Motherhood Is Beautiful. It’s Messy And Complicated Too.
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
Hyperemesis Gravidarum Support and Information
Answers to Common Questions About Postpartum Hemmorhage
Black Maternal Health Momnibus – What It Is and How to Support the Legislation
It’s really hard but unbelievably rewarding. Friends who don’t have kids only hear me complain about the things you’ve mentioned above and I’ve felt like I’m in prison but the highs are high and the lows are low. It depends on the individual but when they say something funny (mine is now 2 and it’s the best yet!) or give you a hug, none of the bad matters. It’s so complicated and I don’t know how you get that across to someone.
This is all so painfully true . I’ve never felt more alone , isolated , ridden with guilt and full of anxiety than when I became a mother . The expectation is for it to come naturally , but when you listen to your mother’s instinct a lot of times it gets minimized . None of us know what to do and how to deal , nobody prepares you for what it actually would be like . Many mothers get no support and no help . Yes , the love comes naturally , but what we don’t realize is you can’t pour from an empty cup and everything mothers give is very hard to replenish . We are constantly thought of as the default parent , the mental load is a weight nobody seems acknowledge . I can go on ….
All of this is so true. I’ve had this conversation so many times with friends…it’s tough to say that anything could fully prepare you, but a better support system for mothers postpartum would make a huge difference.
I think about this every day because I live this every day. My third baby is six months old now and nothing has gotten easier. I don’t have any advice or deep thoughts because nothing seems to help. As you said, we are set up to fail. Thank you for sharing ❤️
I’m so sorry Molly. Things have to change, and I believe they will.
Thank you for saying what I know so many mothers are thinking and have experienced, especially in the last year. I’ve been working from home full time feeling exploited by my employer’s expectation that I perform at 100% while tacking on more and more work without to compensate for so many who had to leave during the pandemic, teaching our son dual language kindergarten and caring for our 3 year old. This wasn’t a choice, it was the expectation for many. The stress of it all began to manifest in my body as physical symptoms and I have never felt more abandoned by the system. I have an interview this week with a job I’ve been waiting years for an opening to post, and the thought that I might not be able to accept an offer based on childcare availability alone is crushing but something I’m trying to mentally prepare for.
Katie that breaks my heart. It just should not be this way. I’m working with a friend on pulling together some ways to help influence change through legislation. I know it’s possible. I refuse to believe it’s not.
Relate to so much of this. Thanks for sharing your heart mama ❤️
Thanks so much for sharing your story Jess. I completely agree which is why I have mixed feelings about having children because of what comes next (no affordable childcare, no support for the mental/emotional/physical trauma mothers go through, loss of work/career, etc.). It’s sad that’s my thought process, but it’s something to strongly think about when making a big decision of having a child. Either way, we need to support women’s choices (children or no children) and start electing more people in office who will change this outdated, male focused system!
I totally understand that thought process Sydney. It reflects so much of what I went through as well when I considered whether or not I wanted children, and to be honest I didn’t even really think about the childcare aspect of it. I totally agree, change comes when we elect more people (ahem, women) who will change the system.
I am a 65 year old mother. All of these issues were around at that time (and more), and sadly, the amount of improvement has been minimal over that time. It still shocks me. When I see you and my children’s peers climbing the same mountains, it is clear to me that this will not change until more women control our government, our hospitals and our society. One advantage that you do have over my generation is the internet and your generosity of spirit in sharing what is happening in your lives. That is huge, and Jess, you have used the platform brilliantly with honesty, openness and humor. I wish I had a Jess Ann Kirby to read when I thought I was losing my mind – tackling these subjects is a service to all who read your blog. Be proud of the mother you are to Marin and to all your readers.
I’ve heard the same thing from my own mother Karen, and I totally agree, change comes when we elect more women and have them in positions of power. Your last few sentences made me cry, thank you for your belief in me and your support. It means so much.
Thank you for your always thoughtful words. Motherhood is the most beautiful, fulfilling, excruciating experience of my life. Living in Europe I saw how parents in that part of the world are supported.
