When I had my first baby, I didn’t feel like I was “supposed” to.
I never understood when other parents said, “I wish they could stay little forever!” or “Awwww…I miss that!” or “Looking at newborns makes me want another!”
I never understood “missing” the baby-ness, because the memories surrounding the births of my first two children were NOT pleasant.
Fear and darkness. That’s what I remember most.
Every time the sun set, my heart would start to pound. Mentally, I was completely exhausted; but physically I could not settle down. Eventually the anxiety snowballed–causing me to get less sleep, which caused even more anxiety. At my most severe, I was getting less than two hours of sleep for several nights in a row…
It’s hard to describe anxiety and depression for someone who has never experienced it. But I wrote about the battle between the two “voices” in my head here.
On one hand, I knew I was dealing with a fairly common hormone issue and just needed time to adjust. I knew–rationally–that I’d probably be okay with time.
But I FELT like I’d never been happy before and never, ever would be happy again.
I FELT like sadness and despair and terror were suffocating me and that I wouldn’t make it out the other side.
I FELT like I’d made a terrible, terrible mistake by deciding to have my baby…
…and that’s why I’m writing to you, new mama.
I’m writing because no one ever told me that I might have to fight against my “feelings,” until they started feeling the way other moms seemed to feel without trying.
I’m writing in case you’re a mom, like me, who doesn’t feel like you “should.”
You’ll hear it more than once, I promise:
“Pregnancy is full of aches and challenges–but it’s all worth it THE MOMENT you lay eyes on that baby for the first time!”
They really don’t mean to cause unrealistic expectations. In fact, that’s exactly what happens after childbirth for many mothers. The doctor lays a baby on her chest, and she immediately feels a rush of warmth and joy.
So, it’s logical to assume that’s how it works for everyone.
“I’d never felt a love so strong before. We’d waited so long; it was a sweet reward… That day was the best of my life!”
But for me–honestly–I wasn’t overwhelmed with “lovey feelings” right away.
I didn’t cry with joy.
I didn’t stare at her with wonder and refuse to let her go…
Oh, sure, I would have protected her fiercely if anything threatened her safety. But I would classify my feelings closer to “duty” than to “infatuation.”
…and that was even BEFORE the world-changing insomnia and panic-attacks set in.
By the time I went a few nights without sleep, it was a fight to keep myself from believing the lying, hopeless voice.
And the more Veteran Mommies shared their sweet memories and told me to “cherish” my own experience, the more confused (and cheated!) I felt.
Why was my story so much different than theirs? Where was MY fairy-tale?
Looking back, I can say with certainty that the 1-2 months following the births of my first two babies were the worst experiences of my entire life.
I didn’t feel at all like I “should.”
So, I’m writing in case you are in the same boat (or will be someday), because I want you to know that feelings aren’t as important as…well, not as important as they feel.
Mama, being sad and scared (and even thinking you’ve made a mistake) doesn’t mean you’re doing it wrong.
In fact, let me tell you a shocking truth: when you’re still doing the feeding and rocking and nurturing when you don’t feel like it, that’s actually the definition of love. Meeting the needs of another–regardless of how you feel–is an amazing, selfless, and praise-worthy thing to do.
If you’re caring for baby with a sense of “duty”–because you know it’s the right thing to do–then that’s actually more impressive than doing it when it’s fun or easy.
I have such respect for the Mamas who do the Mama-ing, when the pay-off doesn’t happen right away.
New Mama, always remember that Love isn’t just how you feel.
Love is what you do.
So, with that in mind, there are two things I’m praying for you right now:
#1. I’m praying that God will make your feelings match your spirit, so you don’t have to argue with yourself over the confusing noise of depression. Father–it’s hard enough learning to care for a new baby when our emotions are fairly stable…let alone when we can’t trust them at all. So line up our thoughts and feelings with the Spirit you’ve given us. Plant our feelings, like breadcrumbs, until they lead us to your Truth.
#2 But IF God sees fit to let you “not feel like you should,” then I pray you remember feelings don’t make you a good mother. Feelings lie sometimes. And they come and go. But it’s what you DO that reveals your heart. God sees you getting up through the night, patting little backs and losing sleep. He sees you missing showers but making doctor appointments. He sees you shhhhh-ing and soothing and LOVING your baby, though it feels like you’re doing it wrong.
Oh, Mama, I pray you always remember that you LOVE that baby, even when love doesn’t feel like it “should.”
Post Script: I finally got my fairy-tale with Baby #3. No anxiety. No insomnia and depression. I’m actually wistful as I watch her grow, and I’m finding myself thinking it’s going too fast. Now I understand why people say they miss it when it’s over!
Mamas, I pray each one of you gets to have at least one postpartum phase that feels like it “should.” But, even if that’s not meant to be, please…please, please, please don’t buy the lie that you’re doing it wrong just because it’s not the same story that was written for another.
Love is what you do.
It’s what you do.