I’ve held this one in my head and my heart for a long time. My hesitation for sharing is not because I think any of what I feel is bad or wrong, but because I know how emotionally charged motherhood is. I’m in a place where I don’t care what anyone thinks about my parenting and I feel confident in motherhood, but there were times when I was fragile, and the incessant judgement, and unsolicited opinions were too much for me to bear. I wanted to write this post for every woman that’s reached out, curious and maybe worried about the prospect of motherhood. And for every mother who loves her children, and has also felt alone, forgotten, or frustrated at a system that works against them.
Pregnancy was not a good experience for me, and it wasn’t until recently that I discovered I have PTSD from hyperemis gravidarum, which is actually not uncommon for HG sufferers. It’s amazing how misunderstood HG is and how many women suffer in silence from it. Two weeks postpartum, after a call to my doctor’s office was not taken as seriously as it should have been, I found myself in the ER with secondary postpartum hemorrhage (hemorrhage is the leading global cause of maternal mortality). I required three blood transfusions and a balloon catheter inserted into my uterus. Yet only recently are we finally starting to have the conversation about the damage of childbirth. While breastfeeding, I diagnosed myself with D-MER, a condition that affects some lactating women. It’s a reaction right before letdown where you can “experience a roller coaster of negative feelings, ranging from sadness to anger or panic, and, in some cases, severe depression or anxiety.” It took me months and an eventual Google search to realize that’s what I was going through. When I talked about it on Instagram, I couldn’t believe how many other women sent me messages saying, “Oh my god, I think I had that and had no idea.”
I share all of that not to scare anyone or look for sympathy, but because none of this is even unique or unusual. A woman in the US is twice as likely to die from complications of pregnancy and birth than her mother was a generation ago. Black and Indigenous women are 2-3 times more likely than white women to die from complications of pregnancy and birth. Pregnancy and postpartum were some of the most intense psychological and physiological changes my body and mind ever went through. Why hadn’t I heard anything about that?
As I got further into my first year of motherhood, I felt paralyzed. I wanted motherhood, a career, and time for myself and my relationships. But the reality is, that’s not how the system is set up. Paid maternity leave? If you’re lucky. Support post-birth? LOL. Having a choice about your career once you have a baby? Maybe. For many mothers, especially over the last year, the choice was made for them. Women have been pushed out of the workforce by the millions. Affordable and accessible childcare is rare (if not impossible) to find. I missed the memo that you have to get on the daycare waitlist while you’re pregnant (I heard from many women who had traumatic experiences from this), and while I’m incredibly lucky to have the financial ability to pay for healthcare, a job that allows me to work from home, and a partner that can be primary caregiver for now, it’s still incredibly difficult. What about mothers without partners, or who have to work outside the home with few childcare options?
We need to be more honest about motherhood. More importantly, we need to provide more support and resources for mothers. The expectations that come along with being parents are immense. Too often the image of the ideal mother is the one who is the most selfless, so much so that she sacrifices everything. Why?
It’s ok to need time alone. You deserve to have your own hobbies, career, identity. But from what I’ve seen, we’ve been set up to fail, because that’s not what the system allows, and it’s not what our society or culture supports. What does it say about us when we have no guaranteed paid or sick leave, significant barriers in the workforce, inadequate access to affordable childcare, and little to no support for family planning? While I think the pandemic made it all that much more difficult for mothers, it also exposed how deeply flawed and unbalanced it has always been.
I never thought I wanted kids (most of you know this by now). It wasn’t something I craved or desired. I loved my life, it felt complete just the way it was and I felt no need to change it. To be honest, I never felt pressure to have kids either. Then, I got pregnant, and everything changed.
Motherhood is beautiful. It will crack your heart wide open and take your breath away. It’s also incredibly challenging. We have to do better for women and mothers. Not only during pregnancy, postpartum and throughout motherhood, but also for women navigating decisions about family planning, and women who choose to be child-free. Let’s support and respect one another’s decisions. I want to believe that the more we talk about these challenges and realities, the closer we can get to meaningful change. Our daughters should not have to face the same impossible choices. We can work together to make sure they don’t.
Some Additional Resources
Family Planning and Reproductive Care (Insurance Not Required) – Planned Parenthood
What Is D-Mer? – Sadness When Breastfeeding