AWARD-WINNING POST: SOUTH AFRICAN PARENTING BLOG AWARDS -RUNNER UP BEST TEARJERKER 2019
Motherhood, being a mommy was my second life goal from my earliest memory of buying disposables for my dolls. (Marriage was my first, in case you’re wondering.) Much to my secret shame at the time, I played with dolls into high school, hiding them in an outside room so my friends didn’t know. I prayed for my mom to have another baby until I was in my teens. I fought with a friend about who would have the privilege of holding the babies at church. But with my first child, and now with my second, my dreams of the joy of motherhood came crashing down around me and, in the early days, sunk my state of mind into a deep depression.
When a pregnancy is announced, family and friends squeal in delight. Bump pictures are frequently posted online. There are baby showers, bunting, blues and pinks. Anticipation, expectation and excitement follow you wherever you are and it’s a time when you feel loved, attended to and spoilt. The baby arrives and so do meals and even more attention. Flowers may fill your home and everyone wants a cuddle.
And then, once the interest dies down, it’s just you and the baby. And this is the part that no one can prepare you for. If you’re lucky, your mom might live nearby or she might stay for a few days to help you settle in. But, after that in the western world, this is when you are on your own! Help is gone…when you need it most! Sure, meals are life-saver in those early days! Yes, it’s fantastic if you have a supportive husband! But then, no matter how blessed you are in the beginning, the time comes when you have to “suck it up and just carry on” because you have no choice but to do so.
Being told “you just have to carry on” made me feel physically ill and I felt something inside shut down. When I asked people how they coped and they said “I just had to,” I began to wonder what was wrong with me. And I despised being expected to carry on because I just had to. Why?
Because, truth be told, there was a time when, no matter how easy or difficult your baby was that you didn’t cope and you couldn’t just “carry on”!
And often, people forget that mommies need help, support and comfort when the excitement dies down and the milk comes in. In the African culture, moms, aunties, gogos and the whole neighbourhood is around to help! You are not “expected” to just carry on and manage on your own. And yet, in our western culture, it is expected that you cope and it is almost scorned if you don’t. If you dare to say out loud that you have a difficult baby, you sense some sort of disbelief because most moms experience difficulties at some point, right? But when you really do have a colicky or even fussy baby, you worry whether people think you’re exaggerating. (And, as if to discredit you, your baby behaves like an angel (!!!) when other people are around). It’s enough to bring you to tears! There is a gripping fear admitting that you’re not managing. We are scared people won’t take us seriously. Maybe it means we have post-natal depression. We are scared of what our admission will bring. We fear judgement and medical treatment. We feel like we’ve failed the motherhood test. (As if we don’t feel that most days anyway!)
No one tells you; no one prepares you! Sure, you hear about it. But very few actually admit the ugly truth to one another. Very few talk. And you feel very alone! You know there are hard days. But we’ve all had hard days in life, right? We’ve all had those days. The ones when you’ve spill coffee on your clothes as you walk out the front door, then the car won’t start, then you’re late for work. As if that wasn’t enough, you’re stuck in traffic and someone yells at you when we walk through the door. Come lunchtime, you realise that you left your amazing lunch on top of the car and drove off (yes, that’s happened to me!) and then you rear-end someone on the way home in the rain and, later, burn supper. We all know those days! But the dark days of motherhood is a taboo subject that no mother dare speak about! Out of the hundreds of moms that I know, only one shed a shaft of light on those days – my own mother. No one else said a word! Not a word! And if I didn’t hear what I did from my mom, I may not have been prepared to reveal the dark secrets of my heart.
I have wanted to run. And I’m not using this common expression flippantly! I have thought about it and even planned it. I came so close to getting into the car one day and fleeing. Leaving my husband, my toddler and my baby behind and just fleeing. I felt that I could no longer carry on. I felt like I wouldn’t see the next hour, never mind the next day! My chest was tight and it felt as if my heart was hammering in the constricted space. I know what it’s like to feel the need to escape. And then…to feel like you can’t. Maybe you’ve run. And I won’t judge you nor blame you if you have.
