The One When You Regret Becoming a Mom
#15 The Momma Cusses Podcast - Transcription
Today's episode was brought to you in part by JoyWorks. As always, many thanks to our sponsors for their continued support. We need to thank The Fox Sisters for the use of their song Stuck on You as the intro and outro of this podcast. Scott Hines' Green Fields was also featured in this episode.
Our small business shout-out goes to NerdyMommas.com. Unique, hand-drawn designs on clothes for kids and adults. Plus they have a custom line of cloth diapers and reusable baby products.
Here's the transcript for the first portion of the episode. For more info about the back half of the episode where we chat with author Janet Lawless Christ, check out this post.
A man once told me a story that he attempted to text his sister about having her kids, his niblings, over for a visit. What he meant to type was: Do your rugrats want to come see Unkie Paul? But the autocorrect demon got him and what he actually sent was: Do your regrets want to come see Unkie Paul? He watched in horror as those three little dots scrolled and flickered.
His sister replied simply: Sure. This afternoon okay?
She must have read the text. And either she recognized the autocorrect. Or else there was a tiny part of her that acknowledged the title "Regret" might be a teeny-tiny bit correct for her offspring.
I remember a time in what feels like the extreme distant past when I was nominally cool. I went out with friends. Hell, I had friends. I dressed up because I felt like it. I had the energy to feel like it. I took sleep for granted. I still didn't get any, but that was rather by choice. I had too much living to do. And then, I had kids. Well, a kid. But that was more than enough to ruin most things I had going for me.
Let's pause for a moment before we continue and add the standard boilerplate language. I love my kids. All of them. They are hard, they frustrate me endlessly, they are tiring, and they are greedy little bastards. But I will die for them. And for dumb reasons should the need arise. Don't think for one second that just because I complain about them, I won't scoop your eyeballs out with a spoon and feed them to you should you threaten them. It is the way of motherhood.
Here's the thing about having kids, before they are born or procured, there is this euphoria that overrides a parent-to-be's brain. You are swamped with all these hopes and dreams of baby snuggles. You watch endless baby giggle videos and sleepy babies dozing sweetly on YouTube. This idyllic version of parenting settles your nerves. This is true whether you waited through nine months of pregnancy or waded through nine miles of paperwork to adopt. It's all that waiting that does us in.
And then. We are responsible for tiny humans. It's our problem and joy, and the fuckers still refuse to provide a decent instruction manual when they send them home with us. We discover that for every baby snuggle we are granted, we get sixteen tiny fits of baby rage. Sure, it's cute as God's pinky when she dozes off, but you know damn well she is just gonna wake up in forty-five minutes to consume .05 of an ounce of food and spit up 3 ounces. (Yeah, that's not how math works, I know, but it's how baby stomachs work, I swear.)
It's harder than expected. It always is. Newborns are needy potatoes. Kinda cute, and everyone loves them, but there really isn't much you can do with them. They employ torture methods to get their way (sleep deprivation, emotional abuse), and when it comes right down to it, babies are incredibly boring for the first six months or so. It's why parents get over the top giddy and insist on showing you seventy-three pictures of their kid making the same blank expression because "This is her happy, and oh look how mad, and sleepy girl, and so frustrated." We have to find tiny moments of glee because this shit is fucking hard. We cling to anything that might make it feel like that euphoria we expected.
For many parents, once their kid comes home, they realize there is a lot more bullshit and actual shit involved in raising tiny humans. Deep in the thick of the fourth trimester, the first year, the toddler times, it can hit you. You miss your old life. You miss who you used to be and what you used to do. And inevitably, a single question creeps into your head and settles into a hole dug out by guilt:
Why did I even want kids?
Or worse, I regret having kids.
And it hits like a punch to the gut. Aren't you supposed to love everything about this tiny human you worked so hard for? Yeah, you do. But when you hear folks say, "Kids will change your life," most non-childed humans don't understand what that really entails.
Kids change everything. Literally. Fucking everything. You stop being you and become "your kid's mom." Your house gets rearranged. Gates and plug covers and breakable decor tucked away in the attack. Your home doesn't look like yours anymore. It looks like a goddamn daycare.
Your schedule gets changed and now revolves around feedings and naptimes. No, Shannon, I can't go grab a coffee with you. 10 am is smack in the middle of naptime, and I will murder a person before I screw with that. Your wardrobe is changed. Your diet is changed. Your social life, free time, sleep. It all feels like it is beyond your control. You are simply an underpaid servant to your child's whims, needs, and demands. If you are a birth giver, you also have hormones working against you. It feels like this is never going to change.
Welcome to the period of grieving your old life, your old self. In a moment in your life, everyone describes as a joyous blessing, the moment I understood true happiness, no one ever mentions that sometimes you've gotta grieve what was lost and the various "what if" paths suddenly stricken from your life's journey.
When my twins were born in 2018, I was beyond overjoyed. My husband and I had tried for four years and finally got not just a baby but two all at once. I spent those first two weeks deliriously happy. Babies that little sleep 20 hours a day, so new parents get this false sense of security that, while tired, it might not be so bad, having a baby. I definitely fell victim to that. But as they got older and insisted on being awake more, screaming more often than not, that regret, that dreaded questions crept into my head.
