Dear Experienced Mom,
I love you dearly. Like, unremittingly and with an enthusiasm bordering on fan-girling. You made it. You have kids who survived childhood, and they’re functioning human beings and productive members of society. You drink wine with your still-hot dinner and have successfully used the bathroom alone for many years. Teach me all your ways.
But there’s one moment where my fan-girling gets a little cooled. It’s when you say something like…
“Oh, newborns are so easy! Just wait until the teen years!”
“You know, you young mothers just worry yourselves to death about things like breastfeeding and sleep and such.”
“When my kids were young, they slept anywhere and through anything. It was so easy!”
Here’s the thing, experienced mom: you dole out pearls of wisdom when we spend time together, and I thank you for that. But can I tell you something?
You don’t remember.
You don’t remember what it was like to have young kids. How do I know?
Because I forgot, too. I’m only two and a half years removed from the birth of my eldest, and I’m blown away by how much I’ve forgotten. Two months after the birth of my second, it’s all coming back. The bone-crushing weariness, the hormone-fueled self-doubt, the emotions that oscillate between manic joy to full-on postpartum anxiety and depression.
I wish I could feel calm and collected and totally in control. I wish with all my heart that I could take my newborn on a worry-free road trip or bask in the confidence of my competence as a mother. I wish you’d send me some of the magical fairy dust that (supposedly) made your newborns sleep like teenagers on a growth spurt. But it’s just not that easy—not for me, not right now, not during the delicate and volatile fourth trimester.
In some cultures, women are given upwards of a few months to fully recover from childbirth. During this time, they’re supported, served, and required to rest. In the west, I think we expect the opposite of postpartum women. Bounce back! Show us that baby! Stop your worrying! It’s not that hard! We did it!
I can’t blame you for being caught up in that—for sometimes dismissing the trials that rule my life as insignificant. Our cultural stories have a tendency to brush past how hard postpartum can be, how lonely parenting young kids is, and how wearying this time of life is. But sweet experienced mother, please stop telling us young mothers that our feelings and experiences aren’t valid. Please don’t tell us how easy it should be for us.
When we tell you our baby won’t nap, we’re confessing that we’re frantically claustrophobic from the non-existence of alone time we’ve had in the past months.
When we moan about our babies screaming in their car seats, we’re admitting that those cries echo in our raw postpartum bodies with a physical pain.
When we share with you that we’re tired and just want to stay home, we’re telling you that we desperately need encouragement.
Yes, experienced mom, you have weathered and survived it all: the lack of sleep, the screaming babies, the postpartum healing. Maybe your kids competed and won the gold in Olympic sleeping. Maybe you even “bounced back” faster than me, and maybe you had it more together than I do when your kids were born decades ago.
But what I need from you—and you above all other people—is that soul-soothing reminder that it’s okay to be struggling. It’s okay that it’s hard. I know you’ve forgotten some of the terror and tears of your early years of parenthood, so you don’t have to relate. But when I show up harried, stressed, anxious and upset, please don’t tell me I shouldn’t feel that way. Please don’t expect me to be as serene as those sweet memories your brain has treasured for you.
When I get to where you are, I’ll probably relate. I’ll want so achingly to tell those young new mothers, “It all works out in the end, sweetheart, so put down the breast pump, hand me that baby, and eat some chocolate.” But I hope I’ll remember not to. I hope that instead of dismissing those precious new mothers’ pain, fear, and stress, I’ll say:
“I know. It’s so hard. Hang in there. Let me know how I can help.”