Motherhood: Women Existing as Isolated Villagers
Isolated living within the same village summarizes the motherhood experience for so many. From pregnancy pains to postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety to being housebound with children, we all share similar experiences. Yet, society makes us believe we must keep our anxiety, sadness and frustrations to ourselves. We are groomed to believe that being a mom means looking pulled together and confident instead of the uncertain and flawed humans we are. The perceived goal is to strive for superhumanness. It’s a recipe for failure and mothers are suffering as a result.
Immediately after giving birth to my first child, I felt like I was catapulted onto a mound of diapers and trapped at the top. Prior to childbirth, I never had major surgery. Suddenly, I was expected to recover from a c-section at the same time as caring for my newborn. My Lamaze coach told me that having a baby via c-section was a “cop out.” I had difficulty breast-feeding and the lactation consultant made me feel like a failure for choosing to feed my son formula. I was confused. I thought the point of giving birth was to get the baby out of my womb, regardless of the exit strategy. I thought the point of nurturing a baby was to feed him so that he thrives, regardless of the nourishment choice. I was astonished to learn that some women aggressively judge other women’s personal mothering choices. Nobody warned me about Mommy Shamers.
My breasts were sore, my wound was painful, I was exhausted and really cranky. My family came to visit. My then-husband’s family came to visit. Everyone wanted to see the baby. Everyone ignored me. Everyone except my own mom. My mom constantly checked on me and told me how to take care of myself and the baby. She was emphatic that dad get up during the night for some feedings and she made sure he understood I needed rest. My mom instructed him to make or buy meals for us. She was wonderful! But, she is a seasoned mama.
Then she returned to her home, 300 miles away. I felt anxious and out of control. There was no manual. There was no step by step guidance for raising a child. My then-husband went to work and left me alone with the baby. I wasn’t able to take Percocet for my throbbing wound and sleep the days away, allowing my body to recover. Instead, every two hours, I was startled awake by a shrieking baby who was just as surprised as me that he was out of my womb. My baby got colic and screamed for six hours straight every evening. I was overwhelmed, but wasn’t crying, so I assumed I did not have postpartum depression. No one told me that PPD is much more complex than simply crying. I felt like my life was over and then felt guilty for having those feelings. I felt like I should be nothing but grateful for the blessing of having a healthy child. I felt like any negative feelings I had about motherhood rendered me unworthy to be a mama.
After 10 torturous months of being stuck inside my head, I was diagnosed with postpartum anxiety. Medication stabilized my brain chemistry and the anxious overthinking abated. I recognized myself again, and began enjoying parts of motherhood. I joined a play group and made friends. The other mommies and I talked about anything and everything we experienced. Nothing was shameful or taboo. Contact with my mommy friends was so important that I’d schedule my job around around play group meeting days. As wonderful as those days were, the infancy and toddler years are only a small part of the motherhood journey.
Although raising children gets easier during the latency phase, we still have issues with “balance.” There’s never enough time, money or energy for anything. We become slaves to our families and jobs, often losing our identities. We are all on similar journeys, yet we often feel isolated. I felt totally alone while in the room with my then-husband. He was emotionally vacant and I was seeking the companionship we once shared. Once again, I found myself sad and anxious within motherhood. No one told me that once you survive the postpartum journey, life may feel difficult again. I truly thought that my life would run smoothly once I conquered postpartum anxiety. I didn’t understand feeling lonely with my marriage anymore than I understood feeling lonely surrounded by my children.
I didn’t tell anyone how awful I felt because I didn’t want to appear ungrateful for the beautiful family I had. At the time, I thought the loneliness reflected a shortcoming in me. I tried harder. I threw myself further into my family and career while I lost myself more every day. After our second child was born, we relocated to my then-husband’s hometown and I had to leave my beloved playgroup. I didn’t easily make close friends in our new location. I. Was. Desperately. Lonely. Other moms appeared to be happily connected to their families and to each other. Even as we chatted at the playground while our kids played, I felt so alone. No one seemed to notice or care. I wondered what was wrong with me. Why couldn’t I just be happy with all of the blessings in my life? It turns out, nothing was wrong with me. Everything was right with me. I just needed to ask for help. Anti-anxiety medication made the clouds lift and my world brightened. Therapy taught me how to manage anxious thoughts.
We shouldn’t have to feel isolated while surrounded by others. We are all part of the motherhood village. I now openly share my stories, without shame, in the hopes of letting all moms know they are not alone. This villager’s door is always open.