Disclaimer: This article is an account of my feelings. They are part of my truth,…
Before becoming a mother, I heard the term “mom guilt” tossed around a lot. I always pictured a busy working mom torn between important meetings and the school’s spring recital.
I certainly didn’t think I’d be immune to it, but I did brush it off as something that may appear later. Down the road. When I had to make ‘big choices’, like returning to work full time.
Well, let’s officially add mom guilt to the list of the many things I was not prepared for postpartum. It definitely didn’t show up the way I expected.
For me, it started here: with the desire to have space to myself. While I was so grateful to have a healthy baby, living my own life was also something I craved. Could I have both?
That seemed like an impossibility, especially because I’d been fed that idea that my only two options were: 1) be happy with my baby OR 2) want/have anything and everything else.
Clearly, this is a losing proposition.
It’s safe to say, in those early weeks of motherhood, things were not feeling or looking how I’d imagined.
Where were those feelings of maternal euphoria I’d been promised my whole life? Wasn’t I supposed to instantly feel a new sense of purpose every second of this new chapter?
Even though I loved my baby, what I really wanted, what I truly craved was: a break, lots of sleep, endless help with everything, and ultimately to feel ‘like myself’ again in some small way. And my goodness, the guilt associated with these feelings was just as intense as the feelings themselves!
So why? Why did I feel guilty for wanting to take a walk alone? Why did I feel guilty for daydreaming about ‘the old me’? And why in the world did I feel guilty asking for help when I was doing arguably the hardest job ever?!
What became clear was that my reality was at odds with my very high expectations of being a new mom, and I blamed myself.
Which makes sense because guilt is a self-focused emotion.
I felt bad because I thought I was doing something wrong, or I should’ve been doing it better, or differently. This is essentially the textbook definition of guilt.
I also felt bad because it took my husband and I a few years to conceive. We were ultimately able to through IVF. And even during my pregnancy, I carried guilt with me. Knowing so many other couples were experiencing the deep pain of their own fertility journey.
So, we should probably add this to my list of things I didn’t expect to feel guilty about.
On top of all the other new mom ‘hormotions’ (hormones + emotions), my life was not matching the ‘perfect’ images I’d envisioned.
But then I realized something.
My life had never matched the perfect images I’d envisioned.
Our lives have never matched the perfect images we’ve been taught to aspire to.
I have not met a single human being whose life has unfolded exactly as they expected it to. In fact, that experience seems to be the antithesis of the human experience altogether.
So why do we keep tormenting ourselves to fit into this idealistic, aspirational, unattainable, picture?
Once I began to surrender to my true feelings, and needs, I found small ways to release some of my mom guilt.
And things started to change.
I think this shift will look different for everyone, but for me this change required a few things:
Being honest about my feelings
With myself, my husband, and my loved ones. Simply giving myself permission to share all of my ‘imperfect’ mom feelings, which I had been feeling guilty about all day every day, was healing.
Getting crystal clear on what help I needed
In full transparency, this wasn’t a magic bullet, it was hard. Like really hard. Asking for help and being clear about boundaries and expectations really challenges my ‘selfless mother’ narrative. I’m sure you know which one I’m talking about.
This is definitely a work in progress. Then again, so am I.
Protecting my energy
You may get mad at me for this one, but it’s good. In order to protect my energy and manage my reality, I unfollowed a lot of accounts on social media. I edited them down and limited my feed to ones that made me laugh, smile, and made me feel inspired.
I had no interest or capacity for any ‘perfect’ new moms whose bodies “snapped back” all while making carrot and applesauce gluten free, dairy free, nut free muffins.
No thank you.
The reason I’m sharing all of this is because I care about you. And I’ve been where you are right now. I have felt the same pain, joy, and I too have cried tears for both.
I found that by identifying mom guilt as one of the many complex and nuanced emotions of the postpartum experience, its grip loosens.
My wish would be to normalize some of our ‘guilty’ thoughts. And know that these thoughts and feelings have nothing to do with our mothering.
We are good moms even as we navigate, falter, and discover this new lifelong identity.
It’s okay to wish you had your old life, your old body, your old freedom.
It’s okay to want to go back to work right away, it’s okay to never want to go back to work again.
It’s okay to want more help, even if you have a great partner who does so much more than so-and-so’s partner.
It’s okay to pay for help if that’s an option.
It’s okay to google things you think you should know about your baby.
You’re not a bad mom.
You have nothing to feel guilty about.
If you’ve experienced loss or difficulty conceiving, your guilt may be very heavy. Please know that it’s okay to put some of that down. It’s ok to ask for help. It’s ok to not be ok all the time.
I believe it’s time to help moms prioritize themselves, and release mom guilt along the way.
I’ve had endless conversations with my friends and clients who are all loving mothers, intelligent and accomplished executives and entrepreneurs, loyal friends; and they all struggle with mom guilt. I did too. I still do!
If you’re experiencing similar guilty feelings, you’re not alone. You’re doing an amazing job, mama. You are not alone. We are all in this together.
Here’s an exercise to help those feelings settle within you.
I love using breathwork during this phase of motherhood – it’s free, uncomplicated, and you can feel the calming benefits in mere seconds.
Intentional breathwork coordinates the muscles of your diaphragm, transverse abdominis, and pelvic floor which is supportive of your physical recovery.
AND it stimulates the Vagus nerve which directly impacts your parasympathetic nervous system with supports feelings of comfort, safety, and security.
ALL OF THAT from breathing. I know, it’s amazing.
To begin: Inhale for a count of 3, hold your breath for a count of 1, exhale for 6 counts.
Continue this breathwork cycle for 20-60 seconds.
As you become more comfortable with this breathing, you may enjoy experimenting by focusing on each of your senses as you do a breath cycle: sight, smell, hearing, taste, touch.
This is a great way to feel present in your body.
You can do this anywhere, anytime, and encourage you to integrate this into your day.