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The Stay-at-Home Mom Who Never Stayed Home

Photograph by Getty Images

Before my son Max was born, the term “stay-at-home mom” sounded cozy to me. As an introverted homebody, I imagined the days would drip by like warm honey with my infant snuggled close to me. We’d make small cooing sounds at each other, tracing each other’s faces with our eyes. I’d read him books and sing sweet songs and we’d cuddle our way through his first winter on earth.

Then reality hit.

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Postpartum depression and anxiety descended on me, while Max had something like colic that could only be soothed with near-constant nursing. He woke every few hours for the first year of his life, and though we did enjoy small respites spent cooing and reading and singing, most of the time I didn’t feel cozy.

I felt stir-crazy.

And anxious.

And bored.

What in the world was I supposed to do all day with a tiny, unhappy baby? I cooed, stared into his eyes, read a book and sang a song. Fifteen minutes had elapsed. What was I going to do with the other 7 hours and 45 minutes until my husband got home from work?

Within a week after he was born, I started bundling my wee son up in his carseat, lugging our army-green diaper bag. Out of desperation, I hunted down several nearby groups for new moms. Sitting in a circle with other moms and babies, I still didn’t really know what to do with my little boy, but at least I was doing it alongside other new moms and not in the oppressive silence of home. As new moms, we all spoke the same sudden language, and it was easy to chat about sleep and sleeplessness, nipples and naps, milestones and milk supplies.

Connecting with other moms broke the isolation I’d felt in the swollen days after birth. It made me realize that ... my feelings were not unique.

Max and I quickly settled into a routine of mom groups. Mondays meant gathering with other moms at a facilitated “eat, sleep and nurse” themed group. Tuesdays was the breastfeeding group at the hospital I’d given birth at. Wednesdays was the postpartum depression support group, and Thursdays was another facilitated group for new moms.

When my son and I were at home alone, I often felt a whistle of panic, unsure of what to do to pass the time. As an introvert who had worked from home, I was unaccustomed, and exhausted, by having to interact all day with a small person who could not yet entertain himself or communicate with me verbally. I always felt like I should be trying to be more present with him, reading to him or playing with him more, when really I just wanted to take a nap or watch Netflix.

Getting out of the house at least once a day gave me some structure as well as something to look forward to. Over time, I made friends with other new moms and we splintered off into play dates, where we sipped coffee, doled out Cheerios and compared notes about the milestones our babies were working on. Slowly, in between nursing and diaper changes and tantrums, we learned about each other’s pre-children lives. Connecting with other moms broke the isolation I’d felt in the swollen days after birth. It made me realize that even when I felt alone and was disappointed by the gap between what I thought being a stay-at-home mom was and the reality of it, my feelings were not unique.

I wasn’t in this alone.

Besides adding structure to our formless days, Max also seemed happier when we were on-the-go. The distractions of being in different environments calmed him.

A former homebody, motherhood morphed me into a more social person. Having children the same age as other parents is an instant connector. It’s bonded me to parents I might not have ever met before, simply by virtue of having similar-aged kids. My community expanded exponentially.

And with a baby, and then a toddler, socializing was easier. Instead of awkwardly searching for small talk topics, as I’d done in the past, quickly exhausting the weather and local events—there was always something to chat about with other parents. The built-in talk that came with new babies bloomed into conversations about schooling, potty training and timeouts.

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Being a stay-at-home mom who rarely stayed at home helped Max, too. Now as he dives into a new world of Kindergarten, he has friends he’s known for his whole life and who feel like family. Like me, he has community.

Parenthood breaks us open, changing and rearranging us. Though at first I was sad that it wasn’t what I expected, it’s come with some stunning surprises. Parenthood makes room for love we didn’t know we had. Not just the love for my kids and my husband, but for the vast village that we’ve found along the way.

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