Have you ever stared into the butthole of a toddler to check the severity of his raging diarrhea induced diaper rash, only to be blasted by an offensive, eye-burning fart? If you’re a parent, soon-to-be parent or general hostage of a child, that day will come if it hasn’t already. Stomach bugs in kids, like death and taxes, are impossible to avoid. After 48 hours of this madness, my son is now blissfully sound asleep next to me, so I can wrap up in my favorite cozy blanket, drink my steaming cup of chai tea and write by the glow of Hulu on the TV screen.
I’m in the throes of it - mothering an adorable yet disobedient toddler. I’m not doing it alone; my husband does his equal share of fathering. But if you want his take, ask him to write his own damn essay. I promise it would be something short like: “Wait, what? Oh, yeah it’s cool.” Word count: six.
As I weave my fingers along the edges of the blanket, a gift given to me and me alone after my son was born, I recall how three years ago right around now told a different story. I was 44 with a 10-week-old infant, suffered from various childbirth related ailments, waddled like a penguin from degenerative, arthritic hips badly in need of replacing, and was filled with fierce postpartum anxiety and depression that wouldn’t be diagnosed for three more months. To say I was a shell of the person I am now would be a gross understatement.
You'd never know it as an outsider; I kept snapping those cute photos and posting them on Facebook, sending out the false illusion that all was well. I was fine, fine, FINE.
“Aren’t you loving every minute of it?” a friend from high school with three teenage children, those early days long in her rearview mirror, posted on one of my son’s photos.
“Are you serious?” I thought. I never responded.
To the contrary, I basically hated every minute of it. I loved my son, but really did not like being a parent. The fog of new motherhood had me feeling simultaneously suffocated and painfully alone. Ungodly overwhelmed. Like a ghost mother of a new baby. Only a few months prior, I was practically trending with friends and family because it was so shocking I got pregnant in the first place after being told it would never happen.
People sent cards, they sent baby gifts, they wanted to visit. I didn't want to see anyone, but looking back, I am grateful for those who pushed past my objections and came anyway. Those friends who swooped my baby up to change him, when I was still trying to figure out how diapers worked. Those friends that sent food. And of course, those who sent something especially for me. Like the blanket burritoed around me at this moment. Not because I needed things. But because that little gesture made me feel seen and not a thousand miles from nowhere wearing an invisibility cloak. It was a reminder that I still mattered.
Here’s my point: The moms are not alright. We are conditioned to be ‘fine’. To push through the postpartum pain; to wait an absurd six weeks before our first checkup (honestly, WTF); to cry in private; to put ourselves last, to nod in agreement when well-meaning but dismissive people – usually women, ironically – tell us ‘oh you’ll miss these days’ or ‘it’s just a phase’ or ‘this is nothing, wait until they are teenagers;’ to invalidate our feelings because, as someone will always remind you, ‘it could be worse. You could fill-in-the-blank’.
Nicole Rodgers of Sea Island, Georgia’s experience came early in her pregnancy when she said both her fertility specialist and OB/GYN told her, ‘The minute you get pregnant you are no longer my primary patient, that baby is, so my priority is delivering a healthy baby not preserving your health.’ “To hear that basically I am a vessel…struck me and has stayed with me,” she said.
I don’t have the answers. If I did, this would be an entirely different essay. One thing I have done though is start to send gifts to my new mom friends that only she can enjoy (spoiler alert: NOT a onesie). I include a note that essentially says ‘motherhood is freaking hard and we often become afterthoughts. So, here’s me thinking of you and reminding you that you matter.’
One I sent this summer elicited this response: ‘I also cried over the mom present (in a good way). My husband was like ‘what’s wrong?’ My response – someone thought of me!’
Check in on your new mom friends. Send her a mom gift, not a baby gift. Maybe a note, a voice text, a lip gloss, a cookie, a cozy blanket, a photo of Bradley Cooper, maybe a photo of Bradley Cooper ON a cozy blanket! Something she can’t share and shouldn’t have to. Something to remind her that under the spit up, the dark circles, the yoga pants and hair buns, you see her and whether she knows it or not, she’s killing this new mom thing.