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“Why is motherhood hard?” my good-intentioned, kind-hearted, and (clearly) child-free friend asked me.

I paused, staring into my glass of generic white wine. After so many months of being confined to my home in mom mode, I was happy to be drinking anything that was one, in a breakable glass, and two, all mine.

How honest should I be? I contemplated. I believed my friend wanted to have children one day but it didn’t seem on the near horizon. Maybe, in that case, I could share my true feelings, rather than keep to the unspoken and seemingly unbreakable code: don’t scare soon-to-be-moms with how truly crappy it can be.

“It’s hard because . . .” I paused again.

Where do I even start? It was like trying to explain breathing air to a fish. There was no way to, accurately, convey the reality of it. And this, after all, was the same friend who told me gently that maybe I should try being nicer to my husband in response to my tales of how “Dad isn’t doing enough at home.”

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My mind suddenly flashed to my pre-baby life. It was a Saturday. That meant I would have gotten up when I felt like it and (if I wasn’t working) gone to a yoga class, met a pal for brunch, purposelessly strolled around some stores, wandered home, perhaps spontaneously calling a friend or my mom just to say hi, and then relaxed a little before getting ready to go out again on a date with my then-boyfriend.

What did I do today instead? Woke up before 7 a.m. to the sound of crying, stuck both nipples into a mouth filled with teeth, read my daughter some stories, made her breakfast, entertained her, took her to the playground followed by swimming, made her lunch, entertained her some more, read more stories, got her ready for a nap, took her back to the park, and then made her dinner, calming and soothing any tears and tantrums all along the way, not to mention calming and soothing my own triggered emotions.

I looked at my friend. 

Tell her about how you are no longer able to do things just for yourself, an inner voice urged. Or how truly exhausted you are. How you can’t remember the last time you had fun, especially with your husband. How you would like to spend a whole day alone. That some days you just don’t like being a mom. How you can’t say these things because you’re not supposed to.

I took another sip–a swig, really–of wine.

How being here, away from home, feels like a deliciously naughty secret. But wait . . . there is that feeling of mom guilt. Was I a good enough mom today? Am I a good enough mom any day? Sometimes my chest feels like it may collapse with how badly I just want to feel freedom again–child-free freedom to just . . . do whatever. How any free time I get, I must choose so carefully (and often seemingly incorrectly) between sleeping, cleaning, eating, exercising, or doing something that makes me happy, like writing.

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How one time (actually, two times) I was so overcome by mom rage that I threw a cup of water at the wall. How I am filled with fear that one day I will look back and wonder with regret why I didn’t enjoy these days more.

I frown, then smile, then frown again. The rollercoaster of motherhood appears on my face.

I do not now remember exactly what I verbalized to my friend. It was some jumble of these thoughts without structure, mostly coherent, but utterly unknowable. She won’t get it–she can’t get it–unless and until she goes through it herself. And until that time, she will be there for me with a glass of wine and wonderful conversation on the odd day or night or hour when I am not Mommy but can just be Megan.

P.S. I know you know this, but I also know I must say it: I love my daughter, and I am grateful for the privilege of becoming, and forevermore being, a mother.

Megan Gray

Megan Elizabeth Gray is a lawyer, writer, speaker, and advocate for women. She is currently Associate Counsel at Conde Nast and she published her first book, Enjoy Your Life: Thoughts for Awakened Daughters from Conscious Mothers, on the last day of her maternity leave with her daughter Lily, all proceeds of which she is donating to women’s charities (available on Amazon and Kindle).

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