I don’t know why I’m writing this—I probably shouldn’t be, and I feel miserable for even feeling this way. I’m not even putting my name to this post because (a) I’m a giant chicken and (b) I don’t ever want my kid to accidentally read this online one day. This isn’t her problem; it’s mine.
I have a wonderful daughter. She is a few months old and she is my first. I used to ask other new-parent friends of mine—rather unreasonably, in retrospect—what it was like to have a kid. I’d get a variety of heartfelt, if somewhat candid, responses.
“It’s like no other love you’ve ever known!”
“Try to sleep while you can.”
I never paid heed to their words or wondered what was beneath their jokes. Maybe there was nothing to them, but maybe—just maybe—some of them went through what I felt when my daughter came along. There are moments when a darkness settles over me and refuses to let go—these are the worst things that a mother can feel, short of something awful happening to her kid.
Those are the times where I feel like a prisoner, where I think to myself “I can’t do this.” I find myself wondering what I’ve gotten myself into. Everything hurts, both physically and emotionally, and I feel more drained than ever before. Sometimes I hate the person I used to be and the person I’ve become—the former for not squeezing every inch of life out of the days I whiled away before having a baby and the latter for the current dark thoughts. Some days I hate every noseful of vomit smell, every glob of refused food, every high-pitched whine in the middle of the night and every tendril of seething anger that creeps around inside my head.
I love my child. No, that’s the wrong word. Love is such a tragically, laughably inadequate word for what I feel for her. She is my insides. My jaw hurts from smiling whenever I look at her. My neck is perpetually sore from when I sleep curled around her because, even in slumber, my body needs to protect her. I relish every burning letdown of milk in my breasts because it means that I’m lucky enough to be able to nourish her from my own body—that every ounce of her beautiful, perfect body has come from inside me.
Even when I’m dying to hand her off for a little while at the end of a long day, every nerve in my body hates the idea of parting with her. There hasn’t been a single night since she was born—nights where I’ve actually been able to get some sleep, that is—where she hasn’t been in my dreams.
There’s no part of me that wishes I could go back to another time. There is no longer a “me” without her.
Maybe it’s part of the burden that women bear when we become mothers. For those of us who are lucky enough to not have to worry about the basics of survival—safety, food, shelter—perhaps our burden is the unbearable dichotomy of who we are versus who we need to be. I want to be better—for my daughter, for my husband, for myself. I still wake up in cold sweats, and I’m no longer able to blame it on post-pregnancy hormones. I lie in bed in near-constant fear of the dreaded wail of a baby that refuses to stay asleep.
There have been times when I’ve absolutely lost it. Lying there one night, after hours of trying to calm her down, I finally broke. I sobbed for all the things I was unable to do, in frustration and in misery. I cried like I’ve never cried before, repeating “What do you want?” as my baby looked up at me with her big brown eyes and reached out to touch my face.
I hate the anger I feel. I don’t feel angry at my daughter; I feel angry at my situation and my own inability to give my baby exactly what she needs. A lot of it is anger at myself for not having more fortitude, more strength. Sometimes I wish I’d had babies in my 20s, when I had more energy. Now in my 30s, every hour of sleep I miss hinders my ability to function and think straight. I feel guilty that I’m struggling with a situation that millions of women around the world would kill for: a healthy baby, a loving family and a safe home.
Sometimes I channel the anger toward my husband: How dare he sleep while I’m awake? Why is he not at my beck and call? Why is he working when she is projectile vomiting all over me? Poor man. He looks at me helplessly when he sees me sitting up at 3 a.m., bawling into a pillow. He wants to help—I know he does. It breaks his heart to see me like this; it frightens him when I say “I can’t do this.”
I need help—I know this. I’m trying to get it, and I’m hoping it gets better.
People say that new motherhood is lonely, and I think I finally understand what that means. But I’m talking about it, even if just from behind a veil. Maybe the knowledge that I’m not the only one who feels this way will finally help me fend off those negative thoughts. I hope one day I will feel like myself again. Maybe one day I’ll be the mother my daughter deserves.
The next time a pregnant friend asks me what new motherhood is like, I’ll tell her the truth: Some days are more joyful than anything you ever could have imagined, while other days it will feel like a part of you is dying. My friend probably won’t understand, and she may secretly think her baby will be an exception to the rule, like I once did. All I can say is that, for her sake, I hope she is right.