindergarten, Bluey's friend, Indi, is trying to make a horse out of clay but it looks more like a cow. “She shoulda gone with the worm,” I think, “Classic kindergarten mistake.” Indi decides she's not good at sculpting and vows never to play with clay again. The episode ends with Bluey saying, "I don't like how this story ends."

In the next episode, the teacher challenges the kids to write a different ending to the story. Indi tries again, elongating the neck, and finally, it looks like a horse. Indi was never a bad sculptor, but she was telling herself a story that was limiting — one that, left unchecked, could poison her relationship with art. On the surface, the episode seems like a simple story, one that my daughters had no problem digesting. But it highlighted two life-changing lessons I’d spent a year in therapy trying to wrap my head around: Oftentimes, the stories we tell ourselves are complete BS. And, on an equally hopeful and terrifying level, we don’t have to remain stuck in the untrue narratives. For me, it wasn’t about my relationship with art. It was about the story I told myself about my own motherhood.

Just a week earlier, I’d sat cross-legged on the floor of my therapist's office on a purple yoga mat, tears streaming down my cheeks while retelling the story of my daughter’s birth. I finished the part of the story where, after being given a final shot at a vaginal delivery, I pushed my daughter out. For a moment, I tried to make sense of her dusky blue body, limp and silent, as it was briefly held up for me to see; the next, a team huddled around her. Though I could no longer see her, oxygen saturation numbers flashed in my direction: 75, 62, 54. My stomach filled with dread, and I got the same sick feeling I experienced as a floor nurse when my patients coded. Except this time, it was my daughter, and there was nothing I could do. My legs were still spread wide and my body spent.

I told my therapist, Ama, about the empty moment when the room cleared, and it was just me, no baby. Then they rolled me into a windowless office in a wheelchair, my legs still unpredictable. (I was, of course, wearing mesh underwear the size of a kickboard.) I felt a weird sense of calm, but really, I was in shock. A nurse practitioner told me our daughter’s oxygen levels were low for such a long time, they weren’t sure if she sustained any brain damage. She says we wouldn’t know for about a year.

The first feeling I have upon seeing my daughter is not love, not joy, but complete and utter terror. She looks so beat up, so unapproachable. Her body is full of wires and tubes that wouldn’t make me bat an eye at work, but seem so dangerous and incomprehensible in my daughter. All I could think about was everything I might have done wrong: if only I had exercised more while pregnant, not gotten the epidural, been less sensitive to pain, or pushed harder, maybe she would have been born breathing. All the years later, I’m still, in a way, stuck in that moment; I can’t see that now, 8 years later, her cheeks are rosy.

“It’s my fault,” I tell Ama, not wanting to open my eyes and make eye contact, instead, groping around for the tissue box.

The room is silent for a beat; I wipe my tears and blow my nose much louder than anticipated. Finally, she speaks. “How can you trust yourself as a mom if you believe you almost killed your baby?” I angrily want to reply, “Well clearly, I shouldn’t trust myself as a mom.” But I keep that thought to myself, knowing she won’t buy it, knowing that a small part of me doesn’t buy it either. “She eventually turned pink,” she said. “And today, you have a beautiful, healthy daughter. It’s time to put down the guilt.”

As Ama gently nudged me to process my false narrative, I realized I held onto the guilt as a way to grasp an elusive shred of control. If it was my fault that my daughter was born blue, then maybe I could prevent future mishaps if I just did everything perfectly. But that story was keeping me small and stuck, unable to grow.

It hasn’t been a quick process to debunk a story I spent years documenting and prosecuting in the courtroom of my head. I spent eight years omitting loads of evidence for the case that I am a good mom. Re-narrating my story as a mom involves letting go of a story I didn’t like, but felt comfortable in. It means I have to accept that motherhood is more than love and joy. Motherhood is often painted in a simplistic light, narrowed down to a few positive emotions. But it’s complex, a minefield of possibilities and emotions. It’s a story that rapidly evolves, and it involves more than one character.

As a writer, I know that even though we narrate our lives with stories, they are simply a perspective and rarely a full truth. Beginnings and ends shift, predictable plots are blown to smithereens, and the narrator (us), is unreliable. The tales we tell reveal both who we are, and lies we believe about ourselves. What we leave out is almost more telling than what we include. If we forget we are not our stories, we follow them rather than creating them, bulldozing mounds of evidence just to follow a storyline.

A few days after the Bluey episode aired, my kindergartener informed me that “the naughtiest boy” in her class told her he wanted to be her boyfriend. I shared that one of my kindergarten classmates asked me to marry him. “Was it the baddest boy in your class?” she asked. “The thing is,” I said, “the boy who asked to be your boyfriend isn’t bad.” The boy who asked for my hand in marriage also had false narratives thrust upon him: classmates called him fat and stupid. He was neither of those things, though he may have accepted the stories as dogma, as we all do.

“Maybe your classmate has a hard time sitting still. Maybe he hasn’t perfected his indoor voice. Maybe he didn’t have the benefit of attending preschool to learn some of the social norms. But none of these things make him bad,” I told her patiently.

“Sometimes,” I said, “We tell stories about ourselves that aren’t true.” When she asked for an example, I shared that sometimes I feel like a bad mom. “WHAT?!” she yelled, forgetting that one hour earlier she told me I was the worst mom ever. “You’re the best mom ever!” Sometimes, it’s about remembering we can say, “I don’t like how this story ends,” and that we have the power to change it.

Laura Onstot writes to maintain her sanity after transitioning from a career as a research nurse to stay-at-home motherhood. In her spare time, she can be found sleeping on the couch while she lets her kids binge-watch TV. She blogs at Nomad’s Land.