Featured #MalouMama: Caitlin R.
Womanhood, motherhood, personhood – everyone’s experience in life is unique.
We asked Caitlin, a close friend of Malou Motherhood co-founder, Audrey, about her experience as a new mom since the birth of her beautiful baby girl in August 2019. Thank you to Caitlin for sharing her beautiful and vulnerable piece with us and the Malou Motherhood community.
How do you describe being a new mom when everyone has different experiences with mothers? The lens for which to see new motherhood through is so personal. So: inhala, exhala, here it goes.
My babe rushed into the world a week late. She made her entrance so quickly that she almost arrived in triage. On our last peds check before we went home, the doctor noticed she had an infection, and she was rushed to the NICU. Not being able to care for my daughter on my own for the first few weeks of her life made me terrified of her. With the nurses watching, I felt like I was going to mess up motherhood. We hadn’t left the hospital yet and she was already sick. Hello mom guilt. Thank you for joining me for the rest of my life. Seeing my little babe in what is supposed to be her new safe space, but with parts of her head shaved for IVs, bruises everywhere, eyes so swollen I have never seen them open, it just breaks something in myself I didn’t even know existed.
A new critic in my head began to spout out opinions on all my actions. I struggled immensely with the expectations I placed on myself as a mother and a wife. Physically, rolling to get out of bed became a thing, as does sleeping on the couch because it was easier to get up quickly. But with a towel, because I sweat constantly, and the voice in my head creeping in, asking "What are you doing lying down anyway? Why are you not feeding or changing that little babe?". Or just thinking about her. Because I can no longer think of just myself. Ever. Not that I want to (I sometimes desperately want to, just for one minute), but I just can’t biologically turn it off.
The inner dialogue in my head is relentless, harsh and cruel. I am constantly worried that what I am doing is not enough for my daughter, my partner, my family, or my friends. And if the brief moment comes where I do think of something else, chances are my boobs leaked or I sneezed and came very close to peeing my pants.
Breastfeeding was not intuitively natural, does not melt away the baby weight, nor was it easy and holy hell does it hurt. Even when done "correctly". Feeding her in general still isn’t easy. Clusterfeeding was literal torture. I wished I could just share with her the reassurance that food is always there, so no need to just constantly gulp it down (and also, please my baby girl, inherit your mama's love of naps. Because sleep is necessary and I know I love you baby, but I am so tired.)
Our grocery bill doubled, and our water bill too, just to keep up with my intake during the first three months postpartum. I still looked pregnant! For months. I still look in the mirror each day and mourn the loss of my core while simultaneously celebrating my temporarily gigantic breasts.
But, in all of this, I am lucky to have the positive pregnancy test, the ultrasound picture, and this sweet little babe, who smiles up at me with those sweet gummy grins, or laughs when I give her a kiss, or finally say “Mama” after weeks of “DADADADA”. Seeing all of these things rewarded me with a rush of love so strong that I didn’t even know could exist. Yes, I might love cookies, Grey's Anatomy, or my partner, or even my furbaby whom I loved “secretly” more than my partner, but this is a whole new love. An all consuming, take a bullet for them kind of love.
With love, my partner and I created our new ride or die. All of those things that come along with this babe: the sore, unfamiliar body, the new insane hours I keep, the constant voice in my head telling me that I am not doing a good job, I accept them with kindness. I know these actions, results, and feelings are going to continue coming, and I might not be able to change that. But I can recognize my fear, my sadness, my joy, and take it for what it is: the complicated mess of new motherhood. At the end of the day, I accept, and if I can, I become proud of and kind to myself. Proud of my body, be proud of my strength, proud of my stress and guilt and blame because it shows how deeply invested I am in my family.
I am proud of all I have done and will do for all my babies; the one I hold in my arms, potential future babies, or the ones that might be held just in my heart. I get to share and experience love with them, and isn’t that the point?
P.S. I like to be proud of my pick for a partner as well. You know you picked a good one when he comes into the shower with you, when you feel like Gollum but still looking 7 months pregnant to help you massage out clogged ducts while you cry and wash your hair so you can get back to your baby quicker.