I became a mother at age 35, which here in the Middle East is considered relatively old, though more and more women are now getting married here and making a family in their late twenties-early thirties. I was married for ten years prior to that and while I enjoyed traveling, going out, working, and in general, my freedom (all things that I would not be doing for a long time after giving birth to J), I felt at age 35 that I had matured enough to become a parent and ready for all the responsibilities and commitment that go along with it (how ignorant and arrogant that statement seems to me today…). In a culture and society that are very family-centered, your worth as a woman here is very much dependent on whether you have kids or not. So the pressure is on the moment you get married.
I remember thinking I had it all figured out. My baby would never act out in a restaurant or in other peoples houses, moms who didn’t have time for anything but their kids seemed to me as just lacking good organization skills, babies who lacked the capability of falling asleep alone in their beds were, as I thought, just too spoiled. The list goes on and on. Judgments made by me towards moms I’d see around me that I thought to be true, while in reality I was completely ignorant and clueless about everything.
It took me time to get real with myself. The days after J was born were a complete shock to my system. The endless crying. The reflux. The colic. The never-ending routine of changing diapers-warming a bottle-feeding-burping-putting to sleep and then having about a half an hour to eat something before it starts all over again. The tension building up between me and everyone around me because of my serious sleep deprivation. The breastfeeding that I was struggling with and wasn’t going well. The messy house that I never had the energy to clean anymore, the sink that would be overloaded with dishes for days on end. The fact that nobody told me that only in six months is when I’d start to get any sort of real feedback from my baby because apparently newborns don’t do much other than sleep, eat and cry. The constant worry and uncertainty about everything – is he cold? Is he too hot? Is he hungry? Is he tired? Is he putting on enough weight? Is he putting on too much weight? I remember hearing phantom baby cries all the time, disrupting my much-needed sleep even on the rare occasions when J was sleeping soundly. Sleeping each night while holding J in my arms because that’s the only way he’d stop crying and I could finally sleep (if you call that sleeping).
And the guilt….oh, the guilt. The thoughts about how I’m a terrible mom because my son wont stop crying and I can’t figure out why. How he deserves so much better than me. Watching hubby get up in the morning all dressed up and smelling great after a shower ready to go to work while I’m sitting on the couch where I spent the night with J, postpartum and still bleeding, wearing pajamas that have been on me for three days straight because it was a choice between showering and sleeping. And the constant pressure from my well meaning friends and family who kept on telling me that “kids are a blessing” as the saying goes, and “Congratulations, you’re a mom now, this is what you wanted!”. Everything revolved around J. Nobody wants to hear that you’re feeling helpless and alone when you’ve just given birth and started a family, which is ideally what “we’re all supposed to want to be doing”.
I didn’t sink to postpartum depression just because I had my mom close by to support me. Even though I’ve always kept a close relationship with my mom, I only really understood how valuable she is to me the day she realized how helpless and alone I was feeling and stepped forward with all that she had to help me out. Coming over daily, cooking for me, cleaning for me, drying my tears and my baby’s tears simultaneously. Holding J in one arm to help him relieve his colic while hugging me tight with her other arm and whispering, “you’ll get through this. It’s temporary, my love. I’m here and I’ll always be here, just as I always was”. She was my lifeline at that time. Raising a baby has been an eye opener on so many levels, but the main thing has been gaining such a deep appreciation for mothers everywhere who feed, clean, wash and take care of their babies out of some deep primal sense of responsibility and love for the life that grew inside them (or for the life they chose to adopt and mother), without any appreciation from society, all the while enduring endless hardships. And it’s made me feel so much appreciation and gratitude and love for my own mother that I would never have known if I hadn’t become a mother myself.
I know that other new moms aren’t as lucky as I am. Many are battling postpartum depression silently because of the taboo around it and the feelings of shame and guilt associated with it. To be honest, I feel like every mom goes through some kind of version of it. It’s inevitable. The way we are raised and live our lives prior to being parents makes us expect a totally different reality of parenthood than what it actually is. And the gap between our expectations and what is actually happening is so wide that few can make the jump without getting hurt along the way. Questions like what will be the baby’s sex, how will you name your baby, or what color theme you want your nursery to be — these are all, pardon me, bullshit. What society should be asking is, “does the soon-to-be-mom have a support system ready for when the time comes?”, “Who is making sure that mom is eating and getting enough sleep?”, and “How can we help?” Having my mom by my side was what got me back on track and today, a year and nine months later, my bond with my baby is stronger than ever and the feelings of capability and confidence that I have as a mom to my kid are completely unruffled. I’ve come a long way. But it wasn’t easy. And what I’ve learned is that compassion is key. Compassion for all moms. Those who breastfeed and those who don’t. Those who stay at home and those who work outside. Those who yell and those who seem to have it all under control. Those whose kids have meltdowns in supermarkets and those whose kids seem to be super calm and relaxed (trust me, they aren’t like that all the time). No judgments, only compassion. We are all doing our best. And on the bad days, sometimes just showing up for our job is enough.