I’m just gonna get straight to this: Being a new mom was rough goings for me.
I don’t know if I had any legit symptoms of PPD. I thought about it sometimes, but was convinced that things weren’t “that bad”. Of course the late nights and the aching tits and numb wrists and the horrible feeling of being tethered to the sound of that newborn gremlin cry and whatever else were hard, but the literal worst part was comparing myself to other moms, because I don’t think I’ve ever once felt like other moms do.
It took me a while to really “bond” with Maggie, but I know that’s normal.
I never got separation anxiety, particularly because I knew that she was safe with whoever I left her with. Honestly, whenever I’d get some time away from her in the beginning, it was just nice to not feel the pressure to have to be this specific person that everybody wanted to see. When you’re a woman holding a newborn baby, people have general assumptions about the caring, nurturing, happy woman you’re supposed to be. But whenever I went anywhere with Maggie, I felt like I was Kate Middleton walking out of the hospital in that blue polka-dot dress and everyone was looking at me because I was “NEW MOM KATE MIDDLETON” and everybody in the entire universe was looking at me making judgments about my fairy tale happy ending life and my picture was everywhere and everyone was wondering when I’d lose all the baby weight and all I could think of was that I DIDN’T ASK TO BE KATE MIDDLETON IN THE FIRST PLACE.
While a lot of women dream of becoming mothers and have the ability to slip easily into that role, I found that none of that came natural to me. I felt like a bunch of other women did a better job being a mom to Maggie than I ever could be. Even just writing that last sentence hurts because I know that I thought it at one point. Every so often I get that feeling that I’m just not parenting material. I feel sometimes like I’ve got this loving parent vs. child-hater dichotomy going on, and that I switch from one personality to the other depending on who I’m with. The real issue is that when I’m with other parents (specifically other moms), my anxiety levels start fluctuating and I feel this immense pressure to be a “mom” and talk about breastfeeding and proper naptimes and ugh…playdates, and I stop feeling like myself and just talk about MAGGIE MAGGIE MAGGIE until I feel like a zombie. Then I go home and usually have a meltdown because I have no idea why I can’t be a “mom” and act like everyone else at the playground.
During that first year after Maggie was born, I often told people that I pretty much felt like I was in high school all over again. No matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t seem to fit in with everyone else.
And, like with most problems, I found my epiphany through television.
Enter the British sitcom, Catastrophe, about two middle-aged singles, Rob and Sharon, who have a one-night hookup while the Rob is on a business trip in London, and Sharon calls him a few weeks later to tell him that she’s pregnant. I watched the first season while I was pregnant with Maggie, and luckily the second season (which – SPOILERS – takes place a couple years later after the couple have their second child) aired just before those first few miserable months I was to have as a new mom.
The issue with most sitcoms where the main characters become parents is that they never really become parents There’s always the cliche-ridden birth episode and then the “at home with baby” episode when everything gets royally fucked and nobody gets any sleep. And then after that, the baby basically just shows up whenever it’s convenient and romantic for the couple to have a baby around. I remember being happy with The Office after Pam and Jim have their first child, and Pam struggled in the hospital trying to breastfeed her daughter, but even she overcame that hurdle just before they left the hospital, and then everything was all peachy-keen, save for the fact that they were tired all the time. I mean, I get that it’s a sitcom, but even that parenting plot was basically just a chicken wing of meat compared to the ENTIRE CHICKEN FULL OF STUFF THAT MAKES YOU SUPER INSECURE WHEN YOU BECOME A PARENT.
That’s why Catastrophe had such an impact on me. Okay, sure, the kids aren’t around for most of the show either, but some of the postpartum stuff that the wife character, Sharon (played by the amazing and hilarious Sharon Horgan) deals with are told in such a dark, yet hilarious way. Sharon’s character, like me, is also a bit of a sarcastic pessimist, and watching her deal with parenthood was the only solace I had when during my time as a new mom. I’d watch and and laugh and think, “Oh thank God, other people understand.”
In one scene, she brings her newborn baby to her work, and while all of her co-workers ask question after question about how things are with her and how the baby is, Sharon looks at the new printer in the office and asks about it with excitement, but none of her co-workers pay any attention to her words.
In a scene at home, Rob and Sharon debate checking on their infant daughter because she’s been silent for so long. They wonder if she’s dead, and ultimately decide in that one moment that it probably would be better that she was dead than risk the chance of waking her up. I’m sure most parents would swear they’d never think that way, but I mean, come on. I’m sure like 75% of all parents have thought that at some point.
In one of the scenes that touches on how being parents can affect the relationship between spouses, Rob and Sharon attempt to have sex, but then Sharon can’t help but get distracted by the baby:
One of my favourite episodes is in season two, when Sharon faces her postpartum depression. She gets some medication, and then attempts to befriend another mother in a local mom group. Later she is distraught when her new mom-friend returns to work turns Sharon away, claiming that she doesn’t have time for “people who need things”. Sharon takes a stress-walk home, and then makes eye contact with her daughter in her stroller. The baby smiles, and Sharon finally has that bonding moment with her child.
That scene reflected exactly how I felt when Maggie was about three months old, and I woke up one morning and took her downstairs to the changing table, forcing myself to face another grueling day of motherhood. But then Maggie looked at me and smiled, and in that moment I thought, “Oh God, she actually appreciates me.” Of course, that day was also agonizing, but the point is that those tiny moments of real interaction do end up having a significant impact.
Motherhood can be really isolating at times. It’s hard to connect with people because all women deal with becoming a mother in a myriad of different ways, really. Of course it’s nice to talk it through with other people, and I probably should have sought some kind of help when I was in the peak of my doom and gloom. It’s hard not to pretend like you have a handle on everything. It’s hard to talk about the rough stuff when you feel like people won’t understand how you’re feeling. Even now, I will sometimes go through awful patches and want to crawl under my blankets and pretend like nothing is happening. What I really try to do is have a dark sense of humour about it, because life is sometimes just way easier when you don’t take things so seriously.
What I struggle with most these days is relating to other mothers whose “motherly instincts” came to them naturally. I never feel mom enough for other parents. I get insecure about the kind of parent that I am. I don’t make scrapbook pages and I forget to take photos of my kid on particular holidays and sometimes I find it frustrating having to take her out to kid-oriented events because I’m horrible at interacting at a kid-level. I know I’m not a bad mom by any means, but I feel like I’ll never not have a hard time trying to engage outside of my own mindset. And whenever I take Maggie to the playground and there are other parents there and I know that any conversation I have is solely going to be about parenting and kids and vaccinations and childbirth and sleep training, basically just want to take Maggie and run.
Probably my all-time favourite Catastrophe scene is when Sharon takes her kids to the park, and then attempts to bond with the other moms that go there on a regular basis. Unfortunately I couldn’t find an extended clip of this scene, but this is pretty much how I feel when I try to be myself as a mom in public on a regular basis: