(Disclaimer: This was originally posted on Medium in October 2018.)
I read a wonderfully informative and compassionate book about postpartum depression called This Isn’t What I Expected by Karen Kleiman and Valerie Davis Raskin. I’m not sure that I could have processed it while I was going through my darkest days, but to sit with it in hindsight has been soothing and eye-opening.
The following list-writing exercise is from this book. The first list holds all the expectations you had about all things motherhood. It is to be written in third person, as it describes someone that never actually existed as you. The second list is to be written in first person and reflects your actual reality. The book’s authors explain, “It is the discrepancy between [the two] that is causing some of your pain.”
If you're realizing that motherhood is not what you expected it would be, I really recommend trying this exercise for yourself.
FICTION / FANTASY
- She will be a blissfully happy pregnant yogi mama-to-be, still doing her practice and looking amazing.
- She will have a perfectly natural water birth at the birthing centre, definitely NOT at the regular hospital. She won’t even need gas and air to manage the pain since she, as a longtime yogi, can breathe her way through anything.
- Her baby will obviously be a very cute, perfectly healthy little boy. (Actually in a perfect world, all the scans will have been wrong and she will give birth to a girl and have this magical “Omg it was a girl after all!” story to tell everyone.)
- She will be a natural at breastfeeding and look like a peaceful goddess with every feed. She would definitely EBF (Exclusively BreastFeed).
- She and her husband will effortlessly remain each others’ #1 priority like they said they would be before the baby was born, because they had decided that that was the secret to staying close after having a baby.
- Her body would bounce back in a couple months with hardly any effort, because she had been so fit and healthy before getting pregnant.
- She would be smiling a lot, unable to take her eyes off her baby.
- In a matter of days, she would be out on leisurely walks in the summertime sun with the baby in her carefully chosen Baby Jogger and her well-trained puppy Koopa.
9. It wouldn’t matter that she had no close friends or family nearby, as she would need no help. She was a capable, responsible, intelligent, independent woman and billions of other mothers before her had raised their own children just fine.
10. Being on maternity leave, she would have extra time to do all household duties. She would probably be bored with so much time.
11. She would always look effortlessly presentable, perhaps wearing a lot of long flowy dresses since it was a hot summer.
12. She would meet up regularly with other moms for park dates or coffee dates. They would all share their gripes and challenges but the overarching feeling would be how lucky they were to have their babies.
13. For some reason, she would be gliding everywhere. Like a fairy goddess in a beautiful forest.
14. She would be a really relaxed mom. She would take the baby along to whatever she needed to get done, and the baby would just follow suit. Babies loved to be in motion so he could just have his sleeps in the buggy.
15. She would never lose patience with her baby. Her mother was very hard on her and she would not do that to her own child.
16. She will intuitively know what she is doing. Mother’s Instinct will kick in big time. She will talk about this to other people humbly, laughingly saying, “I have no idea how I just know what to do!”
17. She will always be able to soothe her baby. They will be bonded. Obviously.
18. The 3 (+puppy) of them will have so many photos together.
19. She is worried about how becoming a mother will impact her career, especially with Nike. But, she will be perceived as a cool mom that still teaches and travels and looks better than she did pre-pregnancy. She will become a role model in this new sphere and it will be more exciting than her work pre-motherhood.
20. She would sleep when the baby slept like everyone kept advising her to do.
21. Her baby would coo and watch her as she got back to her 90-minute (minimum) daily yoga practice.
- I hated being pregnant. I felt fat and out of shape and tried to hide my belly as much as possible, even once it was totally obvious that I was pregnant. I was nauseous and low energy and I hardly practiced. In the last few months, my pelvic floor felt like it was ripping open.
