A Love Letter to New Mamas

Dear you,

I’ve been thinking a lot about you lately.

I’ve been thinking about how crazy our broken up lives are, all separate and sequestered behind our closed doors. I’ve been thinking about my first year as a mama, how isolated and confused I felt. And I’ve been thinking about you out there, alone behind your door.

The world you used to inhabit has fallen into pieces at your feet, like so many mismatched socks. The friends you used to spend days lazing in the sun with, plotting the overthrow of The Man or a hike in the mountains with equal fervor. The friends who now kindly tolerate the drastically downscaled walks, the baby fussing during potlucks, the constantly interrupted conversations. And then go back to their quiet, own homes and self-structured lives.

You try to explain what your life is like now. Why you feel so dragged out. But it always comes out like bitching.

You don’t mean to be bitching. About your tiny, beautiful unfurling flesh of flesh. If it’s difficult to explain how hard this new life has made your own, explaining the surge of devotion for it is all but impossible.

You search for a new friend. A mama. Someone who understands the caged feeling that strangles you daily, the guilt that crushes, the fury that lights in you sometimes like wildfire, and terrifies you no less. Someone who understands as well the spiking joy. The immeasurable sweetness of that tiny new soul birthed from your body, taking shape in the world. The quaking in your heart when she stares wide open into your eyes. The way her body yields to yours, trusts you entire.

Someone who understands the roller coaster that is your life.

But everyone else seems to be doing fine. The other moms have their shit together. They play with their kids, clean the house, make dinner, all with a smile. Don’t they? Or are you just recalling movie moms? I myself look back and try to count the moms I’ve actually known in my life, on a personal level.

Two.

Did they have babies when I knew them?

No.

You feel the rug ripping from under you, and wonder suddenly how you can be 30 years old and have no idea what babies or their mamas are like.

In your loneliness you look to the Wide World. You nurse your baby to sleep in your lap while staring into that glowing screen of possibility.

If real life is peopled by mamas who appear to be surviving so much better than you, the cyberworld is full of super-heroines. Blog after blog, written by cool, green mamas. They wake in the morning perky and fresh. They craft colorful happy things out of wool before the children wake up. They prepare healthful homemade breakfasts. They take their kids on walks in natural landscapes, which they photograph in macro. They sew their own cloth diapers. Make their own whole grain breads. That they never scream at their kids is a given. Never fight with their man about money. Never swear. Never forget their reusable cloth grocery bags.

These super-mamas are a curse and a blessing. You’re addicted to the fantasy they peddle. But, this is your first baby, you don’t know yet that it’s a fantasy. You think it’s just you that’s failing. Just you who screams at the baby at 2 AM to go the fuck to sleep. Just you who bread dough won’t rise for. Just you who can never for the life of you remember to bring the goddamned grocery bags.

I have three very important things to tell you, dear new mama.

1. It is fantasy. It’s a tale we blogstresses spin, for ourselves as much as anyone else. In the cyberworld you can choose your character. You can construct just the person you always wanted to be, and carefully photograph your proof. Anyone would want to show their best self to the world. To focus on the positive, turn toward their sweetness.
But the outcome of our selective presentation is that we all look to one another and see nothing like the tangled ball of dark threads inside our own secret heart. And the rift grows.
I call our bluffs! All of them! I speak brazenly for all bloggers, who carry closets full of everything. We are you. We try and fail daily, hourly. We are doing what we can with what we have.

2. The insanity eases. Motherhood is a slow stretching– of what you know to be true, of what you think yourself capable– and the beginning can be the most painful. No matter how much you think you might be drowning, you’ll be okay. You’ll make it. Babies grow. It will get easier.

3. Cut yourself some slack. A lot of slack. However much slack you need. If you are just now awakening to the green, DIY revolution in homemaking that I champion herein, cut yourself several extra fathoms. If you lived a passionately self-made life full of responsible action before, understand that you will slip– possibly all the way back down– for awhile. That’s okay. There’ll be time later to build or re-build. Babies need you so completely at first. Surrender yourself for now.

