The Contradictions of Motherhood

By Jess
25 Jan 2022

This photo popped up recently as a “memory” on my phone. I barely remember taking it, except for the fact that it was the only picture I took of my pregnant stomach. It was exactly two weeks before I had Marin. There are of course photos of me pregnant. I write a lifestyle blog after all. But I never drew attention to my pregnant stomach. I dressed to hide it or at least make it less obvious as best I could. When this photo popped up as a memory, all of the reasons why it was the only one I took came flooding back.

I distinctly remember the feeling of going out in public when I was really pregnant and could no longer hide my protruding belly. I had this strong sense of anxiety that someone would say something like “congratulations” or “do you know what you’re having?”. I dreaded every time someone asked me if I was excited. Yeah, I’d respond half heartedly trying to force enough enthusiasm to be believable.

I didn’t like being pregnant. Anyone who’s experienced hyperemesis can probably relate, at least to how absolutely awful you feel and the toll it takes on your physical and mental health (though feeling sick during pregnancy isn’t a prerequisite for not enjoying it). I was so afraid of becoming a mom and at the same time absolutely terrified of losing my pregnancy. I felt like I didn’t deserve to be pregnant because I didn’t want it enough. Not many people want to hear how you’re not thrilled about being pregnant, especially when you weren’t trying in the first place.

Pregnancy and motherhood is full of so much contradiction. Pregnancy was awful but I was also terrified of losing something I wasn’t sure I wanted. Motherhood is incredible but it’s also absolutely exhausting and sometimes suffocating. I adore my daughter and I feel so lucky to be her mother, but sometimes I just need to get away. Sometimes it feels so full of purpose and magic, other times it feels mundane, exhausting, even paralyzing.

I don’t think any of this makes me a bad mother, it makes me a human being. Mainstream portrayals of motherhood often depict it as above all, selfless, devoted, nurturing. But a good mother is not all of these things all of the time, nor should she be. Motherhood continues to be the absolute hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. Full of extreme highs and painful lows. It’s a disservice to mothers everywhere to pretend otherwise.

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41 Comments

  1. Ashley wrote:

    Something that I remember saying to myself is that putting on my oxygen mask before my son’s is the best way for me to take care of him. It’s been such a whirlwind (and I’m only 8 months in). It means using the bathroom before feeding him, or finishing my workout before I grab him from his crib in the morning.

    In the first couple of months, I found myself wishing for my leave to be over so I could go back to work, but I missed him so much during the day. I have loved time for just my husband and I, but I worry about finding a babysitter i trust to leave him with.

    It doesn’t always work, but I remind myself that I don’t have to live up to the societal image of a mother – that I do myself, my family, my future kids-in-law, and society a favor by not giving into some idealized version of motherhood. I’m making it my own, and trying to embrace all of the contradictions that come with it.

    1.25.22 | Reply
    • Jess wrote:

      Yes! That is such a great reminder Ashley. Thanks for sharing.

      1.26.22 | Reply
  2. Emily wrote:

    I empathize to my core. I didn’t have hyperemesis, but I was sick throughout my whole pregnancy. I hated being pregnant. Then when my son was born and I didn’t have that “feeling” I was like “what is wrong with me?” I now know that I had PPA but was so ashamed of how I felt back then.

    Fast-forward (almost) 4 years, and I can honestly say I love my son with all of my core. He is the greatest gift I could have given myself. He’s taught me selflessness, patience, and a deep, deep love. But I’m also raising him to know that you need to put yourself first sometimes. He sees mommy and daddy workout every day and prioritize eating to fuel our bodies. Motherhood is the greatest contradiction ever, but I’m so glad I did it.

    P.S. none of the above makes me want a second #oneanddone

    1.25.22 | Reply
    • Jess wrote:

      Feel you on every level Emily, including #oneanddone, haha!

      1.26.22 | Reply
  3. Katie Gill wrote:

    Thank you for this post, Jess. I am currently 22 weeks pregnant with my first, and while we did try for pregnancy, and my symptoms are much milder than yours were, I still have hard days and lots of doubts about the kind of mother I will be and what it will mean for my business. I am always searching and craving for the brutal honesty from others, I want to hear just as much about the hard days as the beautiful days, because that is what I can relate to and understand. XO

    1.25.22 | Reply
    • Jess wrote:

      Everything you’re feeling is normal and valid. You’re going to be an amazing mom Katie!

