It begins, appropriately enough, with pregnancy: the need to do everything — and I mean everything — to perfection. Drink enough water. Exercise, but not too much. Eat healthy foods, but watch out for ones that are dangerous. Get the nursery ready, but don’t over-exert yourself. “Sleep while you can,” but not on your back. Prepare as much as possible, but know that some things are out of your control.
That lack of control, that constant mystery, that’s what’s so difficult when striving to be as perfect as possible. You can have all the information, and yet, you don’t really know what’s happening inside your body, not until the baby is born and it’s all over.
But it’s not really all over, because a whole new layer begins.
We’ve come a long way since the Mad Men-era: the time when women and mothers were expected to maintain a spotless home while simultaneously raising cherub children — and with a smile and pearls to boot. And yet, there’s a quiet, almost silent, pressure that we still feel, the need to be perfect at every aspect of being a new mom.
For me, it started right in the hospital. Most hospitals encourage women to room-in with their babies, making the nursery almost obsolete. I was in a ton of pain after delivery, to the point where I couldn’t sit comfortably to hold Izzy for long stretches of time, leaving my husband to look after both of us. It was a physically exhausting experience on top of an emotionally exhausting one. The nurses, as frequent as they came, didn’t offer to give us a break. Instead, one of them even commented, “You’re still lying down?” not even 24 hours after I had given birth. Already, a day into my daughter’s life, I had failed at something.
In retrospect, I realize that this anecdote is a reflection on the nurse’s unkindness, not my ability as a mother. But at the time, it got under my skin. I saw other new moms walking the halls with their babies, dressed in cute, regular outfits. As for me, I hadn’t changed out of my hospital gown, and my hair hadn’t been brushed since before I went into labor.
We left the hospital with perhaps 15 minutes of “guidance” about breastfeeding — another area where new moms are pushed into perfection-overdrive. During the first few weeks of her life, I had no idea if I was “doing it right,” and spent hours googling what a proper latch looks and feels like. At one point, she developed reflux, and would cry and arch her back every time she nursed. What was supposed to be a bonding time between mother and baby was, clearly, torture. Her pediatrician advised that I pump and feed her with a bottle, and my days soon turned into a blur of constantly sitting with my pump, in between taking care of her. I was sleep deprived, in pain, and had absolutely no time to myself. A small, nagging voice in the back of my mind asked, “What about switching to formula?” But every doctor I encountered during my pregnancy, labor, and delivery pushed exclusive breastfeeding as the best option, and I felt guilty for even thinking about giving her formula. What I really needed was for someone to tell me it was OK to do just that.
Even though we’re past those experiences and Izzy is nursing like a champ these days, I’m still finding that motherhood is a roller coaster of feeling victorious one moment and feeling like a failure the next. Today, I took Izzy to Target and we got caught in the rain on the way out. She was cheerful and smiling the entire time, despite getting wet during the dash to the car. As I drove home with her playing in her carseat, I felt good, like I could actually do this.
But an hour later, it was time for her second nap of the day, and she screamed the entire time I was trying to put her down — for at least thirty minutes, if not more. I rocked her gently, sang to her, offered her her favorite pacifier, but nothing I did worked. I think she finally just tired herself out and went to sleep, but I left her room wondering: Why can’t I do this better? The successful Target outing had already left my memory.
In between all of this, I look around my apartment and can think of ten thousand things I should be doing. I should fold the laundry that’s in the dryer. I should clean up the kitchen. I should go through my closet and compile clothes to donate. I should work on my invoices. I should finish up some assignments that are due this week. I should, I should, I should.
I think all of this would be easier if we all — new and “old” moms alike — just admitted that none of us fully have it figured out, and that’s OK. If we admitted that, despite what we show on social media, or despite what we say when talking to an acquaintance, that victories are always coupled with failures. Somehow, it might make it easier to deal with the quiet, little voice that asks for perfection if we knew that no one had ever quite gotten there.
So, I’ll start: I’m not perfect. I never will be. Hopefully whatever I am will be enough.
Featured Image: Courtesy of Unsplash