by Jen Schwartz
When I was pregnant, I thought a lot about my first Mother’s Day, which fell during a bout of depression. I imagined that it would be like having a second birthday, only in the first half of the year. I’m not ashamed to admit I love birthdays and presents and for all of you astrology experts, my moon is in Leo, so I don’t mind having all the attention on me. I could picture so vividly what it would feel like to be celebrated as a new mom.
My fairytale first Mother’s Day looked like this:
A brunch filled with my favorite foods, especially the ones I couldn’t eat while pregnant — all the lox, tuna salad, turkey and brie cheese I could eat on bagels shipped down from New York City and a custom chocolate cake with the words, “Happy First Mother’s Day!” My son wore this beautiful blue cashmere set (because babies need cashmere?) while his mommy, who was already almost back to her pre-pregnancy weight at two months postpartum (clearly I was delusional), wore a boho-chic dress that matched perfectly with my new-mom glow and gold strappy sandals, which finally fit my feet again because no more swelling or cankles.
My family and I laughed and gushed over my new baby boy. I held him and cooed at him. I didn’t excuse myself to breastfeed, but rather covered myself in the paisley printed cover I received from my registry and fed him while continuing to revel in my new role as mommy. That new-mommy glow emanating from my entire body would blind you while my precious baby boy who I felt so much love for curled up and slept on my chest. I would be gifted an M charm for my charm necklace so I could be one of those moms who proudly showed the world I’m a mom by having my baby represented around my neck.
When brunch was over and I had my fill of all the pregnancy-banned foods and too much cake, my husband and I took our baby home, put him down for a nap in his crib, and connected on the couch over how magical our life had just become.
My actual first Mother’s Day went like this:
I woke up to my baby’s cries. I stumbled to his room, still coming out of my Ativan hangover (I needed a significant dose before bed to help me stay asleep and not be woken up by the crippling anxiety I felt during the daytime), lifted him out of the crib and placed him on the changing table to take care of his largest blowout to date. Literally covered in sh*t — as if I didn’t have enough resentment towards my husband for not waking up (it was my day) — my baby then threw up all over me.
I went through the motions. I changed his diaper. I changed his clothes. I stripped out of my own. I threw everything in the washing machine. I made his bottle. I fed him. I felt dead inside. I had no attachment to this tiny human who just spewed the contents of his last night’s bottle all over the pajamas I had been wearing for the past two days. I had no interest in being his mom. I woke my husband up, gave him the baby and bottle and got back into bed, staring at the ceiling, praying to a higher power the scary, awful feelings, anxiety and sadness would stop so I could be the mom I thought I would be and have the motherhood experience I believed I was promised.
IT WAS TOO DIFFICULT TO PUT ON A BRAVE FACE IN PUBLIC. TOO EXHAUSTING. TOO OVERWHELMING.
After my prayers went unanswered for the second month in a row, I forced myself into the shower so I could look somewhat presentable for the Mother’s Day brunch I would be attending with my husband and his family at a Greek Restaurant here in Charlotte, North Carolina. I threw on my “if I have to leave the house, this is what I’m wearing” uniform of leggings, a tank, long cardigan and flip flops, packed my diaper bag, and helped my husband load the tiny stranger living in our house into the car.
I fake-smiled my way through brunch. I fed my son his bottle of formula because breastfeeding just didn’t work out for my mental health and me. By this time, two months postpartum, I was already in therapy and figuring out the right drug cocktail to help me feel better, so I didn’t have to pretend like I didn’t have postpartum depression and anxiety. Yet, I still felt like I had to pretend like I was happy and grateful on my first Mother’s Day. My husband’s family did give me an M charm for my necklace, but at the time, I didn’t care. All I wanted in that moment was to be back in bed, medicated and asleep, so I didn’t have to feel anything.
I didn’t want to feel the guilt from feeling like I was missing the “mom gene” and failing at what I thought would come naturally to me as a woman. I didn’t want to feel the grief from missing my old life. I didn’t want to feel the anger and resentment from feeling like I was robbed of the motherhood experience, and first Mother’s Day experience, I thought I would have. Even though I felt so alone, I didn’t want to be around people. It was too difficult to put on a brave face in public. Too exhausting. Too overwhelming. Too scary because I didn’t want anyone else to be able to see inside my brain where all these horrible thoughts dressed in shame floated around on an endless merry-go-round.
When I think back on that day almost six years ago, there are so many things I wish I knew to do differently, mainly letting go of the expectations of what my first Mother’s Day would be like. I’m not even sure I understand why we make such a big deal on this one day of the year. To me, every day is Mother’s Day.
IT HASN’T BEEN THAT LONG SINCE YOU EXPERIENCED THE MIND AND BODY-SHATTERING EXPERIENCE OF BIRTHING A HUMAN.
If I’m being completely honest, I’m not one of those moms who feels the need to plan a big meal with family and do tons of activities with my child on Mother’s Day. I want my husband to take our son out for a while so I can sleep and have a quiet house to myself. Even better, maybe they send me to a spa for the day. I’ll want to hang out with them later, but I also want to be by myself so I can simply relax and also remember that new mom on Mother’s Day six years go. I want to reflect on how there is so much to celebrate about her because she was fighting and doing what she needed to do to survive and become the mom and woman she is today — a mom and woman who is brave and strong in making her mental health and happiness a priority, asking for and accepting help, owning her struggles, and helping other women do the same.
To all the moms with postpartum depression or anxiety this Mother’s Day, I want you to know that I see you, I understand, and it’s okay to not be okay. Speak up. If you don’t want to do anything for Mother’s Day, say so. Tell your partner and family what you need. If leaving the house is too much, then don’t. Be kind to yourself. It hasn’t been that long since you experienced the mind and body-shattering experience of birthing a human. That in itself is something to be celebrated, but it doesn’t have to be done with brunch, family, flowers, and cake.
We need to start acting like Mother’s Day is actually about the mother and what she needs in that moment. We need to remind moms that in that moment and no matter what her feelings are, she is enough.
You, mama, are enough.
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