Tuesday, September 28, 2010

How to Be the Perfect Mother

My first baby was three weeks old when the phone rang. On the other end was Karen, the mother of a child in my school. Although I had not taught her daughter Remy, we'd developed a friendship. But I hadn't seen her in months, and her phone call was surprising.

"How are you?" she asked.
"I'm fine!"  I said.
"No, really. How are you."
"I'm good! I mean, I'm tired, but I'm fine."

There was a pause. Then she said, "Really? Cause when Remy was three weeks old, I laid her down on the bed and screamed, 'I don't know what you want from me, you little monster!!'"

"You did?" I asked, my bleary eyes now wide. I sure hadn't heard that from the sweet church ladies who had been bringing me meals.

Then, knowing I was safe, I cried. "It's hard," I confessed. "It's really, really hard."

Karen talked some more, but I don't remember the rest of the conversation. Something about joining 24 Hour Fitness so that she could go work out when Remy screamed all night. It didn't matter what else she said. All I had heard was that this mom, whom I knew absolutely adored her little girl, had been a bonafide nutjob after she was born.

And that was a greater ministry to me than six months of lasagnas.

Because I wasn't fine.
I was completely losing it.

While I loved this child with a power that took my breath away, the truth was, I didn't know what the little monster wanted from me. I hadn't slept, I hadn't showered, I hadn't cooked, I felt fat, and weeks after his birth I still cringed when I moved due to the damage inflicted by his gigantic screaming head. I already suspected I was a Horrible Mother because despite using every coercive means known to woman, my inept yet aching boobs just refused to produce more than one ounce of milk at a time, as evil fairies sang "Breast is best! Breast is best!" inside my previously intelligent brain. I hated my husband and the majority of the other people I knew, with extra fury reserved for the ones who could effortlessly breastfeed and/or whose babies slept through the night.

I was the hobbling, crying, haggard covergirl for PostPartum Depression Today.

And Karen had just told me that I was, well, if not normal, then at least not alone. As far as I knew, she was the only other mother in the history of mothering who had felt that way. But that was okay, because I only needed to know that one other mom existed.

Up until that point, no one had dared to be vulnerable with me, to admit that they were not the Perfect Mother. Every other woman I saw seemed to have this mothering thing down pat. If they had a baby on Wednesday, they were at church on Sunday, skinny, and their hair had not only been washed but blow dried.  Those Women could pump 16 ounces of milk at a time. Those Women had acknowledged every single baby gift with an original heartfelt thank you note before the baby was even born. They were never less than gracious to their mothers and mothers-in-law who did and said everything wrong when they came to visit the baby. And Those Women were just begging the OB to tell them it was safe to do the deed again with their doting, perfect husbands.
 
Those Women never shouted out cuss words when their babies woke up at 3am after finally going to sleep at 2am. Those Women never laid face down on their unvacuumed carpet desperately begging Jesus to just make their baby sleep. Those Women never saw the confused and slightly frightened looks on their husband's face as he asked, "You always wanted a baby, and now you have one, I don't understand why you are so unhappy?"

Then Karen, who had dared to be real, told me the most beautiful gospel. "It ends, Missy. Suddenly it gets better. It gets great. It won't be like this forever! You're halfway home already! I PROMISE!"

She was right. It didn't last forever. It got better. It got great.

And you know what else I learned? Those Women were figments of my imagination.
Those Women don't exist. 

The foray into motherhood is hard. For everyone. It always has been. All of us are struggling when the new baby comes home. We're all just struggling in different areas.

There are a few women out there who are almost one of Those Women. They just go by another label: OCD. Control Freaks encountering a teeny tiny One Who Will Not Be Controlled. Which means their breakdown is coming, be assured, it may just be delayed a bit, and you probably don't want to be around when it happens.

And then there are those of us who are having a second or third or eighth baby and yes, we might even be at church on Sunday. Y'all, we've sung this song before. We've figured a few things out, praise be to His holy name. New babies don't freak us out anymore. But ask us how it's going with our two year old or our six year old or our twelve year old, and we might hit the floor in a fetal position before we can complete a sentence.

Don't compare yourself to the old moms. Don't compare yourself to the new moms. Don't compare yourself to anyone. It is such a ridiculous waste of time, all it will accomplish is making you feel like a big fat loser, and your assessments will almost always be a lie anyway.

Instead, look for the real moms who quit pretending they had it all together a long time ago. Seek the women who rely on God to get them through every day of motherhood. Pray that God points you to them. They're out there, I promise.

Soon, very soon afterwards, God sent me some, who promised me that they had had a hard time too. Maybe even harder than I had! And guess what? These women - Jenny and Amanda among them - were the same women that I had thought were one of Those Women. They weren't. They never were!

These Women were way, way better. They were real. And real friendships were formed.

I was thinking the other night about how Karen's call and my wonderful friends completely influenced the tone of this blog, and my tone to all new moms. I thought of Karen last week when I told Meg, who was pushing sweet tiny baby Emma, "You're coming on three weeks. Three weeks always meant a major breakdown for me. Call me if you need encouragement."

I think about Karen every time I tell a weepy, exhausted new mom, "It ends. Suddenly it gets better. It gets great. It won't be like this forever! You're halfway home already! I PROMISE!"

I want to be one of those women. Don't you?

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