I kept detailed journal entries in graduate school for an independent study course on motherhood I designed while my son was a baby. It was called, Motherhood: The New Frontier. I picked five books to read, and basically had free reign to write whatever I wanted to about motherhood. Well, to say the least, these journal entries are raw, edgy, hopeful, honest, vulnerable, and loving (and about a dozen more adjectives). These books on my reading list helped me realize I was not alone with my struggles.
Motherhood is beautiful, ugly, difficult, easy, complicated, simple, textured, smooth, heart-breaking, heart-pounding, and one of the most complex relationships.
My road to motherhood was not easy; I struggled with infertility, postpartum OCD and intrusive thoughts, postpartum depression, breastfeeding, co-sleeping, and anxiety. As they say in the South, I was a hot mess. The thing is, nobody really talks about how hard motherhood is. In fact, it is a taboo subject. I guess it is easier to talk about the joys and blissful moments instead of talking about nipple scabs, cracked nipples, sleep deprivation, and all the other dirty little secrets mothers live through.
I remember calling my friend, Debra Elramey in tears saying, “Debi, my boobs hurt.” My milk had just come in. I was not told it would feel like the lower falls of Yellowstone were dammed in my breasts.
I was hunched over the passenger seat of our green Jeep in the parking lot near the super strip mall and my husband was getting me a Subway sandwich. I was trying to be strong, and the baby blues were coming on something fierce. Ben was sleeping peacefully in the car seat, probably a week old. Debi said, in a voice only a good friend can emulate, “Honey, you’re engorged,” she paused while I cried, then said, “You need to get a pump.” I was like, “What is engorged?”
Debi explained the situation and what I needed to do. I got a free hand pump from the city’s lactation consultant that spent ten minutes with me the next day. She said, “Yep, you got this, you’re doing it right,” as if I were some tick mark to check off on a list. I wanted to call her out and say, “Lady, I think you are mistaken — I have no f-ing idea what I am doing! Please sit your a– back down on my couch and please don’t leave.” Instead, I just kept a stiff upper lip until she left and then I cried. My next call was to the La Leche League.
Breastfeeding was hard. My nipples were scabbed, bloody and every time my son latched on, it felt like, well, I can’t remember what it felt like because I was so sleep deprived. I did not prepare for this. In fact, I winged it. I was not aware of attachment parenting and the first principle, Prepare for Pregnancy, Birth, and Parenting. I guess I was like a deer in headlights while I was pregnant. It never really sank in that I was going to be a mother until I was a mother.
I eventually got the hang of breastfeeding. In fact, I am still nursing my two and half year old. My support came from women in a nursing mothers’ group that the lactation specialist from the hospital organized. It was great to be around women who were struggling with the challenges of breastfeeding and motherhood.
My friend, Debra, also came over to my house and sat with me as I nursed my son. I kept asking, “Am I doing it right?” She responded, “You’re doing it, so therefore you are doing it right.”
It wasn’t until I allowed myself to follow my instincts and relax that I realized there is no manual to being a mother. I just followed my heart.