      1.26.22 | Reply
  4. Ivelina Bobeva wrote:

    The look people give me when I share that I didn’t enjoy pregnancy or the newborn stage is sometimes crushing . It makes me feel like I am weak and the odd one . Look at all these people having willingly gone trough that multiple times . But honestly did they enjoy it ? Yes I know there are people who do enjoy it , but there are also a ton of people who slap a happy face because it’s just what you are supposed to do , you are a woman after all . I never knew the hardest thing would be the pressure , and there’s pressure about every single thing , from the moment you find out you are pregnant to well no end really . You have to be exited , you have to be grateful , you have to enjoy it , you have to glow … I can go for hours . I honestly have never felt more miserable or looked worse in my life , so I was left wondering why on earth am I not glowing and why is this so hard for me ? I guess we need to share more often how we really feel , instead of just putting a face because we are supposed to like it .

    1.25.22 | Reply
    • Jess wrote:

      I think it’s so important to honor all journeys. I do have friends that loved being pregnant. I’ll never understand it, haha, but I am happy they had a good experience. What’s important to me is that they understand my experience wasn’t the same and they honor that too. I hope we can all do that for each other.

      1.26.22 | Reply
  5. Amelie wrote:

    I understand where you are coming from. There are so many expectations placed on mothers by society, that it’s so easy to feel like we’re in the wrong with what we’re going through. I think we need to start normalizing everyone’s experience and not feeling shame or guilt by not always being over the moon at every step!

    1.25.22 | Reply
  6. Sarah M wrote:

    I ask myself nearly everyday how women without the resources we have do this (some family nearby, a decent disposable income we could transition to child rearing, a job that has more flexibility than standard 9-5, good hospital system/insurance, etc.). It is exhausting and deflating, but also rewarding for me. For others without access and money, it would be nearly impossible. No wonder so many don’t talk about the contradiction of it all, most are too busy surviving. I saw an article about a study that used this year’s child tax credit to determine if the additional money correlated to better cognitive/neurological development. Surprise surprise, direct correlation. The science attributes this increase in neuro activity to the additional resources the mothers’ (should be fathers as well, but that’s a whole other issue) could dedicate to the child. Somewhat off your topic in this post but it goes back to my original point. Not only is pregnancy and motherhood contradictory in the best scenarios, it can be downright destabilizing. Why aren’t we doing more to help every child and their parents? Whether that is talking about the contradictions of it all and acknowledging it, or actual POLICY that helps this next generation, which is so important for our future workforce (i.e. economy).

    1.25.22 | Reply
    • Jess wrote:

      I could not agree more with everything you’ve said here Sarah. I read an article recently about a pandemic baby boom in Nordic countries during the pandemic. Turns out, there’s actually a ton of support including financial when a family has a child. The amount of money and paid time off mothers and fathers receive was enough to keep families going during a difficult and unpredictable time like the pandemic. Imagine families getting that kind of support from their government?! Just absolutely absurd that families in this country get absolutely nothing. It’s awful.

      1.26.22 | Reply
  7. Ami wrote:

    So, so valid. I’ll go one step further and say it does a disservice not just to mothers, but to women everywhere. Women are expected to be selfless, devoted and nurturing all of the time, everywhere, to everyone, and motherhood is viewed as the pinnacle of those things. It’s harmful to mothers and child free women alike, because it creates a standard that’s impossible to achieve for a million reasons for all women everywhere. Flip the script!

    1.25.22 | Reply
    • Jess wrote:

      Yes Ami I 100% agree with you!

      1.26.22 | Reply
  8. Ashley wrote:

    I can definitely relate. I too had hyperemesis and a high risk pregnancy. I cried when work tried to throw me a guess the due date and weight party because I wasn’t sure my baby would be healthy and I didnt like having to lie and say i was thrilled and happy and excited. I was sick, tired and worried how this might impact my older son.

    1.25.22 | Reply
    • Jess wrote:

      I’m so sorry Ashley that’s so hard. Hyperemesis really does a number physically and emotionally. It’s actually pretty astonishing to me that there’s so little research about the condition and almost nothing to treat it. Says a lot about the priority of women’s health.

      1.26.22 | Reply
  9. Kristina wrote:

    Thank you.

    1.25.22 | Reply
  10. Christina wrote:

    Being pregnancy is such an interesting part of life. I went through a long road of fertility treatments to get pregnant, and when it worked, I freaked out. As I become more and more pregnant, I’ve realized I don’t like this part of the journey.. I just wanted the outcome. I don’t think people talk about this enough so I’m glad you brought this up in todays post.

