My son is the greatest thing since maternity yoga pants. But when my husband's paternity leave ended and I was alone with my son for the first time since he was born, I realized this whole mothering thing is more than people acknowledging my boy's beauty.
Instead, it's getting woken up at 1 in the morning for the sole purpose of being puked on. It's eating the "that's still in there?" leftovers for lunch, because there is no time to cook. It's 24/7 about serving the needs of a person who cannot even pass gas without holding my hand. And often doing it alone.
So, in the beginning, I made an effort to avoid the extreme isolation that was maternity leave by forcing myself out of the house: to the gym, to the grocery store, anywhere with people I didn't see on Netflix.
I thought getting out would be a great way to interact with adults and maintain some of my own identity. But with the best baby ever in tow, no one wanted to look at me.
"How's everything going?" they'd say. "He's an angel, an adorable angel."
"Is he eating all right?" they'd ask, then answer, "From the looks of those chubby cheeks, I'd say so!"
What was wrong with me that I was so anxious to get a break from this baby, whom I loved and wanted?
While I stifled yawns and wondered about the bags developing under my eyes, they'd look at him but talk to me. "Does he sleep well? I bet you never even want to put the little cutie down."
Then they would pause, waiting for confirmation of whatever they just said. So I would lie. I would tell them life was beautiful and perfect, and I've never been happier or more fulfilled. In my mind, things were different:
"Why is maternity leave so short?" I'd lament with a fist in the air. "Damn needing two incomes to raise a family."
Silently, I berated myself for being such an awful mother. While they cooed, I made myself smile, though thinking:
This angel made me cry. A lot.
He got those chubby cheeks from sucking the life out of me 12 hours a day.
I did want to put him down, because I had laundry to do, needed a shower and, honestly, missed the routine of my 9-to-5 job.
Each time someone called him cute, I thought of myself as a worse mom. To me, it was a backdoor insult. They said, "He's so cute!" but what I heard was, "If you don't think he's always adorable, give him to me. I'll love him the way he deserves."
Strangers thought he was worthy of being cuddled night and day, that he was a gift from the gods, was all of the world's blessings delivered to me wrapped in muslin. What was wrong with me that I was so anxious to get a break from this baby, whom I loved and wanted? While others were thrilled with the prospect of getting to hold him, I counted down the minutes until my husband got home so I could pass him off.
Everybody wants to tell a new mom her baby is cute, just the most adorable thing. A precious darling. But save your breath.
The thing is, moms know how freaking cute their babies are, but they don't always want to talk about it. Sometimes we want someone who will look past their giant blue eyes and look into our bloodshot ones. We get it, the tiny fingers are a miracle. But could someone, at least once in awhile, come and hold my tired hands, especially those days I'm feeling so overwhelmed?
How can moms get others to see the truth, to acknowledge it, without us having to speak it aloud? The fear of being cast as a bad mom is real. But, damn, motherhood is really hard.
Next time you see an adorable baby, don't ignore the mom who is cradling him. Maybe she used to wear pressed business suits every day but now has reluctantly come to terms with a certain amount of spit-up on the oversized sweater she's borrowing from her husband.
Everybody wants to tell a new mom her baby is cute, just the most adorable thing. A precious darling.
But save your breath.
Chances are, that new mom spends 18 hours a day staring at him when he refuses to let her lay him down in his bassinet. His good looks are not lost on her.
Instead, open the door a crack for her to be honest. Share a story about a time you sang your own infant to sleep with a melody about what an asshole he was being. Tell her about your sister who looked forward to her nightly glass of wine more than looking into her sleeping child's cherubic face.
With a supportive smile, let her know you understand being a mom is hard—that it's possible to love your baby more than life itself but still miss clean hair and adult conversations.
Make eye contact when you tell her she's doing great. And then offer the new mom her own glass of wine. She's more than earned it.