A month or two ago, a woman who I knew as an acquaintance at my gym had her first baby.
"How's it going?" I asked, congratulating her and asking how she was feeling, something I noticed most people don't do.
It's all about the baby, after all.
"It's OK, you know, she's not sleeping very well and she cries a lot. I mean a lot, a lot!"
I heard it in her speech: infancy was not her cup of tea right now.
"I'm so sorry. You know, it's OK if you hate this right now. My daughter slept very well, but I've had friends and family who dealt with colic."
Looking at me with a face of relief: "Thank you — you're the first person I've been able to be honest with. The first person who asked how I was. Honestly, I'm struggling and totally hating it. I feel so guilty."
After we spoke, I went home from the gym that day feeling great not only because of the workout but also because I gave a new mom a safe space to share how she truly felt, which was: infancy sucks right now. That day in the gym, I made a friend. We had been brief "hi and bye" buddies, but now through the motherhood struggle, I adopted a friend. What made me sad, however, was that I was the first person she could share her true feelings with. She claimed to have many good friends and family, and I'm sure she's not lying and perhaps it's easier to tell the truth to a relative stranger, but I think her hesitance to speak up is more about society than about her social group.
When I struggled with hyperemesis gravidarum, some people told me to suck it up! Pregnancy and labor are part of life for women, so deal with the pains and sickness and squelch it, sister. I heard that time and again. We've created as a world the notion that motherhood equals compliant quiet suffering or that when we as mothers do feel pain, it can't really be painful. We're just not dealing with it well, even if we've put our very all into getting by. We're strong.
News flash: we may be strong, but we are not indestructible and we are allowed to have an off day! To experience pain. To struggle.
The same goes for infancy. The babies are beautiful and the joy is real, but the life changes and stress of a newborn are as well, but we are supposed to grin and bear it. Yet grinning and bearing it has caused one in every seven women to deal with postpartum depression alone or in silence, unless they were educated and well enough to get treatment or had the support of great family to encourage them to reach out for help.
I had a baby who slept like a dream at night but liked me as her napping nest best during the day. Did she cry? Not a ton. She had her "witching hours" during the evening in the early weeks, but for the most part, I got lucky. She was easy. But for moms who have babies with premature systems or ones who simply have colic, allergies, or other issues, infancy can feel like a nightmare.
Where is the sleepy, adorable, photo-perfect baby they had dreamt of?
But to share that a mom hates or is suffering through the infancy and newborn stages can be extremely embarrassing for a mother. It can feel as if they're almost saying, "I don't love my baby," which isn't the least bit true.
I remember a friend of mine who had miscarried and experienced infant loss feeling guilty about wanting to get a break from her crying infant.
I can remember others moms sharing at moms group: "Why am I feeling so sad, yet I'm supposed to be so happy?"
I wanted to hug each of these women (and some I did) and say:
"You are only supposed to be true to your experience! And feeling sad, angry, or distressed that your infancy experience is not the bubble-in-the-cloud 'baby and mother experience' you see in Pampers ads or that you feel more like 'Mommy dearest' than June Cleaver is incredibly viable and legit! Feeling like you're ready to pull your hair or wanting to scream does not mean you don't love your baby or child: it means your child is either a difficult baby or you're dealing with postpartum depression, or both! This does not make you a monster, ladies. It makes you human."
And sometimes those ugly feelings stem from sleep deprivation. Further still, some moms don't enjoy the infancy period but look forward to when their babies are talking, walking, or more independent. All that matters is that you care for your infant and yourself. This may mean hiring help. This may mean seeing a therapist. This may mean asking your partner, "Please do the night shift." It could mean many things depending on your situation. All that truly counts in the end is that one way or the other, you cope with the stress of a stressful or not-so-carefree infancy and your emotions, rather than burying them or hiding from your feelings.
The good news is that if you don't love the infancy period, you've got many other interesting and joyful (and sometimes difficult) developmental periods to experience. The crying, the sleepless nights, and the mysteries of infanthood will turn into other things, and you will indeed become a pro at being mommy in no time flat.