We have all heard the phrase ‘the good, the bad, and the ugly’ and when I thought about this phrase regarding motherhood, I assumed that the good was the sweet baby giggles, that the bad was the lack of sleep and that the ugly was the diaper blow outs. However, I think all of us can agree that the real ‘ugly’ part of motherhood doesn’t get talked about nowhere near as much as the sleepless nights or diaper blow-outs. I know for me personally, the ‘ugly’ part of motherhood that I was absolutely not prepared for was the bouts of depression and isolation that I would often experience, the difficulty maintaining mom friends and a social life, the stress that having a child can place on your relationship, the pressures of living up to other people’s expectations of you, and the disgust that I would feel when I would look in the mirror at my body post baby. It can be so difficult to maintain that happy-new-mom persona when you feel completely overwhelmed, stressed, tired, overweight, unhappy, anxious and on edge. Some women make it look effortless while some of us are just trying to make it through the day without having a meltdown of our own.
Before I had children of my own, I would hear the word motherhood and I would envision myself holding my newborn baby, rocking back and forth in a rocking chair with the sun peering in through the window. Birds would be chirping, my husband would come upstairs and place his hands on my shoulders and give me an embrace of pure joy and love. The baby room would be decorated in the finest decor that just by looking at it, you would could almost hear Snow White singing. I thought of the sweet pastel outfits I would dress my precious daughter in and the strolls around the neighborhood we would take in the together as a happy family of three. I pictured myself as a mother as having this glowing, golden aura that radiated bliss, love, and peace. Of course I knew there were going to be times where I would be exhausted from lack of sleep or I would have to clean baby puke out of my hair, but that never distorted the picture of motherhood that I had painted in my head. I pictured motherhood as being this blissful, fulfilling purpose in life that all of us women are naturals at. At baby showers and social gatherings, I would get earfuls of advice about which baby carrier to use, which bottle to use if I chose to bottle feed, types of carseats, you know- advice and tips of that nature. Sometimes it even got a little messier like which breast pad I should purchase so my breasts won’t leak through my bras or how I may need tucks pads post birth to make my poor hoo-ha feel a little better.
What was never never brought up and what the baby preparation books or classes never prepared me for- were the times I would be lying on my bathroom floor in absolute tears. The times I would go days without showering. The times I would scream at my husband and be so exhausted that the house would have gone to shit. The mood swings (thanks hormones), the self-neglect, the depression, the anxiety, the OCD, the social isolation, the mom guilt, and the flat out severe stress that being a mother brings. I felt like I lost all my identity as Sam and now I was simply a diaper changer and laundry folder, and for some of us- that isn’t fulfilling enough. Before I had my first child, I was in the Navy- I had a career, my own friends, my own schedule, a sense of purpose and belonging outside of the home and once I was discharged, that was all gone. Of course I felt beyond privlleged to be able to be a stay at home mom, but I suffered intense mom guilt over feeling like I needed more than being a mom and wife to be fulfilled in life- which is where my horrible depression and anxiety began to seep in.
Let me be clear- I absolutely love being a mom, however, I also love hearing the entire truth of a situation instead of just the good parts, so if you are about to be a new mom yourself, this is for you. I want the good, the bad, and the ugly so I can be as best prepared mentally as I can be. I am not a fan of sugar coating and when I was pregnant with my first child, I felt like everything I was told was that motherhood was going to be this fabulous new adventure full of baby giggles, cuddles, and perfect little family outings with my daughter dressed up in the cutest little outfits. What nobody, and I mean nobody, prepared me for was the absolute complete change that would occur in my mental health. I remember specifically going to the grocery story when my daughter was about 2 weeks old, I had her car seat cover draped over her car seat because she was sleeping and I turned into a germaphobe after I had her and didn’t want anybody wanting to touch her. I remember standing in line and a nice older lady lifted up the car seat cover and touched my daughter’s face which woke her up and sent her into a sobbing episode. This incident may seem so small in the grand scheme of things but I felt utterly violated and I lost my absolute shit; I yelled at the lady and I pushed my cart off to the side and stormed out of the store sobbing. I had such horrific anxiety about anybody touching my baby, breathing on her, or even standing to close to us that I refused to go to the grocery story for several months after that. I had no idea what happened to me but a switch in my brain flipped that day. I could not let anybody touch my baby that wasn’t a close friend who had just washed their hands; all I could envision was people’s germs landing all over her precious face after they exhaled. My husband thought I had lost my mind but he did the best he could to support me and my new post baby quirks I developed. What had happened to me after I had the baby you ask? Constant panic attacks combined with sever postpartum anxiety. For many months after that, I had an extremely difficult time going out in public with my daughter and it took many months of supportive friends to help me rationalize and calm down enough to actually go out in public with my baby and not have a complete meltdown.
