When motherhood hurts

PicassoGrowing up, I was often praised for my future motherhood potential. I had a great desire to be a good Mormon woman and I was constantly working to gain the skills to aid in my quest. I learned to sew, knit, bake, and keep a clean house. I worked with children and found that I loved being with little ones. I prized myself on my ability to calm fussy babies and quell toddler tantrums. Surely this motherhood thing would be the perfect fit for me.

After the birth of our first child, my ideals were mostly attainable. I found myself to be a gentle and patient parent and was happy to have my life absorbed into this tiny person. I baked and sewed and cleaned the house. I went for long walks and read books to my little one. There were still hard moments and sleepless nights but all in all, it really was heavenly–motherhood was everything I hoped it would be and so much more.

And then things changed.

My second baby was welcomed into this world after a traumatic birth followed by a lonely postpartum period. The copious family and friends who had been a stone’s throw after the birth of our first were now over 1,000 miles and a border crossing away. While I had made a few friends in our new location, most of them were also young mothers and unable to devote a significant amount of time to caring for me as I healed physically and emotionally. While I had been finishing up graduate school after the birth of my first, this time I had no outside goals or experiences beyond caring for two young children. I was lonely and dangerously depressed.

I tried to fight it off–I talked about how blessed I was to have this beautiful baby, to be home with my children, to have an amazing husband who did so much to provide for our family. I knew I should be happy–I had everything that a good LDS wife and mother could want. My life was on track, all that I had prepared for and dreamed of was a reality. And yet I couldn’t shake that feeling of devastation and darkness, the deep-seated desire to just not wake up in the morning so I could escape the heartache that this second motherhood had brought into my life.

I’m not sure how or when it ended, just that there came a day when the darkness was less foreboding, the emotional pain less severe and the scales of life tipped back in favour of continued existence. As I look back on that time, I realize that what I wanted more than anything was to be able to express how hard it was without feeling like I was rejecting my own personhood. Since I had always been taught that my highest calling in this life was to be a mother, when motherhood was deeply painful, life seemed futile. If I couldn’t find joy in motherhood then consequently there could be no joy in life.

When the talks from men come about the glories of womanhood and motherhood, I wanted to stand and show them the aches in my heart, the nightmares of repeated birth trauma, the fears of the dark days returning, the sadness that never truly leaves and the scars that never heal. But instead I hold them, fearful that to share my heart will only confirm their suspicions that I’m not who they always wanted me to be, constantly holding out hope that tomorrow I will be the woman I once thought I was.

Amy

Mother, writer, dreamer, hopeless romantic, opera singer, reader, researcher, lover of Jesus, Mormon and a feminist. I spend my days taming toddler tantrums and kissing boo boos. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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10 Responses

  1. Liz says:

    I think this is a way more common experience than most of us probably realize – I know I’ve had a similar experience. Thank you for putting words to it.

  2. Libby says:

    I think the talks about how glorious motherhood is just deepen the chasm between what we think we’re supposed to be and what we really are. I would rather hear talks from women about how they’ve dealt with PPD–and frank acknowledgment that it exists and it sucks. Hugs to you.

  3. Jessica F says:

    I think this post is so important. Motherhood/Parenthood are so hard and the idealizing of it does not help prepare people for the realities of life. Especially when one is removed from family the challenges are so hard. I know I have felt the same feelings you describe.

  4. Jenne says:

    I feel like the Relief Society has the responsibility of addressing this issue that is church wide. It was an entry into motherhood like you describe that prompted me to become a birth and postpartum doula because I really feel like I am providing relief to someone doing very important work with very little recognition. The RS is perfectly situated to provide relief in this way but the awareness of postpartum issues is probably lacking.

  5. I almost wish the series “Call the midwife” would be required watching for anyone not yet familiar with the vast range of experiences there are relating to childbirth.

    I still think womanhood and motherhood is glorious, but that certainly doesn’t preclude pain. To me, it’s the had times, those that are survived and those that are not, that add to the glory, with no comparisons on how much pain receives that glory. From pain of not having the opportunity to have children through pain culminating in death, it’s a wonder. It’s just easier to gloss over it all, rather than bring it out and do what can be done for treating the pain.

  6. Kyra says:

    Thank you. You have no idea how much.

  7. Rachael says:

    Thank you. Even a year and a half later I feel it sometimes. Because though I loved spending time with my child, I often felt the pangs of boredom, uselessness, and hopelessness as a SAHM. Not until I started working, did those pangs seem to lift. Just now I struggle with the expectations of what I’m told my role should be and where I feel my talents lie.

  8. JT says:

    FWIW, I think that the talks on the glories of womanhood and motherhood are given precisely because of the “the aches [of the] heart, the nightmares of repeated birth trauma, the fears of the dark days returning, the sadness that never truly leaves and the scars that never heal.”

  9. Jenny says:

    Beautiful post Amy! I wish I could have read these words after my second child was born because you described my experience almost perfectly. I’m so grateful now to associate with women who are bold enough to rise above the patriarchal expectations and share stories like these so that we can know that we are not alone in our feelings and experiences. I think patriarchy makes motherhood such a lonely and difficult place.
    “When the talks from men come about the glories of womanhood and motherhood, I wanted to stand and show them the aches in my heart, the nightmares of repeated birth trauma, the fears of the dark days returning, the sadness that never truly leaves and the scars that never heal. But instead I hold them, fearful that to share my heart will only confirm their suspicions that I’m not who they always wanted me to be, constantly holding out hope that tomorrow I will be the woman I once thought I was.” I have definitely experienced this, and even now, if I make the slightest complaint about how hard it is to be a stay at home mom, I may as well not have had kids at all if I’m going to have such a bad attitude about motherhood or I just don’t understand how important my role is. I’m so tired of hearing such heartless phrases. I want more real stories like yours!

  10. Bethany West says:

    I think that life in general is just hard, PPD makes it unbearable, and motherhood is full of life–which also happens to be gross, slimy, tear-stained, loud, annoying, and sleep-deprived. Life is messy. I hope that I will feel less like I’m drowning when my children are grown.

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