We can do so much better. ❤️
Atleast once each day I try to convince myself that I don’t like kids. It’s hard. But nothing else has challenged me as much. Nothing else has made me question myself more. Back to when my twins were born, they didn’t latch very well. I tried and tried. When the lactation nurse came for a home visit she took one look at me and said “Oh honey you’re not sleeping.” A river of tears then flowed. She gave me permission to let the twins share a bottle. She gave me permission to use formula. Why did I need permission? Because we as moms are so damn hard on ourselves. I hope I meet that nurse again in heaven some day. She was a true angel that really helped shape all my future decisions as a mom. From that day forward I trusted myself so much more.
I’m so sorry you went through that Colleen. I totally agree, nurses are heroes, I still think about the my L&D nurses and the ICU nurses who cared for me after my PPH. I would never have gotten through that without them. I have so much gratitude for their selflessness and ability to care for others. It’s truly a gift.
you hit the nail on the head, jess. it’s the hardest thing i’ve ever done. and! and! every pregnancy is totally different. my first was so amazing, i loved being pregnant. now? i’m miserable. i threw up multiple times a day every day for more than 24 weeks. i am so uncomfortable now that i almost wish baby would come early to make it stop. and yet! the joys! the highest of highs. i just wish we had more support and empathy.
I am not a mother yet, but hope to be one some day. The pressure and anxiety I am feeling as I turn 30 is hard to deal with. People ask about when we are having kids, and my doctor tells me my fertility is declining and I need to have kids soon, but I don’t see how that is possible with the way society/our country is set up. Between our student loans, lack of flexibility at work, the inability to survive off of one income, the cost of childcare, and everything in between, it seems like the world is telling us to have children but then not supporting us or making it any easier for us throughout that process. It is extremely frustrating and disheartening. It feels like we are set up to struggle.
PS – Thank you, as always, for your honesty, realness, and kindness.
I’m so sorry you’re going through that Abby. I know your situation is unfortunately not unique. It’s incredible the pressure to start a family without any acknowledgement of how difficult it is to do in our country. It feels like we are set up to struggle because we are. That’s a fact.
As someone who hopes to be a mother one day, I hope the support I receive will be better than the lack of support I have now. I’ve been struggling with infertility and undergoing treatments. While my family and friends are supportive, I have no support at work. I have to hide even the thought of being a mother from my employer for fear of retaliation. Retaliation in the sense that my upward growth will stop once I have a child. I have it easy in a white collar, high earning corporate career where I can sneak away for treatments, call in sick without question, and pay 100% out of pocket for treatments since my employers health insurance doesn’t see infertility as a disease. I can’t imagine how it feels for someone who is barely getting by and can’t afford to make their dreams a reality. This process made me see how our country doesn’t care about family, because if it did they would offer support to those of us trying to start a family. It made me see just how hard it must be to become a mom, because you’re really on your own
I’m so sorry Christina that breaks my heart for you. Watching other friends go through similar struggles it has really opened my eyes to what women go through to start a family, often at great expense financially, physically and emotionally. Sending love to you.
Thank you SO SO SO much.
that’s so true and we need more of this.
i wanted a child and i loved my son more than anything or anyone but never imagine it would be so hard.
Never imagine i would became a single mom the day my baby would be 2 weeks old
it was amazing but so hard…
i needed at that time to feel less alone and i know i am not the only one
I wanted to stay at home but can’t..
and the guilt is always here..
This post infuriates me because it’s so true. I didn’t have any of the struggles that you have had and yet still find it so isolating and difficult. After my recent 2nd c-section, I’ve been mostly ignored about my back pain and everyone acts like the soreness should be gone by now. I’m made to feel like something is wrong with me for still experiencing pain and having issues, yet when I talk to other mothers who have had the same experience (2 c-sections), they have experienced the exact same. I’m so sick of the care for the mother being tossed aside. The fact that you were ignored is all too common and I had no idea D-Mer existed. Why don’t we get the education that we need? Thank you for sharing. It’s much more common than anyone thinks and something has to give.
