Yesterday I woke up, nursed my toddler, and went to the dentist. I experienced my first ever filling. And my second. And my third. (I am extremely embarrassed by this and am pretty sure I might delete this paragraph before I hit publish--yikes.) I sat in a chair with my mouth open wide and listened to a drill vibrate my numb face for the better part of two hours and asked myself, "How did this happen? I am not a dirty, unhygienic person. How did I end up here?"
No, I'm not a dirty person. But I am a mother. I am a new mother who is still very much trying to figure out how to take care of another human's every need when said tiny human can't articulately tell me why she's flailing around, face red and sprinkled with hot, frustrated tears. I have to figure it out, and that takes pretty much all of my time, including the time I once used to take care of myself. Brushing my teeth before bed wasn't a complicated matter before I became a mom, but in my first year of motherhood, well it looked a little something like this:
OH NO SHE FELL ASLEEP ON ME I CAN'T MOVE HER SHE MIGHT WAKE UP BUT MAYBE I'LL JUST GET UP AND HOLD HER WHILE I...OH NO SHE'S STIRRING I BETTER TURN THE WATER OFF AND SEE IF I CAN SHIMMY HER OFF OF ME ONTO THE BED ONCE SHE'S IN A DEEPER SLEEP I'LL JUST LIE HERE WITH HER UNTIL THEN...Zzzzzz.
She became priority and I somehow bought into the idea that I AM MOTHER, HEAR ME ROAR meant I had to do it all, every last bit of it, every second of every day and night without help. Why didn't I ask Daniel to hold her so I could brush my teeth and wash my face every night? Because the thought honestly didn't even cross my mind. All I saw was Edie and how much she needed me--just thinking about taking any time away from her at all was enough to make me feel guilty.
But as I drove home from the dentist feeling like my lips were made of marshmallows, it hit me. There is no medal for that. There is no medal for confusing poor self care for selfless mothering.
I came off of my first year of motherhood in an incredibly unhealthy place in pretty much every avenue of my life--still wading through the trauma of Edie's first few months because I hadn't taken the time to deal with my emotions, losing an unhealthy amount of weight too fast because I was either completely forgetting or too anxious to eat most days, and finding out I had not one but three teeth that needed work. I went much of the year completely ignoring my role as a wife and no longer knew how to go about being one.
When family expressed concern about my health, I usually responded with something like, "She's worth it," "I am for her now," or "I'm just trying to do my job."
I was owning this mom thing. All it took was all of me. What a noble way to live, right?
At least that's what I chose to tell myself. Until I sat in that chair and realized it was the longest I had been away from my daughter. In 15 months. And I was enjoying my me time by staring up at a bright light with four hands in my mouth.
If I look back on the past year and honestly reflect on how it made me feel, I'd say there were definitely lots of overwhelming moments of joy and love for my child. But for every moment like that, there were probably three or four moments of panic, loneliness, and exhaustion.
I try to imagine what it could have looked like if I had just turned to Daniel and asked, "Babe, could you hold her while I get ready for bed?" on a nightly basis early on. Or if I'd come up with a daddy/daughter hour once or twice a week when she was a few months old. Where would I be if I hadn't waited until she was over a year old to take a bath by myself or to close myself away for a bit to write without holding her in one arm?
I know I can't get that time back, and I don't think I want to because I in no way regret being there for every moment and milestone of her babyhood. But I am not proud of the number of freak outs she witnessed, whether she will remember them in the long run or not. I am not proud of the stress I carried with us as I carried her everywhere. I think I could have been a better, happier mama if I had figured out how to recharge when she was still fairly new.
So, to the selfless mama just a few steps behind me--you are doing it. You are keeping your little alive and sacrificing so much and I know, I know. The guilt is so heavy. But please know in order to continue keeping her alive, you have to stay alive, too. The more you lose yourself, the harder it will be to get yourself back.
There's no medal for being miserable, mama. Just hours of counseling and a numb face.