Parenting

Why new moms feel stuck in ‘a glass case of emotion’

All my life I’ve been writing. It’s cathartic for me. When I had my second daughter, I struggled a bit. Heck, I struggled with the first one too – but that’s a post for a different day.

Anyone who tells you that motherhood is easy or natural, is lying. Those first few days, I was overcome with joy and yet I found myself trying to reconcile a new sense of self, a way of being everything to everyone else and still being me. I wrote a few essays in those early weeks, when sleep was rare and hormones were high. In other words, when I, and every other mom who’s come before me, feel as though they’re stuck in an actual “glass case of emotion.”

I hope to share a few of those essays on this blog, when I stop being so chicken and actually post them. This one is the first I wrote after my second daughter was born. I remember I felt out of place. Happy, of course, but still trying to figure out how to make it work.

2 kids, 3 weeks in

I watched them in their yoga pants, hands clutching their iced coffees and pushing identical strollers with sleeping Skys or Ainslees tucked inside and realized I was out of my league.

It was the first time I’d stumbled into tumble class with a 3-year-old and a 3-week-old. And though we all had the C-section scars or stretch marks to prove we belonged in the moms ‘club’, something about them made me feel like a fish out of water.

The entire drive I’d been congratulating myself that I had showered, dressed and had two semi-clean and dressed children in the car. I sleepily maneuvered the car into a spot and dug through my purse for the punch card I’d need to get in.

Never in my carefully orchestrated morning – that started an hour and a half earlier with getting everyone fed, dressed, brushed, dressed again once the first outfit was covered in spit up for one and juice for another – did I think to check for cash.

“Sh…”I started to say, but then realized I had a 3-year-old sponge in the backseat who LOVES new words to repeat.

No cash.

And my debit card would prove fruitless as I’d let that lapse in all my baby prep over the last few months.

Now I’d have to tell the toddler – who already felt as though her life was one big disappointment lately – that the class I’d promised her after a rainy week stuck inside, would have to wait.

And I’d bundled them up for nothing.

But wait.

What was that shredded piece of green folded into the size of a bandage and stuck -why is my the inside of my purse always sticky lately? – to the back of a credit card? Oh, thank all that is holy in motherdom. A lone $5 bill amid the detritus of broken mints and random change. We were saved.

But as I walked a skipping kid into tumble class, I realized I stood out like a sore thumb.

There were the caffeinated yoga moms. There were the grandmas adorably cooing over their little grandbabies as the older charges teetered across the mats. There were the expectant moms, glowing with their shirts stretched over little bumps and keeping a watchful eye on a wandering toddler. And then there was me.

Dressed in maternity jeans and a baggy nursing top, hiding what looked like a bump but was just leftover fat that had yet to leave my middle, cradling a sleeping infant and trying to whisper-yell across the room for my wayward kid to stop throwing balls at the little kids.

The moms paired off in clusters, sharing gossip, complimenting outfits and talking about play groups and preschools.

Others checked out entirely, lost in their smartphones, and figuring the one adult assigned to the 20-plus kids in tumble time probably “had this.”

I lowered myself to the balance beam, determined not to be a helicopter parent. (Spoiler: I so am.) I cradled my baby in the crook of one arm, and propped my other arm on my thigh to hold my tired head up.

My toddler beamed at me across the room, yelling that she’d let someone else take a turn on the castle she’d been monopolizing since we got there. It was an amazing feeling to know that for 50 minutes I would not be the sole source of entertainment for her.

Somehow amid the kids’ yells and laughter – and despite the rock bard beam under my butt that was in no way helping my recovery – my eyelids closed.

“Just resting my eyes,” my subconscious voice dreamily said. I awoke a few minutes later and hastily wiped the puddle of my drool off my baby’s forehead.

I searched the room for my kid. Thank goodness. She was only about 20 yards away, about to push another child off the trampoline. Whew.

I glanced around to see if the other moms had caught my snooze, but no one glanced my way.

The yoga moms and pregos tittered away and the grandmas rolled balls to their tots.

It was then that I realized I was slowly becoming invisible.

There was something about those yoga moms that made me envious and nauseous all at once.

Whereas all I felt was bedraggled and drained and probably looked as awful as I felt, they had a certain vibrancy about them. Their clothes fit them. They didn’t look like a sweaty, frizzy pudgeball going through an awkward pubescent phase. They had all their hair in one ponytail – not chunks hanging out because the baby likes to cling to one handful as she falls asleep.

They looked happy. They held conversations with real people. They drank caffeine, not worrying whether it would taint their breast milk and make the early evening hours unbearable.

It wasn’t just my appearance or my untamed hair. My whole being had been zapped, drained of energy, of conversation and light. Simultaneously, I had two urges – to be part of their conversations and at the same time, by myself in a dark corner to sleep.

When does that exuberancy come back? When do you start to separate the days from nights again – and to not feel like your time is divided into the tiniest of increments – awake, asleep, breastfeeding, burping, changing, baths, one-on-one time, tummy time, making meals, lunch, breakfast, dinner, sterilizing, rocking, swaying, dressing, changing, diapering? Oh yeah, and showering.

I read my daughter a Winnie the Pooh story about how Tigger needs to take a nap every day so he can get his bounce back.

It doesn’t resonate with her, because she has been trying to get out of napping ever since her sister was born. She thinks naps are the WORST. But the message comes back to me in that moment.

I need to get my bounce back. Good gosh, I need it back.

Now just where exactly did I lose it?

To any new moms out there, maybe you’re feeling this way yourself some days, or know another mom who is. I’m happy to report that it’s only temporary. That the sleepless nights fade quickly, the energy comes back, and the aversion to caffeine is short-lived (thank goodness!) And those yoga moms I envied? They are quick to admit that they felt the exact same way after having kids. Their yoga clothes? The only way they can fit in time to take care of themselves while running around the kiddos. Their iced coffees? It’s because they’ve dumped the hot coffee they made for themselves at breakfast – untouched and cold because they were handling the melee that is feeding time at the zoo – over ice and are just enjoying it at 10 a.m. (The kids were up at 5.)

But the thing that helped me get my bounce back and really enjoy this time with my family more than anything else is having a really great support system. A husband who scoops up one, sometimes two girls, the minute he walks in the door. Grandparents who offer to babysit constantly. Aunts, uncles and friends ready to play pretend and enjoy the finest in Fisher Price cuisine to entertain their nieces. And finding mom friends who are honest, supportive and having the same “why won’t these kids nap?!” days as I am.

So give yourself a break … before you turn into Ron Burgundy, stuck in a “glass case of emotion.”

No, really. Take a break. Take someone up on their offer to bring you dinner. Ask for help those first few weeks. Strike up a conversation with another mom and chances are, she’ll need a chance to vent just as much as you do. And take a nap. You’ll get that bounce back before you know it.

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