And in the meantime. Read all the inspiring, edited stories of mamas who kick ass. Enjoy them for what they are– a celebration of the good parts. Know that in private they fall short, several times a day. Just like you. They are discouraged and disillusioned and ravaged by guilt sometimes. They soar on the ecstasy of motherhood sometimes. They do it all with a smile. They say fuck the world from under the covers and order out pizza for dinner.

Their life is a roller coaster.

Our lives are a roller coaster.

Here’s your ticket.

47 thoughts on “A Love Letter to New Mamas

  1. Brava! I feel like such a failure sometimes looking at everyone’s perfect life. My child is now 4 and it is somewhat easier because she can now go visit friends. But as an unschooling mom, she looks to me to provide her entertainment and it’s hard to constantly tell her, no I have to do housework. She still needs me a lot, and it’s hard to get everything done. I consider it good if I have dinner on the table every night, laundry and dishes are kept moving and I get to vacuum once a week. Oh and if I get to read some books to her. Meanwhile the sheets of felt that I bought 2 months ago to make her cute playfood are just sitting around. I gotta cut myself slack ya know. My husband gets mad if I give her ramen noodles for lunch (albeit with veggies thrown in for health), I tell him honey, every meal can’t be a big production, 2 outa 3 ain’t bad. If you want to get anything done, that’s the way it is. Thanks for being honest about the fantasty of perfect mom blogs. Really great post.

    Julie

  2. Wow. I wish I had read something like this 5 years ago. Thank you for writing it. I still need to remind myself these things occasionally!

  3. well said! with my second on the way it’s nice to be reminded that “There’ll be time later to build or re-build. Babies need you so completely at first. Surrender yourself for now.” what a comfort. thank you!

  4. Thank you. Deep breaths. Number 2 is due in a month, and I’ve been trying really hard to let a little bit go- give the 2 year old cheese on toast and a banana for tea if he’s had a good lunch, ignore the state of the kitchen floor, and accept that I can lie on the sofa and read a book while he watches 20 minutes of tv, occasionally. It’s good enough for now, and pretty soon it’s going to be all I can manage, some days- best get used to loving me anyway!
    Phew!

    1. Man, I hate to admit it, but 20 minutes of tv for the 3yo is a good day.
      Good luck Sue in the last Long Haul month!

  5. Oh yes… even though we’ve never met… sometimes I do think you know me. I think that you write just for me. I spent the first 6 years of motherhood trying to overcome the feeling that I fail regularly. I have learned that cutting myself slack is EXACTLY like putting on my oxygen mask before helping the person next to me. I’ve taken classes, read countless books, trying to be a better parent… read about DYI, recycling (in the widest sense of the word), homesteading… and I can only do so much. There’s a huge gap between how I live and my ideals… and lately I’ve tried to see that gulf as more of an invitation and less of a condemnation. Thanks for writing this post.

    1. Jill, I LOVE the analogy of the oxygen masks. So, so true. Often, taking care of us IS taking care of them.
      Have you commented before under a different email address? Or were you just quietly lurking thinking I was writing just to you all this time?

      1. I have used another email address (a dot-edu address that isn’t terribly reliable)… I don’t comment a lot, but I check your blog almost every day… so many posts speak to me. I sometimes fantasize that we’d be friends if we lived near each other! ;) The finding friends thing has been so hard for me since having kids… and this post pretty much explained it. Thanks again!

      1. No, I’m in California… but if South London would have me able to meet a fellow CJ follower, then I sure wish I was! :)

  6. Ahh, I could have written that letter too, though nearly as well or as witty as you. I tried to explain to the ‘got their act together, lost the weight, make up & hair done, babies sleeping perfectly in their prams, finishing their morning tea at the trendy cafe in peace, AND def, not rushing off with screaming babe, dripping spilt coffee down pram, and hair flying in face’ new mothers in my Parents Group, that it’s hard, it’s overwhelming, it’s exhausting… funnily enough, they didn’t get it, or were not prepared to admit they got it!! Dang, I would have loved to rock up to said cafe, looking good, feeling good, enjoying idle chit chat about how cute baby is, but that would have required leaving said baby at home! I love my babies, my first born diva is still a diva, but I was a little traumatised by newbornhood!

