It’s been awhile since I blogged regularly, but if you remember some of my prior posts over the past three years, motherhood, from pregnancy onward, has simply not been what I expected at all. And I know that I am definitely not alone in feeling that way. Our personal expectations and the ones that society and other people impose on us can leave us feeling like failures as mothers and as women.
For me, the period of extreme isolation that we lived in due to COVID19 felt a lot like the newborn period. Those were some of the worst months of my life as I struggled with postpartum anxiety, OCD, and depression. I questioned everything during that time, from whether having my daughter was a horrible mistake to whether my husband and daughter were simply better off without me.
All of this is why I am planning on writing more about expectations vs. reality in motherhood inspired by my own rough transition to motherhood. Part of my research process has included reaching out to other mothers and having them share their motherhood stories with me.
Back in February 2020 I shared a survey online about the transition to motherhood with the hope that other moms would share and pass on as well. And they did. As the responses began to pour in, I was excited, but so, so sad at the stories that were being shared. And also surprised at how many of those who responded wanted to talk further about their motherhood stories. Out of the 350+ responses I received, over 200 women were interested in sharing more of their motherhood story. It really shouldn’t have surprised me, however. Isn’t that what we all want, as humans, and definitely as moms, to be heard and seen?
And what do moms want? Support. What do they want less of? Judgment.
There were some heartbreaking stories shared. And so many of them involved moms feeling alone, ashamed, and abandoned by systems that have set us up for failure. There was so much preparation for birth, but very little for the reality of what would come after. Moms are armed with the expectations of automatic, unconditional love. That their bodies will simply know what to do to breastfeed and care for their babies, and then of course that that same body will “bounce back” quickly.
What they said about motherhood disappointments
But the transition into motherhood is often far more rocky, as many shared:
“I feel like I’ve completely failed my daughter.”
“At the height of [postpartum depression], I put my son in the car and was ready to drive him back to the hospital and do a safe haven drop off. I also seriously considered running away.”
“My body was completely foreign to me.”
“The selflessness required to be a ‘good’ mother so often makes me feel like I’m ‘bad’ in many other areas of my life.”
Why We Need to Hear Other Mother’s Stories
One of the most pivotal moments during the newborn days was a friend admitting that soon after she brought her son home from the hospital his incessant crying was getting to the point that she felt like she wanted to throw him out the window. It was such a relief to say that I had felt the same way.
Even if you’d never act on it, having thoughts like this can make you feel like an awful mother. But in the midst of pure exhaustion, mental strain, and a hormonal fog these invasive thoughts are not uncommon, especially for mother’s struggling with postpartum mood disorders. Yet we fear admitting that we have them because of judgment or perhaps being thought unfit to care for our children.
The isolation of motherhood goes beyond the initial days of being sequestered with a tiny human away from the world. It is fed by fear and silence for many months and years after birth.
While much as changed for the better since the 1950’s housewife became the symbol of ideal motherhood, this vision of perfect motherhood still exists. It pops around the corner when we lose our temper and yell at our children. It follows us to work after we drop off our children at daycare. It reminds us of its presence when an Instagram notification pops up on our phone of a post from the mom who seems to have it all together. We feel it in the glare of the person behind us at the checkout line when our child is having a meltdown.
“You should be spending more time with your children.” “You’re an awful mother.” “Your kids are out of control!” “You can have it all. You just need this planner. Oh, and this organic juice cleanse.” “Mommmmmyyyy!”
Pandemic Motherhood and the Mental Load
Since the pandemic began I have only seen it get worse for mothers. The enormous mental and emotional load of motherhood has become even heavier for us. Women find themselves giving birth and bringing home newborns with even less support then they had before. And in February 2020 48% of moms I surveyed already said they hadn’t felt supported as a new mother.
Moms found themselves having to somehow juggle caring for children while simultaneously working full time jobs. Stay at home moms couldn’t take their children to any of the places that maintained their sanity during the long days. And we all had more added to our household duty plates as we scrounged to find diapers and toilet paper to keep our families’ butts clean. And this burden fell mostly on mothers, just as it generally does under “normal” circumstances.
Is Motherhood what You Expected?
Moms are tired. No, exhausted. Because we definitely didn’t sign up for most of what motherhood throws our way, much less motherhood during a pandemic. When I asked whether their expectations of motherhood met the reality, 69% of the moms I surveyed said no and only 22% could answer definitely yes. We are disappointed that our village never showed up after our children were born, that our workplaces aren’t family friendly, and that the world seems to expect us to love being mothers all the time or our love of our children is brought into question. The things that have made us us slowly melt away if we dedicate ourselves to our children as is expected, but we are subject to harsh criticism if we put ourselves first.
I wanted to share some of the results from my survey because we all need to know that we are not alone. And you are definitely not, because so many of the moms I surveyed were writing eerily similar things. That they didn’t enjoy motherhood. That they felt like they lost themselves after kids. That they felt lonely in a world that dishes out judgment far more then support. That they feel like failures.