Author’s note: The following is an open letter to my 18-month old daughter, Amelia, in response to two recent viral posts: “They Should’ve Warned Me,” by Jenny Studenroth Gerson, and the response, “I’m Glad They Told Me,” by Stephanie Sprenger.
I love you so very much. You are my rock and my world. When you were in my “tummy” I wrote you nearly everyday, open letters of all of my fears, hopes and dreams. Speckled throughout the pages of this blue book were snippets of advice, things I hope will help you as you grow into a young lady and—eventually—a woman. And this blog post is no different; I write it for you as much as I write it for me.
As I sit in our living room, with the TV silently flashing in the background, my phone vibrates and an email comes through, “Amelia ‘Making the Letter F'”. I open it, thrilled to see your little face. (You are at daycare, my love.) A boy plays in the chair beside you, but you are focused, working intently to carefully place scraps of construction paper along a preset strip of glue. If you could see yourself now…I am so glad I can see you so clearly now.
You see, when your little fingers wrap around mine and you pull me around the kitchen island or I hear your giggle over the baby monitor—you often wake up laughing—I cannot remember what life was like without you. But it wasn’t always that way, not at first. Sure, I loved you; I mean, I was so anxious to see you, and you me, that your head and shoulders passed through on one push. (No one told me that could happen.) But I didn’t cry when you were born. I didn’t know how to hold you when the doctor handed me your wriggling, naked body. I pulled you close of course—I knew I needed to keep you warm—but I didn’t instinctually know what to do. It didn’t just “happen,” like the books say it will. I wish someone had told me we needed a courting period, you and I. I wish someone had told me it was okay if the dishes didn’t get washed or floor remained unswept. I wish someone had told me it didn’t matter. I wish someone had told me about the immense guilt, anger, and resentment new parents—especially stay-at-home parents—feel, but I’m #SoGladTheyToldMe about postpartum depression. If they didn’t, I wouldn’t be here today.
By they, however, I mean one person: my doctor. Sure, I received a plethora of advice before you were born, most of which was unsolicited and has been heard by hundreds of thousands of mothers before: “Be sure to sleep now, you won’t be once the baby arrives” and “enjoy the quiet time while you still can” and—my favorite—”your body will never be the same.” While every comment was well-intentioned, and each ended with “but it will all be worth it,” they were also fairly useless. The comments that mattered, the ones I needed to hear, never came because these comments, and this advice, often talks about what we, as mothers, are afraid to—the “dark side” parenting.
You were just seven or eight weeks old when I knew something was wrong. I cried all day, every day. You cried and I cried. You cried because you were hungry or wet or tired or just plain upset. (You were a newborn after all.) I cried because I dropped a dish or ran out of toilet paper. I cried because you were happy and I wasn’t—but I knew I should be. I cried because I was tired. I cried because I was stressed. I cried because I couldn’t keep it together. I cried because I was sick. I cried because I was crying.
When you were four months old I went to a psychiatrist. I took antidepressants for nine weeks and started to feel a bit better. (I could make it through most days with only one crying fit.) Knowing I wasn’t completely crazy, I confided in a few friends. Their concerns were all the same: “Does that affect your breast milk? Could the medication be passed to Amelia?”
I resented their inquiries. Were they justified? Absolutely, but I was suffering. They didn’t ask about me, how they could help, or if I needed anything. They just asked about you. I found myself angrier than ever, and even jealous of you. I am sorry, but I was struggling simply to stay alive.
I am so glad my therapist asked me to describe what a good mother looks like, after lamenting that I was a terrible one. I found myself struggling to define “good” beyond knowing that I wasn’t it. Within a few minutes I realized good meant perfect (to me), and I realize perfect is impossible.
Because I love you, Amelia, I am going to be honest with you: parenting is hard. Not only are the decisions you have to make as a parent tough, the act of just becoming one is an entirely different challenge. If you choose to become a mother someday I want you to know what I didn’t. I want you to know what I wish I had. It’s okay to cry. It’s okay if you aren’t immediately enamored with motherhood. It’s okay to grieve the loss of your old self, and your old life. It’s okay to give your baby a bottle instead of your breast. It’s okay to need a break.
You may feel like a failure. You may find yourself angry and resentful at your significant other and even your newborn babe. Your relationships with others may suffer. (You may even lose friends.) Your body may not be the same, and you may be disheartened by that. Your life will not be the same, and you may be angry about that. But it is okay, and it is all “normal.”
This is not meant to be just another letter in the “Great Mommy War.” It is meant to be a letter to you, my love. It is meant to let you know I’m not perfect. I have shortcomings and regrets, but you are not one of them. As tough as gets, and as it will always be, I love you. And I am #SoGladTheyToldMe to hang on—and to get help.