On June 5th, I became a mom. When I envisioned what becoming a mom would look like over the 41 weeks I was pregnant, I daydreamed about the happy tears, the blissful euphoria, the quiet moments during a 3 A.M. feeding when I would lovingly gaze at my newborn feeling oh so blessed at *record scratch, voice over stops* oh wait, that’s not how this goes. On June 5th, I gave birth in a whirlwind of bodily fluids and Paradise by Coldplay on repeat. Seriously, we forgot to change the song and it played like 26 times in a row. It took me exactly 24 hours of being a parent to have my first breakdown. Me. The girl who prides herself on being a perfectionist and being overly prepared for any scenario...felt completely and utterly unprepared and ill-equipped to keep this tiny human alive. I had always envisioned myself as the PTA mom who cuts the crust off without even asking and can peel an apple with a butter knife in a single swoop. I wanted this so bad yet I couldn’t even handle the first day. My tears on night one had me flooded with a feeling of failure as I forfeited my usually cool, calm and collected demeanor and replaced it with pure panic. My nurse call button was my final lifeline and I had no choice but to use it. When a voice echoed through my hospital room asking if I needed anything, I found myself all but begging them to take my newborn child up to the nursery so I could get a few desperate hours of shuteye. Maybe I wasn’t so cut out for this whole “mom” gig.
I’m not used to not being good at things. That’s not to say that I am good at everything but I tend to stay in my lane, so to speak, a lane I know frontwards and backwards, up and down. I loved my baby but I didn’t love feeling like the world I knew, the world I had so carefully curated, had been put in a proverbial blender. I am writing this after coming out of some of the toughest days of my life. Scratch that, THE hardest days of my life. I started writing this while I was in it and it read much more as a eulogy than a blog post so I am glad I have hindsight to reflect on the dark tunnel that I feared lacked a light at the end. I have 20 days under my belt as a mom and I can semi-confidently confirm that I am going to make it in my new role...but I have learned A LOT about myself on this journey.
First of all, I want to make it clear that I am so incredibly grateful for our baby girl. If I was the kind of person who used the phrase “blessed” this is the time I would use it. But I don’t take myself seriously enough to adopt mantras like that. We made a human from scratch, accidentally. Elle Clayton Adler was conceived after too many mai tais at the Mauna Kea. Should that be my memoir title? “Mai Tais at the Mauna Kea: an autobiography” sounds like a New York Times bestseller, no? She has completely changed me for the better and has thrown my world off it’s axis and blah blah yadda yadda all the same things new moms write in their Instagram captions announcing they gave birth. She has done all those things. But she has also made me question every facet of myself, made me mourn my former life, made me fear my future life, and forced me to reconsider the idea that I was meant for motherhood.
After my first (of many) breakdowns night 1, I became familiar with an old friend: anxiety. Anxiety and I go way back. We once almost grounded a plane together after an in-flight panic attack nearly had me knocking on the cockpit to ask them to pull over. Shout out to the therapist that was serendipitously sitting next to me who made me repeat “the plane goes up, the plane flies, the plane goes down” for an hour and saved me from myself (and probable jail time). I knew about the baby blues but forgot about postpartum panic. After getting discharged from the hospital, I struggled with the conflicting feelings of being so happy and so damn sad all at the same time. I wanted to simultaneously run towards my new life and run away from it, leaving me paralyzed in a post-pregnancy predicament. To the outside world I wanted to convey that I had it all together even though I felt like the long lost character in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. I felt absolutely crazy, for lack of a better term. One minute I was riding high, so proud of myself and feeling like my nomination for world’s best mom should be coming in the mail shortly, and the next I felt like a complete failure. That’s the thing about child birth, it is the perfect storm of exhaustion mixed with adapting to a new way of life all wrapped up in a hormone-filled bow. Moods can quickly jump from overjoyed to overwhelmed to overly tired to utterly hopeless. A fleeting moment of happiness can be usurped by a terrifying storm of the sads. I felt it all.
It wasn’t uncommon for my husband to look in his rear view mirror to see tears streaming down my face confused when I tried to explain that I didn’t know what was wrong only that I felt like something was terribly, terribly not right. It was frustrating, for both of us. I didn’t know how to ask for help nor could I define what kind of help I needed because I couldn’t quite identify the actual problem. Again, I felt like I might be securing myself a one-way ticket to the looney bin. This was when I started confiding in my other mom friends that parenthood was, in fact, very hard. And all of these moms who seemingly had it all together, who appeared to have angel children who never cried and slept like babies (the metaphor kind, not the actual kind), started spilling the tea. Some had struggled with postpartum, others had colic babies. Suddenly these women who told me I would love being a mother were now open to admitting how much it, well, sucks at the beginning. I found solace in their solidarity but also blindsided by the lack of transparency about just how damn difficult keeping a tiny human alive is. I am scared all the time, all. the. damn. time. I have spent way too much time observing the rise and fall of Elle’s chest just to make sure she’s breathing. I wake up in a panic multiple times a night to check on her to make sure she isn’t suffocating because we have had the SIDS fear of god ingrained in us. Motherhood is like a real life game of Chutes and Ladders where you’re not sure whether your next spin will raise you up or set you back.
Gisele Bundchen is someone I never found myself relating to perhaps because she is a Victoria’s Secret model or because I eat potatoes in all of their various forms but she said something about her experience as a mother that embodies my exact emotions. She said:
"When I became a mom, I kind of lost myself. It was like a part of me died. I'd been this very independent person. It was all about me. But now I had this little being, and I suddenly felt l couldn't do other things and that was very hard for me. All I ever wanted was to be a mom, but when you're actually experiencing that, it's a shock."