I know what it’s like to feel physically ill when you hear your baby waking up. I know what it’s like to feel your body slowly shut down; to have your eyes go glassy and, one by one, for your senses go numb. I know the wall that goes up around your heart as all sense of feeling disappears. I have felt my body stop responding to the incessant crying. Your baby may be clawing at your chest but you don’t react because you just can’t anymore! I know what it feels like to want to be rough with your baby. And, I don’t say that lightly. I mean it! Of course (!!!) I love my child and would never want to see her hurt. But, unless you have been there you will never understand the desperation. It’s in those moments that I can see why mothers hurt their babies. I have come close. I have jumped violently with my baby pressed against my chest to muffle and stop the crying, near tears myself. I have come close to shaking her. I have nearly thrown her onto the bed. I’ve banged her hard on the back or thrown her over my shoulder to get the wind out. I have closed the door and walked away. I have left the monitor off and gone out of ear shot, knowing that my baby is losing her mind. At this very moment, my baby is strapped to me, screaming and clawing and pressing her face into my neck and I’m done! I have nothing left to give and if I touch her, I’m scared that I will hurt her. I feel that if I “ignore” her, she will be much safer. I’ve been angry, really angry, with God for watching us go through this and being able to do something, yet doing nothing.
And, for the first time in my life, I’ve lost it completely! I put my baby down on the couch (I didn’t want to hurt her) and I threw myself down on the bed and screamed with everything I had in me into a pillow. I punched the bed with all my might and scratched and yanked at the sheet with all my strength as if I was mauling an animal.
I didn’t chase the thought out of my mind to get in my car, speed off and crash it into something. Rather, I toyed with the idea longer than I should have.
I know what it feels like to fall into deep hopelessness where you actually don’t care anymore at all. You don’t care that you baby is writhing in pain; you don’t care that your toddler is crying on the floor; you don’t care that haven’t done a single thing all day; you don’t care that you are still in your pajamas; you don’t care that you haven’t so much as lifted a finger to clean a mess. You JUST. DON’T.CARE!
Because…it’s sheer desperation! Sheer, sheer desperation! And, although with my eldest I’m convinced I had mild post-natal depression, I believe that, this time, a lot of my feelings are based on circumstances. I know my husband feels the same. You get to the point where you just can’t cope anymore. You don’t want to wake up and face another day. You don’t want to turn off the light for fear of what the night may bring. You don’t try because you have nothing left. Your tank is empty. A cloud settles over you. You feel the weight of parenthood as it closes your chest and sinks your state of mind into a depression.
Why, why, why does NO ONE speak about this??? Why does no one tell you that there is nothing abnormal about feeling this way?
No one wants to admit that they want to run away or hurt their baby! Because what will people think if I dare say those words out loud? Will they take away my children because I’m not a fit mother? Will I be sent to a mental hospital? Will I be a leper in society, a social outcast and will people spit the ground I walk on? Why do we feel like we have to bear this burden alone because we fear being judged?
This past week I read Psalm 55. I came across these words and it was as if it was my soul crying out to the Lord.
“Listen to my prayer, O God. Do not ignore my cry for help! Please listen and answer me, for I am overwhelmed by my troubles.…Oh, that I had wings like a dove; then I would fly away and rest! I would fly far away to the quiet of the wilderness...” (v1-2, 6-7)
I’ve pleaded with the Lord to hear me and not ignore me because, sometimes, it feels like He does. And I have wished that I could fly away! Rather flee to some quiet place and get away from all the overwhelming “troubles” that come with motherhood!
Then I read these verses,
“Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous be shaken.” (v22)
I certainly felt shaken! But, I was reminded to cast my cares on the Lord despite how angry I was. If I gave Him the silent treatment, I was making Satan’s day! The Lord promises to sustain me…even though it doesn’t feel like it right now.
The next day I read these verses in Psalm 56,
“You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.” (v8)
This really comforted me. It’s not as if He’s allowed these trials but is unaware of how I’m handling them. He knows. He sees me. He sees all the tears – sad, angry, desperate tears – and He holds them in His hand. Not one has fallen and gone unnoticed.
Motherhood has been the most challenging thing I have faced. It’s flipping hard! And it is relentless! It can drive you insane! The rewards are immeasurable but this first phase is tough. All you do is give! Your emotional tank is drained, sapped and dry. We’ve all felt it to some degree.
I am here to tell you that thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of women have felt this way! It is not “only you”! You are not alone! Too many women have carried the pain, the hopelessness, the hurt, the despair and the anguish on their own! It is time that we rally around one another instead of being too afraid to speak! There are other mommies out there drowning! So, to all the mommies who have struggled, let’s start talking! Let’s stop pretending! Let’s care for, love and help other mommies through these first challenging months in ways that we know would have helped us. Let’s lose our pride and open up about the hardcore emotions. And let’s be the change and lend a listening ear and a helping hand!
Here’s how you can help a new mommy: Helping a New MomTags: baby, colic, crying, depressed, depression, despair, encouragement, hard, hard times, mommyhood, motherhood, newborn, parenthood, parenting, post-natal, sad, screaming, sobbing, tears
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