When you have a baby, they warn you about postpartum depression, which affects 15% of new moms. They warn you about the baby blues, because 70–80% of new moms, according to the American Pregnancy Association, “experience some negative feelings or mood swings” postpartum. We’re beginning to hear about postpartum anxiety, which affects around 10% of moms. We know we’ll be tired and overwhelmed, and we listen and we nod.
But no one tells us about the rage.
Maybe you experienced it early on. Your baby was fed, changed, warm, but still wouldn’t stop crying, and crying, and crying. You held them to your breast, and it boiled up inside you. Like lightning, you understood how someone could shake a baby. And then you were scared and ashamed because you know your baby didn’t mean to make you mad. And you’d never hurt this precious soul in a million years.
Or maybe you lasted the whole baby period, only to have the rage slap you down during the toddler years. When your kid wouldn’t stop making some stupid noise or tantrumming over some stupid toy. Whatever your kid did to set you off, something inside you snapped, something rose up huge and ugly and furious. The thing inside you loosens, and you hear the rage tumbling out of your mouth. You might stomp. You might scream. You probably do whatever your parents did when they lost it. And then, suddenly, the shame drops down. You want to curl up inside yourself. You hate that part of you, the part that you didn’t know was there. Because you were never an angry person.
I was never an angry person — at least I wasn’t before. Before kids, I rarely raised my voice, except to shout at the dogs for stealing food off my plate. Sure, things made me mad, but I didn’t feel incandescent rage. Not until, that is, I had children. Then I found pure, absolute anger bubbling up in me when my son whined incessantly for more glow sticks at Target. Or when he refused to wear the clothes I’d laid out for him. His very normal kid behavior — normal human behavior — that inconvenienced me in some way, set me off completely.
Maybe you were lucky. Maybe you learned to swallow it whole. My husband does that. He can even live through the slowly building burn of rage, the type of rage you can watch coming like a storm you can’t stop, and still speak in a patient, kind voice. A terse voice, but a kind voice nonetheless.
Or maybe you’re like me. Maybe you can’t manage it, and all of a sudden you’re yelling, the angry words spilling out of your mouth. And you see your kids’ faces. And the shame wells up again, the shame that you’d dare do this to the small people you’ve sworn to always love and protect. If someone else yelled at them this way, you’d go into full mama bear mode, yet here you are doing it yourself. The reality smacks you right in the face.
The shame that comes along with this rage runs deep. You feel like the worst parent in the world. If you had parents who yelled — and I had parents who yelled — you probably swore you would do better. You put your hands on your big belly and promised you would never, ever make this baby feel the way you did. You would never feel that kind of rage you saw in your parents’ eyes. And now you’ve failed your child. You’ve failed yourself. You might apologize to your kids, but it never feels like enough.
You resolve to never yell at them again. You may tell them this, as they watch you with big toddler eyes or cynical kid gazes: I will try my best not to yell at you again. And you hug them, and as you hug them, you want to sag against their small bodies and weep because you know you can’t control when that rage will drop down again. And when it does, you know you’ll try your best, but for many of us — me included — you’re snapping before you’re even aware that you’re there.
I wish I had loads of patience. I wish I had the soft voice of a preschool teacher. I wish I broke up arguments, enforced discipline, with quiet kindness. And maybe I will, for a few days. But then something happens, and I’ll snap. I wish I didn’t have to be ashamed of my emotions. There are those — and I know some of them — who feel that rage but have nothing to fear from it. They’ve mastered it. I want to be like those people.
No one tells us about the rage. And no one tells us about the superhuman patience we’ll need, either. We’re still learning. And it’s the fucking hardest thing I’ve ever done. But I’ll keep showing up and doing my best. You will too.