Here is the UGLY parts of motherhood that I wish someone would have mentally prepared me for:
You will possibly go through Postpartum depression, anxiety, or develop mom ‘quirks’ such as forms of OCD, germaphobia, scheduling obsessions, or things of that nature.
You may go through bouts of neglecting yourself such letting the house go to shit, not showering for days on end, gaining weight, or developing a negative outlook on life.
Your relationship may suffer due to the newfound stress that a baby can place on a marriage. You may go through a divorce or separation.
You may suffer intense mom guilt for wanting to go back to work and more than likely be judged by other moms for your decision to go back to work. For me, I felt like I was a bad mom because I needed more in my life than just being a mom and wife- don’t ever let anybody tell you you are a bad mom for wanting to do so. Do whatever makes YOU happy and fulfilled. Going back to school and working full times will teach my children work ethic in the long run and my goal is to be able to pay for their college. Do what feels right for you!
You are going to be judged and mom shamed by other moms- every mother has a different parenting style so when a mom gives you a snide eye because you’re not feeding your child organic, made from scratch granola bars- just dismiss that and let it go. That is her journey, not yours so don’t let that type of mom-one-upping bother you.
You will be offered a lot of unsolicited advice from everyone. Strangers, family, friends, in-laws, social media- you name it- everyone is just full of advice. Instead of unleashing the pent-up mom rage that you perhaps are experiencing that day, just nod and smile and say ‘thanks’. You don’t have to be rude or necessarily nice- just a nod & smile will do. When I get a snarky bit of advice- I will reply back with ‘thanks but I didn’t ask’ (this usually shuts them up).
You will be damned if you do and damned if you don’t. Just recently I was in a public place and my 3 year old smacked me so hard in the mouth, it hurt like hell and my eyes welled up with tears- partly from the pain and partly from the embarrassment of it. I heard loud, collective gasps from the bystanders and immediately felt panicked and judged. What was I supposed to do in that situation? If I spanked his butt, I would be judged and probably had the cops called on me (I am in California after all). If I did nothing, I would be judged for allowing my kid to hit me without consequences. I grabbed his hand and told him no and how much he hurt me and I walked to a quieter area to put him in time out where he continued his tantrum… I could still feel the judgmental eyes letting me know that no matter what I was trying to do to calm my kid down, it was clearly the wrong thing. At this point, I have to shut out everyone else with a theoretical ‘fuck it’ and just do what I have to do to make it through the situation (I ended up taking him to the car while he screamed bloody murder the whole time and we went home).
You will feel like you are failing more times than you would like. This is a tough one and, however, there will be times that the polar opposite of this- times that make me feel like I am winning. Like the other day my daughter requested Pink Floyd and my son told me he misses me when he goes to school and that I am his best friend.
There will be times where you and your spouse are at each other’s throats over parenting differences. I don’t think there is a married couple on this planet that sees exactly eye to eye when it comes to parenting and disciplining children. Just try your best to be a united front at least in front of the kids.
Your kids will probably act like little jerks/brats from time to time. If there was an Olympic gold medal for this, my son would have won it the last two years. Sometimes his behavior makes me question everything I have ever done, I don’t pump him with sugar, I don’t let him get away with everything, and I simply don’t understand sometimes why his behavior can be so absolutely awful.
There are times where you will feel like you lost the identity you possessed before you became a mother and that is ok. Don’t feel guilty about missing your prior identity. You don’t have to let it go entirely either- get back to work, get a gym membership to get some you time in. Pick your favorite hobby back up or meet up with your girlfriends without kids once a month for a dinner and adult conversation.
