Motherhood comes with a lot of warnings. People warn you that childbirth hurts, that you won’t sleep, that you’ll fight with your partner, that you’ll hate going to work and that friends will be lost. Being pregnant was almost like wearing a billboard asking for all of the bad advice, intrusive questions and negative experiences that others had to share.
Then there was the opposite side. Other women told me how idyllic their experience was. They had no morning sickness. Their feet never swelled. Labor was easy! No epidural needed. Breastfeeding was a breeze, their baby slept through the night right away. Dad was the biggest help in the world, their in-laws never annoyed them, and their own mother managed to be supportive and helpful without annoying or overbearing.
For me? I got lost somewhere in the middle.
Pregnancy didn’t come as easily to me as I thought it would. I’m young, I’m in good shape, I’m healthy, I had high expectations. But I was miserable. My gums bled like a horror movie when I flossed my teeth (and even sometimes when I just brushed them–or looked at them). I had a terrible headache for days on end. The peeing was incessant. Of course, none of it was truly high risk or dangerous. But it wasn’t a time of glowing and magic for me–and that was hard to accept. Shouldn’t I be in awe of my body instead of feeling mild resentment?
My labor and delivery didn’t go as planned. The baby I’d worked so hard to grow wasn’t positioned the way he needed to be. I did the exercises and the stretches and the tricks and tips to move him, but it didn’t help. Eventually, labor started. It was long, slow, unproductive. After over two days of regular contractions, I accepted the epidural that I’d worked so hard to avoid. Another 10 hours passed, then 3 more of pushing until I threw in the towel and accepted the c-section. Despite being told by every medical professional around me that it was what needed to happen for my safety and the safety of my baby, I felt like I was letting someone down, even though I didn’t quite know who.
After the cesarean, breastfeeding did come naturally. It was so easy and I was immensely grateful. Yet, somehow, even that was hard to accept! I’d heard breastfeeding was hard, that not everyone could do it. I’ve since learned that it is hard, and not natural for everyone, and that those moms who struggle face the additional struggle of accepting that. Every mother I’ve talked to knows that she’s doing exactly what her baby needs her to do yet still, we struggle to accept and embrace the reality of our own experiences.
Early days of being home with my baby were filled with panic and tears. I refused to see the signs I was showing of postpartum anxiety. Accepting the idea that this was an occasion where I couldn’t put mind over matter was unspeakably difficult. I’ve always prided myself on my stability and ability to be rational instead of emotional. But I couldn’t be that way and accepting that, and accepting that I needed help, was hugely difficult. Asking for help after I’d accepted that this was my reality was the best thing I’ve ever done. Without that, the dark place I’d fallen into could have held onto me and affected my relationship with my partner and with my baby.
From mother to mother, our journeys and our experiences are so different. Falling into the trap to compare ourselves and see whether we measure up is hard to avoid. I’ve learned that I have to accept things. Motherhood isn’t easy and many moments are hard, but for me, the hardest have been the moments of having to accept something I don’t want to, or something I didn’t plan. Moments of acceptance, though, bring me such a feeling of liberation and freedom.
Struggles of motherhood are unique to each individual mom, but the universal struggle I see is that of acceptance. We can only do our best, we can only work with what we are given and play the hand we have been dealt. Long nights are hard, sleepless babies are frustrating, hormonal cascades of emotion are intense and overwhelming. But the struggle to accept the specific journey of motherhood that we are walking is perhaps the hardest, most frustrating and overwhelming of all. From now on, my advice to the pregnant woman carrying the billboard? Accept it. Accept yourself. Accept your baby. Accept your journey.