At my bridal shower several years ago, all of my friends wrote down little snippets of marital advice for me. My sister Rachel wrote something about how I ought to “hide the Moyal craziness” as much as I could. Now I’m not sure if we Moyal girls are crazier than other women (maybe we’re more passionate?), but I’ve never been able to heed her advice very well. Going through transition and change tends to bring out my nutty side, the part of me that wants to control things and goes into a tailspin when I can’t. Even when I’m in a season of positive change, like when I moved to Norway for a year, or when I started grad school, or when I married my husband—I still feel crazy and have an embarrassingly hard time with the transition. When I began grad school, I felt I needed to study every second and read every assigned page and get A’s on everything. When I got married, I needed to be the perfect wife, but I was unsure what that meant, and the confusion compounded my craziness.
Now, transitioning into a season of motherhood—and stay-at-home, round-the-clock motherhood, at that—the crazy is back with a vengeance. This time I have a little baby to try to control. I can hear you laughing, reader who has spent any time at all with real live human babies. They cannot be controlled. Even with Babywise, even with schedules and ideal wake times and the Baby Whisperer to solve all your problems. What worked yesterday might not work today. What worked this morning might not work this afternoon. A perfect nap day with a sweet-tempered baby might be followed by a day of 30-minute naps and unexplainable crying jags. The unpredictability alone is enough to make a person like me go bonkers, but add in the extreme stress a mother feels when she hears her baby cry (multiple times a day), and the emotions that come with such a world-rocking change of pace, role, routine, and even body… So let’s just say I’ve had my share of meltdowns since my daughter was born.
But here’s what makes me feel even crazier: the sense that I’m alone in these unstable, out-of-control feelings. Instagram is full of whimsical shots of babies with sweet captions about motherly love. Friends with kids barely remember the baby years. Some mothers in my post-partum group said things like they were loving every minute of motherhood, and that it’s been sheer bliss since their babies were born. Other moms with little ones are afraid to be real about how hard things are or how much they dislike their own baby sometimes. With the exception of the author Anne Lamott, the great Saint of All Normal Women Who Feel Normal Emotions, most people aren’t sharing the ugly details of this season of life. I get it. I don’t want to share, either, for at least five reasons at any given time:
- Someone reading might be desperate to have a baby and so far unable to. This makes the complaining mom completely rude and selfish and thoughtless.
- Someone reading may not have kids and judge the complaining mom, thinking, “What’s so hard about taking care of a baby?”
- Someone reading may have had children a long time ago, and now that their kids are grown, this person wants to scold the complaining mom about not cherishing these years while her kids are small.
- Someone reading may have four children and never experienced these types of negative emotions regarding mothering, and will judge the complaining mom as immature, selfish, and not cut out to be a mother. (OK, so I suspect this last one does not actually exist…but these are the moms who act like they’ve never experienced negative emotions about mothering, making me feel like a total monster who should never have had kids.)
- No one likes a complainer.
But there’s a difference between complaining and sharing your psychotic emotions so you can get out of your own head for a few minutes. I’m not into the type of articles that float around Facebook, all about how the author hasn’t showered in 2 weeks, forgets what non-spit-up-on clothes smell like, and only eats Cheerios off the floor for every meal. Those essays are ridiculous. My complaining is less about my baby (because let’s face it: she’s pretty much the best baby I could ever ask for), and it’s not even about the work of caring for her (it’s not rocket science, nor is it working in the salt mines); my complaining is actually about my own inability to cope with being a parent.
There’s a shame cycle in play: I crumble when a nap time runs short, or have a meltdown because I just need a break and when will there be a day when my neck doesn’t hurt and will my body ever be the same again. I experience these negative feelings (and yes, sometimes they are projected onto my daughter and I think ugly, resentful thoughts about how hard she’s made my life), and then I feel shame about the negative feelings and why I can’t just buck up and be an adult, and the shame creates even more negative feelings, till the crazy comes out and I tell my husband that I’m just going to get in the car and drive away and never look back.
I know I need to have more grace for myself. Lately I’ve been reminding myself that I went from pretty much just taking care of myself and my dog (and my husband, on occasion), to becoming a full-time, round-the-clock caregiver to a completely helpless being. That is enough to make anyone lose it once in a while.
So what do we do, when the crazy bubbles up inside of us? Calling my sister always helps. Getting out of my own head, where the baby’s sleeping habits have taken on the importance of issues like global warming and conflict in the Middle East. Telling myself I can take a break; it’s OK to space out sometimes while the baby is on her activity mat; it’s OK to leave her for a few hours with my husband on a weekend, and not just to go run errands.
And gratitude—I’m terrible at that one, but it’s truly a game-changer and a healer. Looking into my baby’s eyes and getting that hit of oxytocin, feeling overcome by how utterly beautiful she is, singing Stevie Wonder’s “Isn’t She Lovely” to her, and kissing those soft, sweet, smiling cheeks.