It was 4 a.m. I had spent the night popping in and out of the nursery, swaying my baby to sleep, only for her to wake as soon as I laid her in her crib. I was so frustrated and tired that tears soundlessly slid down my cheeks as I swayed back and forth, back and forth, my eyes following a spider around the room as a point of distraction.
The book said, “No nursing to sleep.” The book said, “Put the baby in the crib.” Forget the book, I finally declared as I stormed out of the room with the baby cradled in my arms. I plopped us onto the spare bed, gave her a nurse, and laid her in the crux of my arm. As she and I blessedly drifted off to sleep, I couldn’t let go of the anger I felt. Is there a term for being so tired it makes you mad?
Why was I angry, or at whom? It wasn’t the dependent babe brand new to the world. It wasn’t the authors of that book (although I later found a baby book that felt more right to my natural instincts). And although I wouldn’t have admitted it at the time, it wasn’t my obliviously sleeping husband.
I was angry because I had to do this alone. This mom thing.
It was in the burnout wee hours of the morning when I realized that no matter how my night had gone or how little sleep I had, I still had to get up and show up the next day. There was no calling in sick. Back-up was not coming. I was it.
This reality only intensified as the years, and children, kept coming. My husband is an entrepreneur who works long hours during the day then gets back to it after dinner. We needed him to work. I truthfully resented his absence at times but knew he was working hard for us. That made me feel even more guilty for resenting him.
I am fortunate enough to have a very helpful mother, but even she has a full-time job and limitations. She so generously took a day off here and there over the years when sickness took me down. But as great as she is, she can’t do this part for me. She can’t save me from the long nights holding a vomit bucket beside my sick toddler or from the worry of watching the clock as I militantly give my child medicine every two hours to prevent another seizure, or the meltdowns happening at the dinner table every night to which I have no sweet clue how to resolve. She had her time of worry, fatigue, and frustrations while raising her own kids.
Now, it is my turn.
I used to roll my eyes when I heard a grandmother cackle with her cronies and exclaim, “Been there, done that.” It felt mean-spirited and unsympathetic. And maybe it was. But maybe it simply was another mother in this army of mother warriors sharing her victory scars. Her laugh may not have been meant to tear down, but instead to shine a light of hope in that mother’s day to say, “I did it too, and it was hard. I survived and you will, too.”
I shouldn’t stand on a pedestal. I know the heat of battle, and yet I’m not volunteering to jump into the line of fire for the sake of another.
Help is nice. It is welcome and appreciated. It also shouldn’t be expected. I cannot assume those around me know I’m struggling and are choosing to not help. They may not know, they may not see, and although this may be hard to hear, they may not care. We all have struggles in life. Rare is the person in full comfort and luxury, untouched by responsibility and pain.
Of course, we are not meant to mother alone.
Ask for help, but also, know who to ask. Sometimes help comes at a price. Figuratively, it means the kids eat candy all day at Uncle’s house. Literally, it means paying for house cleaning or babysitting. Always, it means humbly realizing this responsibility is paramount, and I am the most qualified for the job. No one is coming to rescue me. I’m a mom, after all. Didn’t you know we’re made of stronger stuff?