This article is part of the Here. Now. essay series, which seeks to de-stigmatize mental health treatment, and improve accessibility to treatment and support for teens and parents in metropolitan New York.
There are some women that have that pregnancy glow. Their skin radiates and their smile dazzles the room. It’s like millions of years of biology led them to this moment and they are here for it.
I was not one of those women. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have survived cave women days as a pregnant person.
My pregnancy was very rough from the pee stick on. I had morning sickness the first week I knew I was pregnant until the day my water broke. I lost weight during most of my pregnancy, and that isn’t a humble-brag. My skin was sallow and my eyes looked glassy. I was like an extra in the “Walking Dead,” but instead of the zombie virus, a tiny human was sucking the life out of me.
Through it all, I had to maintain a daily three-hour round-trip commute. I once got violently ill mid-drive. I pulled over and called my husband. I’m not sure what I thought he could do from 15 miles away, but he talked me down until I could drive again. Then he cleaned my car when I got home. He’s a keeper.
I started getting depressed about mid-way through the pregnancy when I realized the morning sickness (which did not necessarily happen in the “morning”… side note, that term must have been invented by a man to convince women it wasn’t that bad) was not going to go away. As I prepped for the baby, I didn’t have the joy I had been expecting. I wasn’t nesting, and I wasn’t feeling maternal at all.
Instead, I had this desperate sense of fear. I couldn’t go shopping, or to the movies, or to dinner with friends, without fear of getting sick—things I wanted to do before the baby came and my life inevitably changed forever. I had to be strategic in work meetings about where I sat in case I got suddenly ill. The only TV show I wanted to watch was “The Hills” for some reason. The series had ended its run and I had never seen “Laguna Beach” before, but somehow I found myself obsessed with Lauren Conrad and co. I binged it in bed for hours and it was the only thing that did not make me queasy. I guess I should thank Heidi and Spencer for something.
I complained a lot. If you think this sounds whiny, just imagine what I sounded like while in the trenches. My partner really stayed strong for me, even as I turned all “Rosemary’s Baby” on him. I felt like my body was rejecting pregnancy, and in addition to feeling miserable, I lived in constant fear of something going wrong. What if I lose the baby?
At 35 weeks, the baby gave my uterus her notice. It was a day like any other. I woke up, threw up, went to work, threw up, drove home, ate dinner, and my water broke.
I instantly experienced a visceral, new feeling at the same time that inaugural contraction hit, a feeling I’ve since become uncomfortably familiar with—Mom Guilt. If only I hadn’t complained about wanting to be done with the pregnancy, maybe she wouldn’t have come early… If only I had eaten something other than cheese puffs and Doritos, maybe she wouldn’t have come early… if only.
The truth is, my daughter was and still is a force to be reckoned with, and if she wanted to come early, she was damn well going to come early. But at the time, I got hit hard with my very first Mom Guilt. If I had just shut up and suffered silently, maybe she wouldn’t be a preemie, right?
This certainly wasn’t my last dip in the Mom Guilt pond. Oh no, I’ve had plenty more. If I work too much, my kid won’t even recognize me and I’ll mess her up for life. But I have to work hard and get promoted, so my girl has a good female role model, right? If I go out with friends instead of watch “Frozen” with her for the 300th time, that must make me a bad mom, right? But, on the other hand, if I give everything to my child and lose my own identity, that can’t be good for her either.
There’s no winning at Mom Guilt. It’s going to hit fast and furious, and sometimes unexpectedly. I impulse bought a Frappuccino. But I should have spent that money on my daughter! What kind of monster am I?
My first experience with Mom Guilt came when my water broke. And my most recent bout certainly won’t be my last. All I can do now is accept that Mom Guilt is hardwired into me and try to recognize the more ridiculous forms it takes. I mean, I literally felt guilty about my body’s involuntary reaction to pregnancy, something I couldn’t control in the slightest. There are a myriad of forces shaping my child into the person she is going to be, and not every single move I make will necessarily scar her for life, or turn her into a model citizen for that matter.
For me, parenting and Mom Guilt are a package deal. I just have to endeavor to be a force for good in my daughter’s life, and hope the rest will work itself out.
This post is part of the Here.Now series, which seeks to destigmatize mental health,
and is made possible by UJA-Federation of New York and The Jewish Board.
You can find other educational mental health resources here.