    1.25.22 | Reply
    • Jess wrote:

      I think regardless of how easy or difficult it is to get pregnant, it can be a really challenging time. I hope we can continue to normalize that and help people going through pregnancy feel less alone.

      1.26.22 | Reply
  11. Jenny wrote:

    You are strong and brave and wonderful for sharing this. Your honesty is refreshing and welcome!

    1.25.22 | Reply
    • Jess wrote:

      Thank you so much Jenny.

      1.26.22 | Reply
  12. Farah wrote:

    Thank you for sharing! My experience was different, but I shared many of your same emotions regarding not liking being pregnant AT ALL.

    1.25.22 | Reply
    • Jess wrote:

      Thanks for reading Farah.

      1.26.22 | Reply
  13. Brittany wrote:

    I absolutely love this post and your honestly. I always wondered why no one told me the truth of being pregnant and how tough motherhood could be at times. It’s always made out to be so beautiful and wonderful. I was so sick through most of my pregnancy. I never wanted any photos of my pregnant belly. I honestly hated being pregnant. I love my son and I would never change a thing but I feel as though people are so dishonest about pregnancy and motherhood in general. Yes, it’s great but it can also be exhausting and too routine driven. I just love that I am not the only one that feels this way. Thank you so much for this post!

    1.25.22 | Reply
    • Jess wrote:

      Thanks for sharing Brittany. I think having these conversations is so important and I hope it will help make it a little easier to talk about the not so pretty parts of pregnancy and motherhood.

      1.26.22 | Reply
  14. Elizabeth wrote:

    I’m fourteen weeks pregnant and had a pretty tough first trimester. A lot of challenging things outside my control: a parent in hospice, having to move out of my home unexpectedly, the ongoing pandemic, definitely some prenatal depression. I’m so grateful to be pregnant, and I can’t help but feel overwhelmed — not to mention physically sick and trying to work on top of it all. I think that the lack of built-in community support for women through this process makes it so much tougher, especially when multiple life events pile up at the same time. It’s refreshing to hear honest perspectives. Gosh, I feel so lucky to have stumbled across this.

    1.25.22 | Reply
    • Jess wrote:

      I’m so sorry Elizabeth all of that sounds really hard to go through. It would be difficult without a pregnancy! I completely agree I think community support is so important through the experience of pregnancy and postpartum. The pandemic has made that so much harder.

      1.26.22 | Reply
  15. Elizabeth wrote:

    I have found this to be true as well. I was ambivalent about having a child and then got pregnant and didn’t love pregnancy. I also didn’t feel connected to my baby before she was born, and I felt like I should have.
    She is 3 now and I love being a mother! And still want to escape it all fairly frequently. But at least now I know that doesn’t lessen my love for her or her feeling of security.
    I honestly think this is a problem with our culture in general, it’s too black and white when life is always full of shades of grey. And so much more interesting for it!

    1.25.22 | Reply
    • Jess wrote:

      Yes that is so true!

      1.26.22 | Reply
  16. Elizabeth wrote:

    Great post. I also didn’t enjoy pregnancy and keeping a sense of myself has been so important to me in motherhood. It doesn’t mean I love my daughters less. If anything, I feel like I’m providing them with a good role model by honoring my own needs as well as theirs.

    I also appreciate how many others have replied with similar feelings. I see you.

    1.26.22 | Reply
    • Jess wrote:

      Yes that is so true. I want to show my daughter it’s ok to put her needs first and the best way to do that is to put mine first too.

      1.26.22 | Reply
  17. Montserrat gilmore wrote:

    Im happy to see more brave women talk this way. I am terrified to be a mother and to not “live it” I’ve been considering motherhood for years now, I am 37 and I know my window is closing and my head is full of feelings and thoughts I feel nobody can understand.
    Thank you for being honest despite family, friends or society. This essay made me subscribe to your page. Happy to keep connected.

    1.26.22 | Reply
    • Jess wrote:

      Thank you for sharing. It’s such a hard decision to make. There’s no right or wrong, but I understand where you’re coming from.