    BTW, there’s a whole lot of reality going on over at my blog! I like nice photos and the-bright-side-life blog posts, but not afraid to tell it like it is, this blogger!!

    (CJ, you are one rockin’ real mama!)

    1. Oh Dixiebelle, I know you’re not all pretty pictures! That’s what keeps me coming back to your blog. The raw-ness you bring to it makes it personal and wonderful. I surely didn’t mean to discount us all sharing pretty pictures and good stories! That’s an essential part. But having the occasional ‘here’s the wobbly me too’ post, like you do, is what keeps everybody feeling okay about themselves.

  7. Oh, oh, my god. I’m putting up my hand as being the exact opposite of the new mama freaking out. Oh, no I’m not. I was the screamy shouty mama that dragged her 4yr old from a birthday party yesterday because she could NOT cope with the excited off-the-rails 4yr old, the screaming 16month old, the surf, and the 10,000 odd people looking at a tourist attraction. I mean, what sort of a misguided fuckwit has a birthday party at the fucking beach?!!! It was a 500metre walk to the toilet, there were people EVERYWHERE, no where to make a cup of coffee within 30mins and I was wrangling two kids who were keen on trying to drown themselves.

    So then came The PhoneCall. Couldn’t I have just relaxed a little more, let the big kid go with other people who didn’t know his name and were certain to not watch him properly in an area where he actually doesn’t know how to swim? I mean, what is wrong with me? Seriously, surrounded by these calm, floaty mama’s with kids that have the same personallity, I was nothing but a massive failure. Just ask them!

    So I applaude you Miss CJ, for your beautiful and well written letter, but I expand it to include us, the mama’s of bigger kids, who’re expected to keep the looks of the stars with personal trainers, the houses clean and tidy and the smiles covered up with thick lipstick while we talk fakely about things like tupperware and fucking lunches out that we can never actually attend, unless we want to spend the whole time chasing those kids around a completely inappropriate venue because some stupid dick with the need to ‘catch up’ chose it thinking of themselves and how surely a kid can sit still for a couple hours?

    Thanks again, and my god I wish you lived up the street from me!

    Kylie.

    1. Kylie,
      I miss you! I was wondering if you were even still reading. Good to hear your sassy voice again.
      I definitely considered addressing my letter to all mamas. We all grapple with the same issues, no matter how many kids or how old. But I chose to address it especially to new mamas because it’s all so particularly painful and confusing when the wound is fresh, if you know what I mean.
      I still dream of a trip to Oz someday…..

  8. Ahhhh someone writes a post JUST as I wanted to write. I am starting to get sick of all the lovely sweet wishy washy post I am reading and feeling the need to see some post of crap so I felt I wasn’t the only person feeling the crap. I know many people just write about the feel good stuff as that is what you want to celebrate and enjoy… Hey I do it! I am no writer so could not have written it like you have – good post.

  9. yes, yes! But I too was thinking can I still fit this group.?? I still feel this way 1.5 years later with #2 barrelling down (litterally) on me. Im still as awestruck and confused when i go out and see these pretty mammas with nice clothes and makeup and playdates lined up. It makes me want to cry. often. and I do.

    but im hoping it gets better (though im thinking that here its gonna get worse before it gets better.) I OFTEN have to remind myself that these nicey blogs are great inspiration but often set me up for unreal expectations and are no better than in the days of when i had and watched a tv as a teen.

