I recently published a post called 10 things I’d do differently if I was a first time mom. I mentioned that #9 is that I would accept the new baseline, meaning that I would accept that my life is never going back to what it was before having kids. I think that most people realize that women often struggle with the changes to their body after they give birth (carrying weight differently, hormonal imbalance, sleep issues, etc.), but I don’t think many people recognize the ways mothers struggle with the changes to their lives.**
Following my older son’s birth, I certainly recognized changes to my life, but I soon after became engrossed in my post doctoral fellowship. When my twins were born I didn’t return to any job. My kids were my job. The cost of daycare for 3 kids under 3 was more money than I could earn with a PhD, so we decided I would stay home.
I suffered from postpartum depression after my oldest was born, but the sadness I felt after my twins were born was a different thing entirely. My depression was deep and long-lasting, and I couldn’t shake what felt like loss when I was so abundantly blessed. I thought the double dose of hormones that came with a multiple birth pregnancy were just getting me down, but then one day I landed on it.
I realized that I was grieving my former life. Yes, my life changed after my first was born, but I had an amazing job, he was in daycare, and from 8-5 my life looked pretty similar to what it was before. In fact, I loved my postdoctoral fellowship so much, that my life may have looked even better than before.
Like anyone with a research background, upon making this realization I delved into the grief literature. I quickly landed on the well-known theory of the 7 stages of grief. In no way do I mean to belittle the loss of a loved one by making this comparison. I have lost irreplaceable people in my lifetime, and I miss them every day. And as lucky as I am to have a loving husband and three healthy and (mostly) happy children, I miss my old life, too. This is my take on the 7 stages of grieving my pre-kids life.
- SHOCK & DENIAL-Upon leaving the hospital with my twins, I immediately thought-“hold up!” The nurses are just sending them home with me? No, I’m not ready and I have no idea what to do. These babies need to stay in the hospital a little longer so I can go home, rest up, eat a pizza, finish decorating the nursery, and come back later. This shock was soon followed by a thought that nothing in my life was going to change. I believed that I obviously would have peaceful babies who will slept all day. No chance.
- PAIN & GUILT-It became clear pretty quickly that my kids are not “sleepers.” Evidenced by my tendency to fall asleep at red lights, this was impossible to deny. I cried…a lot. I got help for my PPD, but my heart still ached. I just wanted to go back to how things were before, and felt so bad to even have such thoughts. I knew I loved my children, but I loved myself, too, and felt guilty for that.
- ANGER & BARGAINING-I could only hold my sh&% (halfway) together for so long. My thoughts (and words) turned angry. Why did I have such difficult kids? It didn’t feel fair. My prayers were dominated by promises and proposals, “I swear if the baby stops crying I will totally be so nice to that neighbor who drives me crazy. I will put more food in the food pantry bin. I will…I just need the baby to STOP CRYING.” I complained about how I used to be publishing in academic journals and now cleaned up spit up and poop all day. I was angry at my kids for being challenging. I was angry at my husband for essentially everything.
- “DEPRESSION”, REFLECTION, LONELINESS- All of the other new moms/new twin moms I knew seemed to be moving on and accepting their new normal, but I just couldn’t. I missed my old life. I missed Sunday morning newspaper time. I miss Saturday nights with friends. I missed discussing research that didn’t involve theories on sleep training and attachment parenting. I wondered if I felt differently than others because we didn’t struggle to conceive. I felt like no one could really know how I was feeling, so I just stopped talking about it.
- THE UPWARD TURN- Bright spots surfaced. The clarity that followed a night when the babies sleep for 5 hours straight. The happiness that followed actually getting to read the paper…ok part of the paper…ok it was the Target ad. The dream of finding a babysitter to watch all 3 kids so I could take a nap.
- RECONSTRUCTION & WORKING THROUGH-When my twins started to actually nap (around 18 months, my older son NEVER napped) I regained some of my trademark positivity that landed me my husband in the first place. I thought, “Ok, so maybe I won’t be able to go for that tenure track professor job at the small liberal arts college of my dreams, but I could still write a little while I’m home with the kids. Maybe I could start a blog…”
- ACCEPTANCE & HOPE- According to this site, “During this, the last of the seven stages in this grief model, you learn to accept and deal with the reality of your situation. Acceptance does not necessarily mean instant happiness…but you will find a way forward.”
I feel like I’ve been identifying with the six and seventh stages for the better part of 4 years. Yes, I am a fully functioning parent, spouse, daughter, and friend. Every day I hug my children, play with them, and tell them how they are my favorite things about my life. But there are still days when I just miss my old life. And I get sad. And I reach out to my friends, because I know they get it. I have one friend who told me recently, “You can always tell me that you hate this, and you miss how it was before. Because I know you don’t HATE, hate this, but you do MISS, miss that.”
I’m not sure everyone experiences these feelings after children enter their lives. I have friends who say they were “born to be mothers,” and seem joy filled in all moments. This isn’t me. Before I became a mom, my MS, my career aspirations, and my general fear of children had me questioning if I was ever going to have kids at all. When we were surprised with my oldest, it seemed like a “you make plans and God laughs” scenario.
Every single day I’m actively working on not sleepwalking through parenthood, accepting my new baseline, and looking forward to what is ahead.
I’m more proud of that than I am ashamed.
**(I’m speaking here from a mother’s viewpoint because I am, in fact, a mother. However, I feel that many of these issues could transfer to a new father as well, and especially to the “default parent” whether male or female.)