      1.26.22 | Reply
  18. Brita wrote:

    I found out I was pregnant with my daughter about 12 weeks into my pregnancy — I was on birth control and my boyfriend and I were absolutely not trying.
    I spent my entire pregnancy sick and I was quickly taken off medication for my OCD, which sent my brain into a tailspin.
    I hear what you’re saying here so, so acutely, and I’d also add – I feel robbed. I was sold this false story of feeling blissfully happy the entire pregnancy, of cute little bump photo shoots, of a doting partner who was 150% involved with every single in-utero hiccup. Because I didn’t have all of those things, I just felt betrayed a lot of the time.
    Eight years later and my daughter is the light of my life, the boyfriend is now my husband, and we have another son in the mix. My second pregnancy was planned and guess what? It ALSO sucked.
    I guess I don’t know why I’m commenting except to say I think it’s so important to acknowledge the range of emotions that can tie into pregnancy and motherhood. Sometimes I feel like the little black raincloud of gestation because I always want to give space for expecting mothers to vent. I wish I had had someone who could have done that for me.

    1.26.22 | Reply
    • Jess wrote:

      Thanks for sharing Brita. I hear you. Having even one person that you can share how you’re really feeling is so important. It can make all the difference in the world.

      1.26.22 | Reply
  19. Sarah wrote:

    Unlike you, I actually loved being pregnant–although I felt like I couldn’t enjoy it because I was in lockdown for my 2nd and 3rd trimesters and was terrified of getting COVID because we knew so little about it then. But, even though I wanted to be a mom, I had no idea how hard motherhood would be. I love my son and I love being his mother but the weight of the responsibility, decision fatigue, and sheer unendingness of it all is sometimes too much. I’m also the default parent because my husband is in residency and has no control over his schedule. It’s so much all the time, and then you add the pandemic on top of it all and it’s enough to break you.

    I just came back from a 5 day solo trip (no child, no husband) and it was EXACTLY what I needed to give myself a reset so I could come back to motherhood and marriage refreshed and energized. I didn’t realize how much I needed to prioritize my own mental health to be a better parent and spouse. We’re often told as mothers that our children should come first but that’s not true. We need to come first so that we can be the best version of ourselves, for us, for our partners, and for our children

    1.26.22 | Reply
    • Jess wrote:

      That sounds AMAZING Sarah. Good for you I can imagine how restorative a trip like that would be. I am working on trying to plan something like that for myself. I couldn’t agree more with everything you’ve said.

      1.26.22 | Reply
  20. Allyson wrote:

    Thank you so much for sharing your honest experience of pregnancy and motherhood. My sister and I were just discussing how people, especially in America, avoid sharing their stories because it feels like no one wants to hear the tough stuff. But we do. I do! It’s part of life and it makes me feel better knowing other people go through similar struggles. We all deal with these difficult, conflicting experiences, particularly in pregnancy and parenthood. Thank you!

    1.26.22 | Reply
    • Jess wrote:

      Thank you Allyson. Couldn’t agree more with all that you’ve said. So grateful to everyone who comes here and shares how they feel too. It’s so important and valuable and I know will help so many other feel less alone.

      1.26.22 | Reply
  21. Marissa wrote:

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts, I find a lot of value in this type of conversation on your blog. I enjoyed my pregnancy, but have struggled a lot with motherhood. I love my daughter more than anything, but also really miss the freedom of my life before, and feel guilty admitting that because it feels like a contradiction to my love. Reading your thoughts, really helps me process and normalize these feelings. Thank you.

    1.26.22 | Reply
  22. Carolyn R wrote:

    I love this perspective and think the world needs to see this more. As a women who would like to have children in the future but struggles with the change it will bring to life, the new friction it will bring to my identity and the stereotype of womanhood and motherhood it will place on me, I know I am not as “excited” about it as those around me. Some days I think I would be absolutely ok not having children.

    Thank you for sharing a small piece of your story.

    1.27.22 | Reply
  23. Lauren wrote:

    Hi Jess, long time reader, first time commenter. This post came at a very opportune moment for me. I really needed to hear someone acknowledge that they weren’t excited to be pregnant/be a mom, and that is ok. I somewhat unexpectedly became pregnant in Dec. Though kids were never something I was 100% sure I wanted (or like, even 50%…), but was soldiering forward through the nausea and exhaustion. I just entered the “advanced maternal age” bracket, so it felt lucky to have happened since I am at the biological “now or never” point. But I was devastated! So much fear and dread, I couldn’t tell anyone without bursting into tears. I cried nearly every day, until last week when I miscarried at 9 weeks. I felt terrible that I mostly felt relieved and annoyed that I went through all of that nausea for nothing. I also felt sure that we would try again. So contradictory and complicated indeed.

    1.31.22 | Reply