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What to Say to a Struggling New Mom

An Open Letter to the New Mom Who Thinks She's Failing

Dear New Mom,

You just brought a new life into your family, whether by giving birth, adopting, or surrogacy. How cool is that? Kudos to you, mom. But while I'm sure everyone around you is showering you with gifts and visits, you probably feel very alone, right? I've been there, and I know how hard being a new mom is. Yes, it's amazing, but it's also terrifying, overwhelming, upsetting, and frustrating.

I want you to know that I see you struggling to make sense of this brand new creature you're now responsible for. These beautiful and squirmy babies seem to operate on their own terms, as if they haven't read the hundreds of parenting books that are supposed to help (how dare they, right?). They cry — a lot. Much of your day is now spent trying to crack the code to determine just what need must be met at that exact moment only to find that they don't know what they want. To you, the mom who is struggling, please know that you are not a bad mom. As long as you're managing the basic necessities (like food, water, and shelter), you're pretty much a rock star in my book.

I struggled immensely the first few months after my son's birth, not from postpartum depression but from the constant feeling like I was doing it all wrong. Other mothers made it look so easy, and here I was, with spit up on my shirt and still unable to distinguish what cry meant what, losing my mind. I have never cried so much in my life as I did in those first few months. Every night I would turn to the Google god to tell me what I was doing wrong and ask how to fix it.

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Part of the problem was I felt like a breastfeeding failure due to cluster feeding and the fact that I hated every second of it. "Shouldn't this come naturally? Where are my motherly instincts?" I'd think to myself at 3 a.m. as tears streamed down my face, exhausted and scared that I was screwing up my baby for life. So, yes, I know what it's like to feel as though you're a failure.

To borrow from an old phrase, it really does get better. Part of what makes this time of a baby's life so challenging is that while you're celebrating the birth of a new member of your family, you're also partly mourning your old life. Eventually, you won't even miss the freedom of a child-free life because you won't be able to imagine your world without them, but for now, it's still so fresh in your mind.

With time, you'll become more confident in your abilities as a mother, because while it may not feel like it right now, you know what you're doing. You could read a gazillion books on parenting, but there isn't a single book about raising your individual child, is there? The only way to know how to parent them is to get to know them, which takes time. You're not a failure because they cried, because breastfeeding didn't work out, or because you don't do tummy time as often as you should. You're a good mother because you're learning and growing, and those two things are incredibly hard to feel good about in the moment.

Being a new parent is largely about survival and acclimating to this new world you've created. Soon it will become second nature, but for now, allow yourself the courtesy of a learning curve. Accept that by deciding to raise a new life in this world, you're doing something brave, and it's OK to not have all the answers.

You are brave. You are strong. And you are doing just fine.

Love,
A Former Struggling Mom

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