I squeeze the baby tight against me. I close my eyes, willing the tears to go away. I listen to the soft creaking of the rocking chair in the darkness of the moonlit nursery. I feel like I barely see the baby some work days and her infancy seems to be slipping by me. I just yearn for her small body to curl around mine and her to snuggle her head under my chin with the feel of her hair tickling my nose. These moments are so fleeting.

As much as I enjoy the quiet moment with my sleeping baby, it was here that I came to the realization of where my own doubts were taking me. They had taken on a life of their own. It was if they were another woman standing there in the corner, always in the shadows with her eyes piercing right through my skin to the core of my being.

Sometimes she would be there when I stayed late at work, finishing something for either work or personal that I couldn’t get done once I get home because I’m too busy with taking care of the house and the girls.  She sees me when I’m tired and short on patience with the baby and her sister. She hears me when I think how much more difficult one daughter is than the other.  She sees me when I’m too distracted and don’t interact with the girls the way I should. She hears me when I wonder if I made the right choices; if I’m doing the right things. I cannot escape her. She always seems to be lurking there in the shadows. She follows me with her haunting stare that speaks loudly of her judgments, her criticism, and her doubt.

She judges me as a mother, as a wife, as an employee, as a daughter and sister, in every role I try so hard to balance. She criticizes how I feel, how I react, how I handle it all. But the worst is that she doubts me. She doubts that I can do this; she doubts that I can be a good mother with all the other hats I’ve chosen to wear.

I kiss the baby on the head. I squeeze her tight one more time before tiptoeing to her crib. I gently lay her down, brushing the curls off her forehead. She gives me a sleepy little smile but she doesn’t wake. I softly close the door behind me before heading into my room where I see her four year old sister sound asleep in the middle of my bed.

Again it is as if that judging woman I imagine there is shaking her head at me. Why don’t I put my foot down and make my daughter go to sleep in her room? Why do allow her night after night to sleep the whole night in bed with us? She’s judging that I’m weak, that I don’t have discipline when it comes to my children. She doesn’t understand that I just want to hold her close, that cuddling with my daughter at night eases my guilt.

 I kiss my older daughter on the forehead before heading into the bathroom to get myself ready for bed to do the whole exhausting working momma gig over again the next day. As I stare into the mirror, I face her, myself, the woman with all the harsh judgments and criticisms. It isn’t the mother next to me, across from me, behind me, in front of me; it’s not my coworker, my friend, my mother, or my sister doubting or judging me. I am my biggest judge, the one who doubts my capabilities the most, and the one who creates my own guilt.

I’m not sure when I started to notice that it was all consuming me. My life as a working mother was like a dark abyss swallowing me whole. This wasn’t what I envisioned. I was the one everyone looked at and thought had it all together despite the occasional humorous chaos that came with having two small children. I had always been so independent and determined to do things on my own since I was old enough to talk and assert my own way. Why was I struggling? Why did it seem so hard?

But somewhere before my second daughter’s first birthday I lost myself and here I was months later trying to find my way out. The worst part was I just wanted to bury my head in the sand. But I had never been a quitter; I was the one everyone always counted on. Why was I so overwhelmed lately? I had been a working mom for four years. I had life so good. What did I have to be stressed out about, to whine about, to feel the need to pity myself?  I resented myself for finding it so hard suddenly to balance it all.

I felt inadequate in everything I did whether it was in my role as a wife, teacher, mother, friend, daughter, or sister. No one ever came right out and told me I wasn’t doing a good job in those roles. The judgments, pressure, and expectations were coming from no one but myself. I hated my job, I was fighting with my husband more than I was getting along with him, I stared at my new house I should have loved with an unfamiliar sense of resentment, I felt guilty for the times I was short and impatient with my daughters or the lack of time I spent with them. The pressure of buying a new house, the financial obligations that came with making the transition happen, my worst year of teaching in ten years, the demands of two small children at home, and the stress of it all on my marriage was slowly tearing me down over the course of months. I hated myself for feeling beat down. I had so much to be thankful for, and I hated myself for this weakness of feeling stressed by it all.

Was I depressed? Maybe. I think I just let myself get swallowed up in unrealistic expectations. I was one woman, not superwoman. I let some perfected vision of illusion impair my ability to see the beauty in the imperfections of the realities that surrounded me. I was my harshest critic, my fiercest competitor, my biggest judge. Sure as mothers we all feel judged or criticized from time to time, but I came to realize the majority of it came from myself. I had become my own worst enemy.

Somewhere I had stepped over the line. A line of unrealistic expectations and accountability that I didn’t even know was there until I stepped over into the dark side of myself. As a mother of daughters I wanted them to see how as women they would be able to balance a family and a career. Being a good model to them was so important to me, but part of being a good model I had to learn was to set realistic expectations for myself and cut myself some slack. It was time to shove the mommy guilty in its place, back in the closest with all the other monsters that haunt our realities.