Mama, I understand you can’t think straight right now. This morning you woke up, tangled in messy sheets and unwashed pajamas and wondered, what would happen if I just stayed here? In bed? Would the world end??
For a moment, you felt a little relief – reminiscing about days of sleeping in, of waking up to your body’s own rhythm and not the sounds of a crying infant. Last night, while brushing your teeth, you glanced at your reflection in the mirror. Who is this girl? Can I still call her a girl? She’s familiar, yet distant, and also a bit forgetful – in addition to daily chores and the beat of current events, she’s even forgotten herself. Her hair goes unwashed. If she skips rinsing her face, it’s ok because she’ll do it tomorrow. But her eyes look the most affected – where there used to be light and fire, they now appear damp and misty. New wrinkles seem to have come overnight, or maybe they’re just more visible from lack of make-up and sleep.
I get it – because I was there. I’m a few years ahead of you, but I’ll never forget where you are. Which is why I am writing this letter to you – to remind you that this stage of life does not last forever. And while you are forever changed by the new life you have brought into the world, YOU are not forgotten. The girl you knew is in there – she’s just busy right now. Busy keeping another human alive. Busy with mindless cleaning and endless feeding. Busy with laundry and bottles and diapers, and a house that suddenly became half its size. Some days you wake up and wonder how you can possibly battle another day. You just want to crawl back into bed and pretend someone else can do all the work for you – only for today. That’s all you need – one day of complete sleep and rest, and then you will battle again tomorrow. You promise.
But the baby is still crying, so you get up, take your apron from its hook, and begin your daily service to unsuspecting patrons. It’s funny because, this isn’t what you asked for – not really. You wanted a family, but you feel deceived. Millions of women have come before you, bearing these same burdens and wearing these same clothes. So then, why didn’t anyone tell you about all the contradictions? Why didn’t they tell you that despite being surrounded by voices and visitors, you would feel lonelier than you’ve ever felt? Why didn’t someone point out that even though your physical body would be groped at and sucked on constantly, your soul would go unheld and untouched? You now understand the struggle of feeling helpless, yet unable to ask for help. You now know the inner turmoil of loving someone so much, while being unsure of them at the same time.
You also know the amazing reality of how much your heart can expand. Your baby is proof that you are actually capable of love forever-after. And, if you can love another human this much, what does it say about those who love you?
You know the exhaustion is worth it – that’s what everyone says anyway. Well-meaning observers say you will wake up one day and miss this. That you’ll wonder where this precious time went and if you can get any of it back. This also feels like a lie – because at the moment, you would give your left arm for one day of completely uninterrupted sleep and solitude. But you smile and nod, and try to believe that you will miss this. That this stage will end.
Every now and then you see glimpses of the maternal figure from your imagination – the picture of what you thought motherhood would look like on you. You manage to sit down with a cup of tea, and quietly watch your adorable sleeping infant, and you think, this is right. This is motherhood. Then, there are times when the whole thing feels like one giant performance, complete with actors and costumes. One morning, while leaning over the crib to pick up the baby, I caught sight of my full breasts in my nightgown – and they looked and felt like someone else’s. My body reacted to birth the way it is supposed to, but my mind and sense of self hadn’t caught up yet.
So here is my advice to you, dear girl. You are still in there. And onlookers are right when they say, “It goes by so fast.” But that doesn’t take away from the fact that for you, time is standing still. For you, days are long and nights are longer. You are busy, and you are exhausted – but remember, you are not forgotten.
Remember the girl before you had kids? Maybe the girl before you got married? She was tough – a little reckless, but resilient. She didn’t let a bad break-up crush her, because even though it was painful, she knew deep down she would love again. She understood this was not the end. And so she picked herself up, relied on girlfriends, and knew that with time, everything would be ok. Don’t forget about that girl. Don’t lose sight of the fact that YOU will remain when this is all over – which means you need to be good to yourself. Be good to your marriage. Be good to your dreams and desires. Even though you are so needed right now – so pulled into amazing love and amazing sacrifice all at the same time, you are also nurturing and transforming a part of you.
When I look back on those early days, they seem somewhat like a dream. I emerged a different person, but only because of all I cared for and created, not because of all that I gave up. It’s ok that you can’t think straight right now. It’s ok to want someone else to get out of bed for you and take on your day. Forgive yourself anyway. Get out of bed anyway. This is motherhood, and you’re doing great.