Also! I hated both pregnancies. I didn’t have HG but was very sick the entire time during my 2nd pregnancy. They were both hard though and I honestly can never understand when people say they love being pregnant. That’s great for them of course but it never happened for me. Happy about the babies but I didn’t love the pregnancies at all. (I clearly have a lot to say about all of this) 🙂
Hi Jess I was away for 2 days so I could not get the blog. I don’t fit into a current mom blog but once you are a mother you are always a mother . I was overwhelmed with my first girl . I wanted kids. I loved being pregnant but I didn’t feel instant love or the connection . I didn’t tell anyone . It was so different then. She was hard. She was allergic to formula . She was colicky , and later hyperactive . My son was perfect. I bonded instantly. There was guilt . Fast forward . Ii list my son young from Alcoholism and I never knew he drank. My daughter is mentally ill and my husband divorced me and left for a younger model . I have a good husband now . He’s just been diagnosed wit severe dementia. I looked at you all year and since I have follies you as the perfect girlfriend and partner and then mom. I saw what I once had in NE and said oh hie lucky and I’m so happy for Jess and Craig . Drs so pretty and funny and Craig’s so talented and cute. They are the perfect family. There is no perfect mother . I wonder what I did to produce these things in my kids that I might have done different . Should I have nursed ? Did I read stories enough ? Did I play with them enough ? Did my guilt with Lisa’s issues cause Jeff a feeling she got more attention ? I cannot say any of those thought are true at all. Bad luck? Gypsy Curse? Nah. We all get something in this life and what the world sees isn’t always what I looked like . Beautiful couple. Cute kids. Nice house happy . Maybe someone was looking at us like I look at other moms and thinking perfect. It’s not . It’s perfectly imperfect but Grand Jess !!!
Lynn you’ve been through so much. But I know from all of our interactions what an amazing person you are. You are stronger than you know. Don’t forget that.
Thanks for writing this, Jess. I became a first time mother during the pandemic and as my child gets closer to 1 year, I sometimes wonder if this is hard because I’m experiencing this now, when the world is in chaos, but maybe this is just what it means to be a parent. I can’t disentangle the two. I know that my inability to find support from other mom friends in person has been challenging–I had my first “mom meetup” two weekends ago and I came home feeling so refreshed and happy. I wonder what that would’ve been like to have that consistently in my life. Motherhood is so hard and even though I have an amazing partner, I definitely still feel the weight of it all more heavily on my shoulders. I’m so glad that we’re talking about how difficulty motherhood can be–it makes us all feel less alone to know that even though we love our children, it can be the most challenging experience of our lives.
That’s so true Sarah, I find myself asking myself the same questions often. I absolutely think having children during this time added another layer of complexity and difficulty. All of the “normal” things that happen were taken away, and there was so much isolation. It’s just not the same talking on the phone as it is being with other people going through the same thing in person. I realized when I took Marin to her first swim class with a bunch of other moms and babies just how much we both needed it. I think the last year has exacerbated an already problematic system. Maybe the silver lining is things will finally change.
First off, I’m sorry about your PPH. I had one (thankfully, while still in the hospital) after birthing baby number two. So terrifying. I’m sorry you had to go through that. <3
Thank you for this post and for compiling so many articles to help share the current big picture of motherhood. I am now the mom of two boys under two (!), and when I was a new mom, I used to blame myself a lot for feeling completely outmatched. I thought the issue was a flaw within me, as goes en vogue IG advice, that tends to make everything a mindset issue. Now I'm all for introspection and looking within—but this wasn't a mindset issue. It really helped me to LOOK OUT and see how pathetic are society is at supporting parents.
It's amazing doing something so socially acceptable (having kids!) can happen in a system with so few structures for social support.
I do hope for change. I think speaking honestly is a good first step. I also think men need to demand paternity leave. Realistically, men get what they want in this country. If men (esp. those at the top) wanted paternity leave, they'd get it.
Anyway, just found your blog and am excited to read along 🙂