You will sometimes miss only having to worry about yourself such as getting yourself ready, bathing yourself, and simply being responsible for only yourself. Again, there is nothing wrong with this. It’s normal to get overwhelmed with being everyone’s everything at home.
You’ll at times compare yourself, your parenting style, and your children’s behavior to other people’s and you will feel like shit as a result, so my advice- stop. Focus only on your strengths as a person, parent, and your kid’s strengths. Sure- Barbara’s kid may be extremely behaved in public but perhaps he is a nightmare to get to be at night. Just focus on your family, your strengths, and what works for you.
You’ll be put under immense pressure at times to keep up with Susan down the street who bakes everything from scratch and only uses farm-picked ingredients. You’ll feel judged by the other moms at school that are super involved in the PTA and classroom activities, but again- if that isn’t your thing or you’re too busy with work/school, that’s ok. Your kids will still love you I promise!
You will more than likely have some difficulties finding true mom friends (read my post about how hard it is to go through the process of courting mom friends and finding ones that will last). It can be hard to make real mom friends where the conversation isn’t solely about the kids. It’s important to find mom friends with kids who play well with your kids and where the two of you can have real adult conversations while the kids play.
Your body will change post-baby and you may go through some self-esteem issues as a result. You’ll possibly get stretch marks, you’ll gain weight, your boobs wont be perky and cute like they were before you had children, and you’ll probably pee a little bit when you laugh. I highly recommend getting a gym membership- not only did my body improve physically, my mental health improved dramatically as a result. I still have stretch marks and guess what- I am ok with that. It took a long time to learn to love my new body, but I have accepted it and love it now; after all, it produced my two favorite little humans!
You are going to have times where you had a bad day and lashed out on your kids and/or husband and then felt extremely guilty about it later. This is normal. Forgive yourself, tell your family you’re sorry, and be more mindful when you feel the onset of another bad mood creeping up.
You will more than likely get stressed/overwhelmed with the obligations of keeping up with external family members via texts/phone calls/social media. This happened to me more times than I can count and I would let everyone know that I was feeling overwhelmed and that I needed to set some boundaries with how often people wanted to FaceTime, come over for a visit, phone calls/texting pictures, etc. Setting boundaries is absolutely critical if you are trying to keep your mental health in check. Remember- the only people who will be mad when you set boundaries are the people who were benefitting from you when you had none.
These are all normal feelings to have. The truth is, being a mother changes your life in so many ways and I feel like as a whole, we only hear about the pros of motherhood. I am a truth-seeker and I like to hear and tell the full story of things rather than just the good things or the bad things. None of these things are bad per se, it’s just that they oftentimes get left out of the discussion regarding becoming a mom for the first time. So as your friend, I want you to be aware of the fact that not everything is going to be Instagram worthy, not everything is going to be moments filled with astonishment when you look into your child’s eyes. There will be times where you are locking yourself in the bathroom just to have a good cry before your family realizes your gone. There will be times where you feel unappreciated, unworthy, and flat out neglected. There will be times where you have out your self-care so far on the back burner that you don’t even know where to begin to start taking care of yourself- but I am here to tell you, it is ok. We will all go through these ugly moments of motherhood and you know what? We come out stronger because of it. It doesn’t mean that we regret having children or love our babies any less, it just means that sometimes it is really freaking hard to be a mom and it is ok to talk about it!
My advice to you: Stay on YOUR path, compete and compare with NOBODY, focus on YOUR strengths, take initiative to get help when you feel you need it- therapy/psychiatrist/the gym! Stop yourself from judging or mom shaming others and be a good friend to others. Say no when you don’t want visitors or don’t feel like FaceTiming Grandpa for the ninth time this week. Be mindful of your internal dialogue and focus on being the best person that you can possibly be. Be gentle with yourself when you have had a hard day and when you do fall down- pick yourself back up, throw your hair in a messy bun and handle that shit! We believe in you- you are not in this alone and it is normal to fall into the ruts of motherhood- it’s just important to not stay there. We are here to help pull you out of those ruts, dust your beautiful shoulders off and get you back on your path with a fresh perspective.