    Sometimes the computer calls to me and i slam it shut and have to look away, go outside…

    its hard not to fall into blog-la land

    Its unfortunate for mammas to feel so alone (as i do) when there are so many of us out here (in cyberspace) seemingly like minded and looking for someone to hang out with!

    its your honesty CJ, that keeps us coming back for more

    thanks for keeping it real and writing to my heart once again

  10. and this is why i read you soooo devotedly… your wondrous, eloquent, %$@#!, way of sharing the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Yay for you. Three cheers for you. Hip, hip, hip who bloomion’ RAY!!!

    (I feel better now. The aweful fact of having exploded at little Miss 4 not once but TWICE in one day, whilst not less aweful , is now a little more understandable. THank you. Love ya!)

  11. You bloody rock lady!
    I was lucky enough to meet another honest new mama soon after I became one – her mantra was “the best way to help new parents is to invite them around to your house when it IS a pigsty.” Let em know how it is. I still do it. The other day I had a new-ish mother breaking down and saying “I can’t even get dinner on the table, you’ve got two and you do it!”Ummm – no!! I had to remind her that we invited her and her man around for dinner before they had a baby and served them baked beans on toast!!!
    Beautiful letter bella.

    1. Oh, I am SO serving baked beans on toast next time we have people round- that’s awesome! And they happen to be new parents as well, perfect- thanks, Leigh!

  12. I wish I’d had this to read 16 months ago! What a gift you are giving new mums with this post. I hope they find it.

    As for the perfect blog world, have been grappling with exactly the same issue over the last little while. How much easier it is to show the beautiful and not the broken. I am finding, though, that I gravitate more and more towards the blogs that try to show the balancing act between the two.

    And while I’m here… I also wrote a couple of posts inspired by Jong’s terrible article. If you wanted to check them out the first one is at: http://furrybees.blogspot.com/2010/11/mother-part-one.html I reference your blog in it.

    1. Great post , Emma! Y’all should check these out, whether you agreed with what I said or not, Emma brings up a completely different but so pertinent point about advice unspokenly insinuating moral views.
      You wrote that in a flurry before bed? I hope that’s a lie. I worked on my post for days…. And I don’t think it was any more comprehensible for it.

      1. Thanks for the support. I did write it before bed (but not in a flurry – it still took hours) and then I spoke in words of one syllable all the next day ;-)

  13. One of your best yet, and that’s saying something. Particularly good for me to read this morning, as I was singing the “shut the fuck up” lullaby to my screaming son last night.

    I remember my husband looking at me seriously just after lil man was born and saying: “it’s okay if we buy paper plates.” I was having a total green-freak-guilt-out about it. Jesus. I’m totally with you: sometimes just surviving is a noble fight.

  14. Absolutely true and the more that people try to be perfect and dont talk about it, the more people hide.
    To the first reply…..”I feel like such a failure sometimes looking at everyone’s perfect life.”….Just remember that NO-ONES life is perfect. Its just a persona that they give.

  15. oh yeh – go the non-shiny mum at our place too !
    i do wonder who is the victim in a shiny house ?

    wish i’d discovered blogs when i first started prodginating – sure never fit the perfect family model – still don’t.

    Love seeing posts like yours that say it is normal to be not so perfect – after all we aren’t given a baby and then ourselves put in a shoebox under the bed as we adopt the 100% nurturing role. Also dig the way so many not shiny mums have dibsed in to say “here, here !”

  16. Hey!

    Just discovered your blog via Lucy.

    You have totally nailed it here. I love you! Well done for saying it like it is!

    I love the lets-just-drop-the-bullshit-and-say-it-like-it-is stance you are taking. I am learning so so much from the blogs I’m reading at the moment and its really comforting to hear other people say how I feel.

    We mamas are human, we get cranky, we get tired, life throws shit at us, we fuck things up from time to time. We underperform some days and feel blue for not doing it like the lovely lovely book said we should!(Whatever the lovely lovely book is, insert your own title here….) And although we would rather die than admit it, we do compare ourselves with friends and other mamas, and there is a bit of competition going on, which is NOT helpful at all, but how else do we know how we are doing? We learn from ours and our friends mistakes, and try to avoid repeating them.