I love my independence and having a newborn does not bode well for someone who craves consistency like me. I loved my meticulously planned days that were orchestrated for optimal productivity. I used to deem a day successful based on how many to do’s I checked off of my ongoing grocery list of errands, self-care items, career duties, household chores, and physical activities. I would rest easy at night knowing that I was able to accomplish x amount of tasks in my 16 or so hours awake. That’s just my personality, I’m a planner and a doer. But with a newborn, any kind of schedule does not exist. I found myself still in a robe at 3 pm sitting in bed on sheets that were still damp from night sweats and leaky boobs. Those first few days were considered successful if I managed to shower. Oh, how things have changed. This was (and still is) very tough for me. I need structure and the only structure being a new parent can provide is knowing you are almost guaranteed to not get enough sleep. On top of everything, I decided to challenge myself to exclusively breastfeed because apparently I have a death wish or something. So there I am, trying to do it all...shirtless 95% of the day, trying to eat to keep up my supply but too stressed to have an appetite, not sleeping because I am my child’s personal vending machine, and attempting to respond to everyone who has reached out so that I don’t get the cops called on me to do a wellness check. I was spiraling. And finding the humor in it all, my go to coping mechanism, was almost impossible. I was trying to function at full capacity while running on fumes. It just was not sustainable.
By day 2 at home (day 5 post birth) I was ready to throw in the towel, cancel being a mom altogether and see what the hospital’s return policy on kids was. I was a prisoner trapped in my body, which was now just a vessel for my daughter to quite literally suck the life out of. And I felt like a prisoner trapped in my own home. I not-so-lovingly referred to myself as the town cow and related to the Meet The Parents quote “you can milk just about anything with nipples” on a visceral level. Oh, and did I mention that during all do this - the sleep deprivation, the mood swings, the keeping a person alive - you are suppose to heal yourself as well? Physically, you are at a deficit yet expected to be at your best. It all kind of sounds like a set up, doesn’t it? I was somewhat expecting Ashton Kutcher to pop out of my pantry proclaiming that I had been Punk’d (if you don’t get that reference, you’re not old enough to be reading this). But above anything else, I felt shame. White hot shame. Shame that I wasn’t nailing this whole mom thing. Shame that I wasn’t enjoying this newborn phase. Shame that I had to ask for help. Shame is a self-constructed cancer of an emotion that infects you from the inside out. If you don’t counteract it with the antidote, pride, it can destroy you. In the beginning, some days the shame won. But every day I have become prouder and prouder of my maternal accomplishments. Don’t get me wrong, I am still terrified all the time - like every second of every single day. But I have just adapted and learned how to cope with my constant fear. My new normal has finally become my new normal. I see the light at the end of the world’s darkest tunnel. And I needed all the help I could get along the way.
I am a mom, imperfections come with the territory. I have somewhat embraced the unknown, seeing it as a learning opportunity rather than something I am unprepared for and therefore destined to fail at. I am choosing to document my experience here because it is therapeutic for me to share but also to encourage a little trans(parent)cy when it comes to having a baby. I knew it would be difficult but I didn’t know it would be “nearly off my husband and beg my mom to move in with me” hard. It is only day 20 and I would still categorize myself as a rookie but the good moments are finally starting to outweigh the bad. Throughout this whole thing, I have always felt extraordinary love for my daughter but I haven’t always loved being a mom. And it’s ok to say that. I felt like I almost had to mourn my past life which included the luxuries of being able to come and go as I please, control my body and it’s visitors, and pee in peace. And I did. I had a full blown funeral in my head for Jane McGraw, the non-mom. God rest her soul. But now I celebrate Jane Adler, the mom, because she wrote this entire article on the notes section of her phone with one hand due to the fact that her boob-obsessed baby won’t stop eating.
So, here we are, nearly 3 weeks postpartum, still holding on for dear life but finally getting some feeling back in those white knuckles. Oh, and I got my sense of humor back. Phew!
If you’re reading this and you’re having a hard time, you are not alone sis. Here are some things that I have done to maintain my sanity:
1) get out of the house at least once per day - walk baby in the stroller or throw them in a front pack and get out. If you have family or close friends nearby, ask them to watch the baby for an hour and go get your nails done. This is crucial to ensure you don’t spiral out of control.
2) mandate that your husband watch the baby for 15 minutes every morning so you can shower - I don’t know about you but the night sweats mixed with my unintentional milk bath every night has me smelling some type of way by morning.
3) have a beer - I’m not one to advocate for alcohol use (oh wait, yes I am) but a beer or two can just take the edge off and soften the blow(outs) of being on call 24/7. Plus brewers yeast is great for milk production.
4) ask for help - self-explanatory
5) accept help - also self-explanatory
6) avoid napping - I know they say “sleep when the baby sleeps” but napping makes me depressed and I always wake up wondering what decade I’m in.
7) plan your entertainment for the first few weeks - pick out a new Netflix series, stock up on books, invest in a sudoku booklet, whatever suits your fancy. Just know that daytime television is depressing and it’s good to have something easy and mindless to distract you.
8) write - if you’re into it.
9) don’t over commit - you won’t know how you’ll feel or how quickly you’ll heal so avoid making big plans for after baby. You also do not have to accept company or visitors until you are ready. Everyone will want to meet your new addition but, if you’re like me, you’ll feel compelled to entertain anyone who walks through your door and (trust me) you are not in any condition to entertain.
10) self-care - whether that means putting on makeup, blow drying your hair, cooking yourself a hot meal or just allowing yourself to feel like complete shit, indulge.
11) if you feel something, say something - a take on the TSA slogan “see something, say something” it’s always best to be open and honest about how you’re feeling. You’ll find comfort in knowing you’re not the only one who has felt that way and won’t suffer in silence.