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It Wasn't That Hard, No Lie

“I feel guilty saying this,” I recently overheard a friend whispering in conversation, “But she’s been sleeping through the night since she was 2 months old. It’s kind of amazing.”

I couldn’t help but wonder why a statement like that would have to be prefaced by guilt. Why a new mom couldn’t just outright brag about her relatively easy child?

We’ve entered this realm of parenting where it is no longer polite to talk about enjoying the early stages of motherhood. Not only is it no longer polite, but you might be considered a liar if you gloat too profusely. There is this push to shed light on the “realities” of motherhood, to write and talk honestly about the darker depths of being a mother and about all that is sacrificed, especially in those early months.

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In the name of sisterhood, unity and providing support for our fellow moms, we are all now called upon to dig deep and share openly. But what if your truth isn’t nearly as dark and horrid as the truths others seem to want to hear?

I was recently editing a parenting book that included lines like, “Even if every mom isn’t talking about it, they are all struggling with a loss of self,” and “No mom actually likes parenting in the early years. It’s hard and requires self-sacrifice and dedication that doesn’t come naturally to anyone. But we do it, because that’s the job we signed on for.”

Let’s stop acting like it is a universal thing to feel as though you are trapped in the role of motherhood.

There was this generally bleak outlook of motherhood throughout the pages, accompanied by proclamations that any mother who doesn’t openly admit to the same dark feelings is lying. But this wasn't my experience at all.

I could have shrugged it off as being the opinion of just one author, yet it seems to be part of a more universal shift in how we talk about motherhood overall. Writers are pushing mothers to “Tell the Truth” about motherhood, and we are now seeing article after article dedicated to saying, “You’re not alone. Motherhood doesn’t come naturally to any of us. We’re all just doing the best we can.”

While I agree with that to some extent, I have to admit that I find myself cringing when I read a lot of these pieces. They aren’t reflective of my experience, and I feel like I can’t admit that without being exactly the mother they are admonishing—the one they claim tries too hard to make it all look easy, only accomplishing the act of making other moms feel guilty in the process.

But what if it really wasn’t that hard for me?

I am totally one of those moms who thought new motherhood was pretty damn blissful. Even with the sleepless nights, doing it all on my own and the chaos of trying to cram nine months of baby prep into her first few months of life, there was never a point where I sat back and thought, "Wow, this is really hard." In fact, I was kind of soaking it all in, just loving every second of being a mom. The panic came before she was born, not after.

Compared to the years prior to that, when I had been sick, in constant pain and terrified that I would never be a mother at all, those months of new motherhood really were some of the best of my life. Even I almost felt guilty, because I had friends who were in the early stages of parenting themselves who would call me up, wanting to commiserate about how hard it all was, but I just didn't feel that way.

Maybe it was because of how many years I spent afraid those months would never come at all, or because I hadn't given birth myself (and therefore didn't have all those hormones surging through me and a healing process to contend with). I'm even willing to admit it might have had something to do with the fact that my daughter was such an easy baby.

But those early months weren’t something I ever felt like I had to “survive.” And there has never been a point where I have felt like I needed a break or escape from my girl. That isn’t a judgment against those moms who do feel that way, because I think that can be normal too. But let’s stop acting like it is a universal thing to feel as though you are trapped in the role of motherhood.

Why does my experience of motherhood have to be downplayed or pretended away in order to make anyone else feel better about theirs?

Because it isn’t. And because I know I can’t possibly be the only mother who has never felt that way. I can't be the only one who didn't struggle with the shift that took place or who didn't spend nights crying in a corner, wondering if she would ever sleep again.

I don't think that makes me a better mother than anyone else, not by a long shot. I think I was absurdly lucky in a lot of ways. I just hate this shift we're seeing toward early motherhood being represented as something grueling and awful, when it really was anything but for me.

Sure, there have been bits and pieces that have been less enjoyable than others. When my daughter has gotten some illness or another from daycare and been miserably sick for an entire week, I could have used a partner. But those times have been few and far between, and I would argue they have felt more difficult because I am a single parent, not because parenting in and of itself is so traumatic.

For me, motherhood was just something that felt like it came naturally. Right from the very beginning. It felt like the role I was always meant to play.

It’s human nature to want to believe that everything we are going through is normal, and I get that someone having a difficult time adjusting to the rigors of motherhood might desperately need to know she isn’t alone in that. And you know what? She isn’t! There are plenty of others who have experienced the same thing. But why does my experience of motherhood have to be downplayed or pretended away in order to make anyone else feel better about theirs?

I think we all need to realize there is no one experience of motherhood that is true for everyone, and that how we experience those early months is not a reflection of what kind of mother we are, but rather a unique combination of our personalities and situations. Just as some mothers are suited for staying home and others would prefer to return to work, we are all built a little differently. And the early months are going to affect us in different ways. Not to mention, our kids are all different as well.

Look, I am never going to be a Pinterest mom, and my efforts in the kitchen are less than impressive. But I am good at adjusting. I’m good at thriving on very little sleep and remaining calm under pressure. And I have always been at my best when I am around children. I have a lifetime of experience babysitting and nannying and a degree explicitly geared toward early childhood development. So for me, the hard part was always just about becoming a mother—not embracing that role once it was finally mine.

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If the same isn’t true for you, that’s OK. It doesn’t make you a bad mom and it isn’t anything to be ashamed of, if it took you a little longer to get there. There is nothing wrong with struggling. It’s all a crapshoot, and how we experience motherhood is going to depend a lot on our personal frames of reference and the unique qualities each of our children possess. There are no guarantees.

And just because I say it wasn’t hard, it doesn’t mean I’m lying.

It just means that my experience was different from yours.

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