    I think we all succumb to sometimes feeling that every other mother is doing better than you, and we all need to hold a hand out to each other more often and judge a whole lot less. When you feel down its easy to pick on the faults of other mummies to make yourself feel better, and to be negative about how they handled this or that. It’s such a waste of time and energy! Self acceptance and forgiveness is the biggest hurdle for new mummies, I reckon. Once we can get over the fact we aren’t perfect, and nor is anyone else, it makes motherhood less anxious and more relaxed.

    I am just starting out on my own writing career and have had a few articles published so far, all on the topics of education and child-raising. Reading stuff like this and Lucy’s (dreaming aloud) is a reminder to keep it 100% real and not stray into fantasy writing.

    Thank you for your honesty mama! Very inspired. I will be following your blog with interest. I so shouldn’t because I probably ought to be doing something more ‘productive’ but I suspect I won’t be able to resist.

    Best wishes,
    Paula x

  17. thank you. iv’e posted this on FB and had can hear the audible siigggghhh in all the comments from moms that follow.

  18. thankyou CJ, that is exactly what I need to hear right now – just put my first little one into nursery and am feeling the guilts all the time trying to juggle this and that. Crying baby now, so I’m off, but cheers for the great post!

    Nancy

  19. Just a note as to why mothers are feeling isolated and alone with no support and an overwhelming feeling of being unable to cope. This stems from society as a whole – the modern culture ensures that our lives are almost anti-social and lived in virtual isolation from one another. Further, the pace of life does not allow us the luxury of free-time to spend with friends/family when work is all consuming and making ends meet is a struggle
    The old African proverb ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ is no less true in this day and age. In the past women had support and many resources in dealing with motherhood. They often lived with relatives or had relatives living nearby who were around much of the time and would provide that bit of relief when babies/children became overwhelming.
    Further, the past experiences of older women was invaluable in helping new mothers gain confidence in themselves and keep a level of sanity as well as providing companionship.
    Nowadays, even if you are lucky enough to have friends/relatives nearby that is no guarantee they have the time to devote to anything other than their ultra-busy schedules. People have become self-centred, generally not unhelpful but too busy to think of anything other than their immediate wants and needs.
    The slow food movement has hit but now what we need is the slow life movement – research has shown time and again that hectic lifestyles are fundamentally damaging for the health and wellbeing of people. These lifestyles are now becoming the norm and are reflected in every facet of our lives and our society.

    1. I know this is late but I couldn’t agree more and wish I had this to read 18 years ago when my first was born! New moms need this honesty.

  20. This piece blew my mind. I was just reaching for the second “therapy beer” of the evening when a friend posted it on Facebook. Now I don’t need one… a good cry was much more relaxing. Thank you! I am sharing this with all of my new mama friends.

  21. I’ve just discovered this now, almost a year later, but arriving at the party late doesn’t make it any less fun – I loved this article! Echoing a few of the other posters, I really wish I’d read something like this before I had my first baby. You read the pregnancy books religiously but knowing what fruit your baby is the same size as doesn’t do much to prepare you for motherhood. In all honesty though, five years and three children later I’m still exactly the person you described, striving to give my family the perfect life whilst struggling to manage to shower or brush my own hair each day. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t going to keep striving, but it helps to know that I’m not the only one finding it an uphill struggle…

  22. I’m with smallmole. I just found this article and althought my kids are now in school it’s still just as valid. I’ve been finding something a little “off” lately with the whole blogsphere and this is it. There’s a whole lot of sanctimonious bullshit glossing over the crapiness that daily life can be. It’s time to get real.

    Sometimes it run smoothly, the preparing, cooking and cleaning goes smoothly and you feel great. But some days it’s crap and you get take away. Sometimes the meal you cooked doesn’t taste good. You might wake up feeling crappy and not recover all day. The kids have a tough day at school. That’s life. Do the best you can and when it’s not that good, order in. :)

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