“Are You A First Time Mom?”

I love the way this photo appears. It appears to have captured a sweet moment between mother and baby. In truth, R was scowling at me and I was feeling shaky, numb, and very afraid. | Caroline Jones Photography

When you’re pregnant, everyone mostly asks the same few questions:

When are you due?

Is it a boy or a girl?

Do you have a name?

People who are already parents also ask this question:

Are you a first time mom?

I make it a point now to not ask those first 3 questions. Partly because I don’t want to be so generic, or make the mother-to-be say the same things she has had to say over and over again through her pregnancy. What I tend to ask is, “How are you feeling?” Because pregnancy is such an overwhelming time, and there’s so much focus on the baby. I want the mother to know that how she is feeling is important to me.

I didn’t understand why people were asking if I was a first time mom. What did that matter? It didn’t quite fit in with the other 3 questions, because I noticed that only people who already had children would ask it.

A few months into motherhood, I understood.

As a first time mom-to-be, I was about to head into perhaps the most massive transition of my life. I was about to walk head-first into oncoming traffic, blindfolded and wearing noise-cancelling headphones. I get it now, and so I, too, ask this question now.

If they answer no, this isn’t their first baby, I relax. I think, ah, they’ve been through the transition already. They won’t be tackling the shock of motherhood. They’ve already been through that -AND!- they made the choice to have another baby. Good for them! I am in awe of their courage.

If they answer yes, I automatically, silently, wish for them the best possible experience — in delivery and in the postpartum period. I send as many positive vibes as I can. I avoid sharing with them any of my negative experiences (it is as if I don’t want to taint them with bad vibes!). Most importantly, I let them know that my door is always open anytime if they need anything or have any questions.

Of course I am no expert, but, my OCD nature has led me to do a lot of research about baby products and my love of reading has led me to lots of baby books. I tell them I am happy to share what I’ve learned or to be a sounding board for them. I want them to know that I am here, to support, if they ever need. I say this to people who are just acquaintances, even my husband’s colleagues who I’ve only met a few times. Because I feel a deep desire and duty to stand with my fellow mothers. Because I want to be the person that I, and my mother, never had but needed.

I felt so isolated in those early months of motherhood. I was constantly comparing myself to other mothers. I would calculate in my mind how much further along I was or they were, subconsciously setting a goal for myself that when I reached where they were, I would also be back in my pre-pregnancy clothes. Or quietly chastising myself if a mother with a younger baby seemed to be enjoying motherhood so much more than I was. I could never win with these comparisons, yet I couldn’t stop subjecting myself to them.

Social media made it all the worse. How easy it is to filter and edit a moment from your life — a moment that might not even really be true. The mom with freshly blown out hair and 5” heels in impossibly tight fitting clothes walking down the cobbled streets of Soho with her 8 week old. Immediately my mind would file back to when R was 8 weeks old. Had I even put on shoes other than Birkenstocks that I had widened the straps of for my bloated feet?

There was one image that I still cannot compute. A mom was in her enormous, fancy kitchen, baking something. Her few months old baby was sitting on the countertop watching her, smiling (of course). I wondered, how could that be possible? That baby is not totally stable on her own, and that mother is more than an arm’s length away from her. If the baby teetered, she would surely fall to the ground.

Even though I knew it was completely staged, I still kind of bought into it. I thought, I wasn’t that smiley, productive, or confident when R was that size.

As I took in these snapshots of other mothers’ lives, it mostly made me feel worse about myself. I could not even bring myself to choreograph a moment like that. When I look back at my posts from those days, they are few and far between, and many of them are of R having one of his epic meltdowns. Even then, I felt the need to stay honest. But sometimes the days and nights were too painfully raw to share at all.

What I realized, though, was that the more I was open about my painful, disappointing, and scary experiences in becoming a mother, the more other mothers quietly reached out to me to connect. Whether it was a mother with older children who had been through similar and come out the other side, or another mother also just starting out, I realized that there was much more we all wanted and needed to connect on than those filtered part-truths we were all scrolling through.

As nice as it would be to dust my hands of my postpartum darkness and re-enter a way of being that was prettier and simpler, I simply don’t feel like I can. For me, sharing the uninstagrammable moments feels more important and more urgently needed. So whether or not you are a first time mother, I hope you realize sooner than I did that you are not alone. Whether you’re still riding high on oxytocin or starting to succumb to the relentless responsibility of raising human(s), for better or worse it is all part of motherhood, and there are other mothers who have felt just as you are feeling. The more we share and connect, the more we will heal and the stronger we will get.

When we stop playing into the facade, and endeavor to act and exist from a more honest place, we feel better, and we give others the freedom and permission to do the same. And then instead of playing in this false world of impossible perfection, which has the ripple effect of building your own false ego, feeding your own false identity, and making other people feel shitty about their own lives, we would be more fully living in love, truth, and support of each other.

I am a mama, writer, yoga teacher, and mental health advocate.
More posts by Leah Kim.

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