With the birth of my second child, I thought I knew it all–I really thought that because I had done this before, I was going to be fine.
But it wasn’t at all like going back and starting from the beginning. This time, mom guilt wasn’t about breastfeeding, it was about splitting my time between my two kids, my husband, and myself. I unexpectedly got hit with waves of sadness every time I went on social media that I stopped using it for eight months. My toddler entered a really challenging hitting phase and there were days when I felt like all I did was yell at him.
Instead of giving my body time and grace, I got sad and frustrated. Work-life balance wasn’t even on my radar, I was struggling with life-life balance. I didn’t know how to conceptualize the line between living for me versus living for my family. And I really struggled to be present. I constantly worried about what had not yet happened. Which just lead me to live and breathe in my own stress.
I gave it my all. And I forgot to give to myself.
That year I went to the ER four times–I had “couldn’t walk, couldn’t talk” stomach pains. The doctors kept attributing the aches to food poisoning. But to get food poisoning four times in seven months…something wasn’t right.
During one of my visits, my doctor asked me if I was stressed. I said, “No, not really.” She looked at me and politely asked me again. I paused and said, “A little, I guess.” And then she just let the silence settle and continued to kindly stare at me. Finally, I blurted, “Yes, yes I’m really stressed” and as I said it, I couldn’t help it…I started crying.
And then she did what I thought was the kindest thing she could have ever done, she sat down next to me and said: “Tell me about it”. And then she listened. She listened as I told her how much I was struggling to be back at work, how stressed I was trying to pick the “best” preschool for my son. I told her how I wasn’t connecting with my husband and how raising the second child was nothing at all like raising the first.
After a few minutes, she gave me one of those motherly smiles. The kind of smile that is tender and kind but poignantly says, ‘Have you put two and two together yet?’
To realize that all of the stress that I was carrying was directly correlated to my stomach pains—the fact that my body was physically breaking down from stress, that was a turning point for me. That was when I truly realized that I couldn’t care for anyone unless I took care of myself.
After a bit of time and a decent amount of counseling, I started taking time for me. Some days it was a walk alone. Other days it was baking. And some days it was just a long shower. I also sought something that would strengthen my body. I was raised to believe that a healthy heart starts with a healthy gut. So I went back to my roots, and as my mom had taught me, just as her mom had taught her—I turned to classic Chinese adaptogen herbs for nourishment.
The combination of the two worked. Not immediately, and certainly not without setbacks, but I almost emerged as a new person, and therefore as a new mom. With motherhood, perspective is half the battle and I felt like I was truly starting anew.
Mamas, we are dealing with some heavy things after birth. It’s okay to not be okay. But you need to find your way out. You aren’t helping anyone, least of all your family, by carrying the stress around with you. I know all you want is to be a “good” mom. I do, too. But trust me when I say that you already are and that the best moms take care of themselves, too.
It took the support of my family, mom friends, mom strangers, and a lot of google searches to realize motherhood isn’t once and done, even though that’s how society can make it feel. Describing motherhood as a journey is so overused it has little impact anymore, but make no mistake about it—motherhood is a journey. And like any venture you embark on, you need to make sure you are ready—mentally, emotionally and physically.