Dear new mama, AKA me, 13 years ago today:
He is here! You did it! I know it didn’t go the way you planned it, that unmedicated childbirth while you played the Pixies “Here Comes Your Man.” It was scary when the doctor said all of the amniotic fluid was gone and they’d have to do a C-section. You realized then the first lesson of parenthood is that you are not the one in control.
Between that, the diaper you are wearing, and the little person who you are trying to feed with your body … it’s a lot!
Mama, it feels overwhelming and it is, it really is. The first thing you will do when you venture out of the house is be driven to the library where you will look for a book that has the answers about how to do this thing, particularly coping with the stress of not being able to breastfeed and the anxiety you’ve always had, but is now screaming loudly. You love that baby with your heart and soul but are learning there’s no book, and the voices in your head that say you’re not “good enough” are only getting louder.
Someone tells you to take the edge off with a glass of wine. You did miss that wine. It feels like a relief when it’s back in your life, that bitter tasting blanket that envelopes you in warmth.
You are sitting under your desk at work with a machine that draws milk out of your body, and it hurts. Glass of wine when you get home? You deserve a bottle.
Fast forward a few years and you’re packing for a trip, with a toddler at your feet. You have your dream job now, traversing the country as a travel writer for a glossy magazine. This is what you’ve been working for your entire life, and you feel in your element when you are on the road, just as much as you are when you are playing with that curly blonde boy. But the days are long. You stop off at Publix to buy a bottle of Cabernet, but that’s what adults do, right? And then on the road you try all the new cocktails that are springing up around the South, all the artisanal ingredients. It’s research.
So maybe things are a little "off". You started seeing a psychiatrist after you became a mom, and told him about your anxiety. He said it was normal. What about the wine? “Was it a problem?” You asked him that, and he said probably not. I mean we all have our vices, right?
The anxiety got worse. Sometimes you had panic attacks on the way to work, pulling the car over. There was Xanax for that, your doctor told you, writing prescriptions for the pills you took when the anxiety welled up inside you. He gave you the dissolvable kind so you could pop one before you got up in front of a crowd to give a talk at work, or when late nights kept you in the office. This was just part of where you were in life, right? Everyone is stressed out in their 30's, right?
Mama, you know where this went. It’s the oldest story in the books, and you even gobbled up the memoirs about it while it was happening to you. “Not me though,” you said. Right. Not me all the way to the time, nine years after your son’s birth, when you walked into the room of a church basement to a 12-Step meeting, saying “Help.”
What would I tell you on this day of your son’s birth? First, it might not really matter, because you were going to do things your own way. But now, 13 years later, I’ve seen a lot of moms like you, so I know some things.
New mom, I would tell you you are not alone in your anxiety and fears. This is not unique to new parents, but you have an extra dose of it, an actual clinical generalized anxiety that goes very deep back into your life. When you told your OB/GYN that you were struggling, you did the right thing in asking for help – it’s just that the helper she referred you to turned out to only enable you.
New mom, you have a voice and a choice. If things aren’t getting better for you, you should seek help elsewhere.
You should fight for yourself.
I know that’s so hard when you are learning how to take care of a newborn, and then a toddler, and then a growing boy. It's hard with the hours at work, and the expectations you put on yourself, and the expectations you are internalizing about Pinterest-perfect life.
But there is an undeniable voice inside of you saying something isn't right. New mom, alcohol, Xanax and every other distraction you follow – it’s not going to help this. It may feel like it’s helping in the short-term, and it does calm down your aching back and racing thoughts – temporarily.
But honey, it’s just a Band-Aid. One that will eventually lead to such heartache, problems, and dysfunction that it will threaten to tear apart your family, heart, and your soul.
New Mom, those products that are popping up that say “Mommy deserves a drink” and “Mommy’s Little Helper” – you believe them. You believe that alcohol is just a normal and essential part of life, and that people who become addicted are someone “other.” The ones with the problem. They just can't handle it. But then you realize, you are dependent. You are the other.
Whoa, that’s a lot to drop on a lady who has just birthed a human. Sorry about that. It’s pretty heavy to know that you are going to go through all that stuff. But there’s some very good news here.
It’s going to make you who you are now.
To start, YOU HAVE AN AMAZING HUMAN WHO TURNED 13 TODAY! He is funny and kind and loves the Beatles and is way cooler than you will ever be. Despite all of those really hard years, the years you were struggling with something that no one but your closest knew about, this boy is doing great.
Here’s some more good news: you birthed another new life. Not a human, but a new you. She is a toddler now too, having made the decision when your son was 9 that there was a better way to live.
To be clear, she was totally falling apart when she got sober. But she did.
Guess what? She didn’t do it alone. She couldn’t do it alone. She got help – real help. She learned from other women who shared their own struggles – with motherhood, with what the world expects of us, with our own egos and brokenness and beauty and potential. She found another way to live, one where she meets the challenges and of her life head-on. One where she doesn’t have to numb her feelings. She feels them, and keeps getting more and more tools.
She has an awesome therapist now. Phew.
And she gets to tell other women that they aren’t alone, and that they don’t need alcohol to “cope” with motherhood, or career, or life. And that a person can reconsider his or her relationship to alcohol at any point – it doesn't have to be a "problem."
So, new mom, it’s going to work out. Despite your missteps. It’s going to be amazing.
Now, go back to kissing that little person’s head. What they say is true: he is going to be a teenager real fast and he won’t smell like a baby!
You got this.
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