The kids are screaming. Someone is crying. And there’s stuff everywhere. I can’t escape. There’s nowhere to hide, not even the bathroom or the shower, as someone always finds their way in…even if it is the cat. This was not the Motherhood I was envisioning when I was trying everything possible to have children.
Now, I realize mom burnout may be an unpopular topic on a site about pregnancy after loss. After all, shouldn’t I be eternally grateful? But this isn’t about the gratitude I feel for these boys who also delight and fill my soul. It’s about normalizing the idea that loss moms are still moms. We’re allowed to have rough days, or to find parenting challenging. It’s about saying out loud that just because we’ve gone through the worst imaginable, doesn’t mean that the road ahead will always be smooth. Life is life. In spite of what we’ve been through, we’re not granted an easy button. And I’m starting to realize that’s OK.
Let me back up. When we first brought C home six years ago, I was over the moon. As our first child we got to leave the hospital with, we had a lot to be grateful for. I truly appreciated every moment, from the snuggles and firsts, to the poopsplosions and exhaustion. It was finally our turn, and my much fought for maternity leave was perhaps the most relaxed, calm and present I’d ever been. When challenges popped up, I told myself I wasn’t going to “blow it” by complaining, much less acknowledging that motherhood is hard.
Looking back now, I’m somewhat ashamed at how cavalier and judgmental I was toward other moms…even other loss moms. I was in the early stages of motherhood, in a cloud of naive bliss.
“How can they be so frustrated/angry/exhausted by their kids! I can’t imagine doing that…”
Ugh, what a jerk! As a mom to three living boys—6, 4-1/2 and 21 months—I get it. There are days (ok, sometimes only moments) when I feel like I’m rocking this mom thing. And many other times where I feel clueless and defeated. The lack of sleep. Being the one everyone wants. Organizing schedules and appointments. Navigating the world of a differently-wired kiddo. All while working full time, and trying to grow a new business.
Truthfully, I feel more like Angry Zombie Mom than Wonder Woman.
Everywhere I look lately, I see posts and articles about Mom burnout. We feel like we get nothing done each day. Heck, even the World Health Organization is calling burnout a medical condition, “a syndrome… resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” Being on all of the time is exhausting. Honestly, I’m so tired of the struggle after all we’ve been through. I want that easy button. I deserve one.
The problem with the WHO’s definition of burnout is that it implies that the stress hasn’t been successfully managed by the person who is burned out. And while that may have some truth to it, it doesn’t end there. Just like it isn’t all about the worker, it isn’t all about the mom. It may take a village to raise children, and that village needs to be there to support mom (and dad) too. I’m fortunate to have an involved husband, and close family and friends, and I still struggle.
So how does this tie back to loss moms and gratitude? The way I see it, we’re coming into this “job” already burned out. Most of us have had a long road. Some of us have experienced multiple losses. Others have had traumatic subsequent pregnancies. And all of us have experienced the ever-present anxiety that comes with pregnancy after loss. We are tired on every level imaginable. Many of us saw therapists and tended to our mental health during that time, only to stop once our rainbow arrived, because we “should” be OK.
Mama’s let me tell you: There’s no such thing as “should”
On some levels, I think I was better to myself during our losses than I am to myself now. Of course I didn’t have three kids to chase after, but now too often my “shoulds” get in the way of the clarity that it’s OK to put myself before my family. I know I need to get my air mask on first, I just don’t always practice that. I’m not sure how to let go of that Type A, uber-organized person I always have been. It doesn’t feel good to not know which way is up. Or to be buried under an ever-growing to do list. I’m trying for “good enough” and that even feels heavy. What I am realizing (once again), is that there is so much out of my control with this whole parenting thing, so I may as well focus on what I can control.
Dance like nobody’s watching, literally.
Fake it til you make it is a big part of my daily life. After the kids are off to school/daycare, I try to start my day by meditating, followed by a personal dance party around my basement (I’m not ashamed to admit it!). I get to work from home, doing work that I love with interesting people and meaningful organizations. I enjoy the silence of my house. Now that it is warm, I get outside. And I try to get out with friends, and on date nights with my husband (definitely need to work on more of these). I’m in the process of finding a new therapist, and rely on my real and virtual friends, along with my “friends” Zoloft and the occasional Xanax. And sometimes I cry, and allow myself to wallow for a while.
Perhaps most importantly, I recognize that while overall I know I’m doing a good job, I’m still struggling. So I talk about it. Even when it feels too vulnerable. Because it feels too vulnerable. If I’m experiencing this, aren’t there countless other woman who are too? Why should we feel ashamed to admit it and seek help? After all, helping ourselves ultimately helps those around us.
Life after loss is a constant ebb and flow of emotions. I’m not sure I’ll ever get it right all of the time. That said, I know that because I understand this, I’m already heading in the right direction to becoming the mom I want to be for my boys, and more importantly, the person I want to be for me.