- My water broke, but contractions never started. I was induced, but I wanted to avoid the epidural to maintain some semblance of control. I ended up having to wait in excruciating pain for 2 hours for an anesthesiologist to be ready. Manual intervention and forceps did not work, so I had an emergency cesarian. My scar is crooked and still sensitive. I did resist gas and air, and I did not scream or swear. I am proud of this. But, generally, I feel like a failure and I am ashamed about R’s birth.
- It was indeed a boy, and he looked like a two-headed amoeba blob pirate. He was whisked away to NICU in the first few hours and subjected to many tests, two of which could have paralyzed him.
- Breastfeeding SUCKED. I wasn’t producing enough milk so he was given formula from day 4 or 5 at the hospital. I succumbed to regularly mix-feeding a month in.
- Suffice it to say, parenthood has been incredibly challenging on our marriage.
- R is now four years old and I think I might be in the worst shape of my life.
- I hardly smiled. I don’t think I cried as much as I was irritated, angry, and anxious. Crying would have provided a necessary release.
- I could only walk by shuffling my feet because of the c-section. It was the most pain I’ve ever had. The buggy didn’t arrive for 7 weeks because it ended up being backordered. Koopa became the most aggressive dog I’ve ever had (except, thankfully, to the 3 of us).
- I could not handle it on my own. Pamela, our short-term maternity night nurse, and our babysitter Mariya were my lifesavers. They were also my stand-in mother figures.
- I could not keep up with laundry. G’s mum would do some when she came, and she accidentally shrunk some of G’s favorite shirts. Mariya accidentally shrunk R’s first ever Uggs and a Petite Bateau sweater that I LOVED. These had been gifts from two of my best friends back home in California so they held special meaning. I felt guilty because had I managed to do the laundry, it wouldn’t have happened. I did manage to do the dishes as that’s always been calming for me. I think now that the running water may have been soothing for R too.
- I could never remember if I had brushed my teeth or not. Forget about showering daily. I think I only changed clothes every 3 days. One of the first days I had managed to venture out and feel kind of good about myself, I caught my reflection in a window and saw spit up all down the back of my leg.
- I did meet up with other moms — women from G’s office. A neighbor. The wives of G’s friends. My sisters-in-law. Even a totally new friend that I met on Twitter which was random but so wonderful at the time. All these women were a lifeline. But I desperately missed my best friends back home and I was constantly on my phone texting them.
- I already mentioned the shuffling around. I also walked around anxiously if I was holding or wearing R, afraid I would drop him.
- I became obsessive about the sleep routine once our night nurse got him on a schedule. It was the one thing that felt in control. R was always asleep in his own bed for nighttime and the first 2 naps. Only the late afternoon nap was he allowed to be sleeping in buggy / Ergo.
- I think you have to have patience in order to lose it.
- I had no idea what I was doing. I read so much conflicting information. Everyone gave me conflicting information. To this day if someone tells me they look up to me as a mom role model I guffaw out loud because there’s no way.
- I had no idea what his cries meant. We didn’t “bond” until he was about 3 years old.
- The 4 of us have just 1 photo together.
- I am still figuring out my career.
- I was loathe to sleep when the baby slept because that was the only time I could feel like myself for a blip.
- I sometimes squeezed in a quick yoga stretch when he was asleep. I often practiced in his room while he was sleeping but I am not sure why I did that. I think maybe to shush him back to sleep quickly if he stirred, so as to keep him on schedule.
I was shocked to see the devastating disparity between my expectations and my reality, between my romanticized self as mother and the reality of myself as mother. Before doing this exercise, I didn’t think I was going to have much to write regarding my fantasies about motherhood. I thought I had been so easygoing about it all. To now understand that I did, in fact, have many expectations and that my reality was so far from those expectations, helps me to have compassion for myself. There was so much that was deeply disappointing, and the fact that I was so disconnected to that disappointment surely contributed to my ensuing depression.
It has been an important part of my healing process to acknowledge that yes, indeed, this hasn’t been what I expected. And over time, I have (mostly) come to accept my reality, my truth, in all its messiness and imperfection.