Why did I want this? Why did I stress myself over pee sticks and periods for four fucking years for this? This sucks. I'm tired, and this is never going to end. It's always going to be this shitty, and I don't want it. I had to quit my job, and there was still a hole in the budget we weren't sure how to fill. Everything was ruined, and I didn't know how to fix it. I was in the first stage of grief, and I didn't even know it. That overwhelming feeling of defeat and exhaustion was one part sleep deprivation and one part denial.
At my first post-c-section check-up, my OB armed me with one magical phrase. "Everything is different now. But you'll find your new normal soon enough." My new normal. It sounded stupid at the time. But I took that idea home. To find my new normal though, I first had to accept that my old normal was gone forever.
And to accept that, I had to let myself grieve. Gone were the days of just popping out to the shop for a treat. I couldn't just "run down" to anything without first loading two other humans and their associated gear. I let myself be angry about this. This was the second stage of grief. Kids complicate even the simplest actions, especially when they are little. It's frustrating. And it's okay to feel frustrated.
Technically, the third stage of grief is bargaining. But when you toss in a heaping helping of mom guilt in the mix, for a mom mourning the loss of her old life and her old self, the third stage looks more like empty promises for the future. When this fucker sleeps through the night, I'll start doing yoga in the mornings again. I miss that. Once I can get them to make it through a meal with more of it in their bellies than the floor, I'll start really buckling down on that meal planning and prep again. Eating on the fly is getting old. Once they're in school, once they can read, once they can drive...we make these imaginary deadlines for ourselves based on the growth and development of our children.
For me, this was the hardest stage of mom's grief to get over. And this is normally the part where the podcast host has some magical fix-all on how to jump this hurdle. Yeah. I don't. All I could do was really lean into my OBs advice. Find your new normal. And with kids, any semblance of normal never lasts long. Once you wrap your head around that, the constant adjustment of goals, needs, wants, desires - well, that really does get easier. You get better at being a mom the longer you do it.
The fourth stage of grief is depression. And man, is this one a bitch. You take all the struggles and woes of the previous three stages, mix them all together, and poof - you end up with a salty, bitter concoction that drains you of motivation and focus. This is where the "finding yourself" again part comes in. You are a new person with a tiny human who, whether it is apparent or not, thinks you are the center of the universe. You provide food, love, warmth, comfort, and more food. They need you as much as they want you.
But being all that for your spawn, you lose yourself. You used to be cool and do cool things. Now you are a bipedal cow, formula barista, stuff toter, and fry holder. Your college degree or career aspirations are laughing at you from afar. This one I do have an answer to, but you aren't going to like it. Your instinct is going to be to argue with me. Ready? The answer to handling this stage of grieving your old life is self-care. I'll wait while you prepare the standard arguments: I've heard them all. And they are all valid.
You don't have a support network.
There isn't enough time in the day.
If you waste energy on self-care, you don't have enough to just exist and keep the fucking children alive.
I know. I get it. I do. But I want you to start with one tiny thing. Maybe it's as big as putting on makeup. Or as small as changing your socks. One thing you feel you can incorporate into your day every single day for a week. Make it realistic. And make it ritualistic. When my littles were very, very little, I got dressed. Even if that looked like swapping one version of spit-up stained pajamas for another slightly less spit-up stained version of pajamas, I made the conscious decision to change clothes. It marked a new day.
After you've gone a week doing your thing, add one more tiny thing. Maybe it is a sip of coffee before you go get your caterwauling demon ninja up from bed. Maybe it's putting on a spritz of body spray. Maybe it's a pretty, lacy, makes you feel like a sexy bitch bra under that ratty t-shirt. But do it with purpose. Do it for you and no one else.
For each action you take that proves to yourself that you can care about you, you hammer back that fourth stage of mom grief. You remind yourself that you are still you. And your new normal begins to emerge.
The fifth stage of grief is acceptance. And for me, it happened very suddenly. My twins were born in August of 2018. And most of those first months are blurry hazes tainted with anger, depression, exhaustion, and confusion. Were it not for idyllic pictures in my camera roll; I'd have almost no positive feelings. Those were washed away and overshadowed by the grieving process for my old life.
But then came April 2019. I don't know what happened. But I looked up, and suddenly everything felt normal. I don't know if I'd just finished wading through the grief muck, but I'd found that new normal, and I hadn't even noticed it. My routines were in a constant ebb and flow, but the rhythm was predictable, at least. I could forecast more than the next 20 minutes of my life.
My self-care had grown to include make-up for fun, outings with the kids, and the regret of what I used to be, and what I'd lost had waned to just a memory of a different time. I was a new person, and I was kind of digging her.
Now, will your timeline be mine? No. Not likely. I can't say if my grief period for my old life was long or short because that intimates that there is a correct period for grief. Since there isn't, 8 months was just right for me. And I have to acknowledge my privilege of a solid support system, a rock of a husband, and the distinct lack of post-partum depression or anxiety dogging my every fucking step.
There may be or may have been a time when you regretted having kids. Please know you aren't alone. That doesn't make you a bad mom. That makes you a human who is grieving. That's okay. You're okay. Or at least, you will be.