The recent news around the suicide of Allison Goldstein, a 32 year old teacher and mom, has me a little shaken up, as I’m sure it does many people. Allison, after a relatively silent and undiagnosed struggle with Postpartum Depression, took her own life. The reason I say relative silence is because I read that her sister spoke to her almost daily about the struggles and issues that come along with being a new mom but that there weren’t any red flags. I can relate to this and feel so much pain for her sister. I talk to my sisters and my best friends daily (sometimes several times a day) about struggles and issues that come up with the kids. Having said that, I think it would be very, very difficult for me or anyone who’s not clinically trained to differentiate Postpartum Depression from the regular sleep deprivation (it’s a torture method for a reason) and occasional blues that come with adjusting to a new baby. We’re just not qualified to do that. This is one reason why I feel it’s so critical for new moms to also speak to a therapist during the transition into motherhood, not just our friends and family. I did/do, and I wish everyone did. I think we all need a professional to help us sort out our thoughts and feelings, as new moms and beyond. And of course to make diagnoses if they’re warranted.
You can read one of many articles about Allison Goldstein here and you can find information about PPD here. When reading this article in particular I came across an ad from the Council for Disability Awareness that said 1 in 7 new moms suffers from Postpartum Depression. 1 in 7. It makes me choke up a little when I think about how large that number is. It’s got me thinking about a LOT of things, and one of those things is expectations and how damaging they are. I just can’t help but feel that societal and self imposed expectations are certainly not helping us moms. If you’re anything like me at times there’s a desire to portray to the world that everything is perfect, or at least good enough (for whose standards, I don’t know). This is perhaps in part because people, ourselves included, expect us to feel some kind of unending bliss or complete fulfillment in motherhood. Maybe we as moms make it look that way ourselves, and in this I think we have to take some accountability.
Because we let people see what we want them to. No one sees you struggling to breastfeed at 2am with tears streaming down your face. No one sees you with huge bags under your eyes as you’re rocking or
bouncing your baby for hours on end while they wail. No one sees when you break down crying because you feel like your worth is now defined by the caliber of mom you are, and you don’t have a clue how to be a good one. We don’t snap a pic of these moments; they’re much too vulnerable and real. Instead all anyone on the outside sees is the perfect photo you just posted on Instagram of your sweetie pie’s first smile. We don’t photograph the shittiest moments, the ones when we’re feeling hopeless or our kids are being insane. I wonder what would happen if we started. Okay, maybe not the most terrible moments (oversharing and/or vulnerable feelings are real) but at least the imperfect ones. I love the rare photo I see that doesn’t portray the perfect life. It’s the pic of an overflowing poopy diaper, the disastrous house, the screaming baby that signals to me and other moms, “My life is far from perfect, and it’s okay.” It makes me feel not so alone in my vast imperfection.
I have had my own struggles that probably not many know about but in the spirit of transparency and setting realistic expectations I’ll share a couple here. I remember one event in particular with Van on perhaps day 5 home from the hospital. I snuck downstairs at about 3 or 4am and snuggled my dog with tears in my eyes, secretly wishing I could turn back time to when it was just us. I can’t tell you how guilty I felt over this one thing. Like I was an AWFUL mom, like I wasn’t grateful and didn’t deserve my brand new little boy. Or there was the time with Gunnar at 3 months old when he stopped breathing. I stayed up for nights on end afterwards in the hospital and when we got home just watching him breathe in and out and waiting for the heart rate monitor to go off. Finally one night I just threw my hands up and decided I didn’t have control over whether or not he kept breathing. It was the first night I slept… And I felt guilty as hell. There were many other events I won’t get into here, but over time and in talking to many other moms as well as a therapist I’ve come to realize the feeling of missing life before baby is normal, and that never ending guilt over one thing or another is also normal. It doesn’t make me feel any better about it, but it does make me feel less alone. And that’s something.
New moms are so blessed, yes. We’re so lucky, yes. We’re so grateful, yes. But we’re also struggling. Every single mom, no matter how happy they may seem, is struggling to some extent. You’re lying to yourself if you say or act like you’re not. I usually try to post real photos on social media – photos that portray real life, not some idealized version of it. But then even as I type that I realize that Sunday morning I posted a smiling photo of Van and I, then spent much of the rest of that day homesick and sad. Didn’t post a photo of that. So I’m a liar too. Photos are deceiving.
As of today I’m going to try harder to be more honest with myself and other moms, whether it’s in person or on social media. Oversharing, no. Being real, yes. I’m going to lead this by example. Because I’m sick of looking around (at lives that aren’t being 100% truthfully portrayed) and envying others or making myself feel less than or not good enough. I’m sick of self sabotaging by imposing or letting others impose unrealistic expectations. If you’re with me, let’s do ourselves and every other mom out there a favor and try to be more real. Speak more truthfully and post on social media more truthfully. Our lives aren’t anywhere close to perfect with young children. Far from it. They’re gratifying but also grueling beyond words. Let’s start portraying this truth more often in the hopes that we can distance ourselves from this feeling that we have to be perfect. Being a mom is resoundingly hard. Let’s be real and honest with each other and ourselves about that. There is strength in acknowledging this, and there’s solace in knowing you’re not alone.