I'm currently re-reading We Need to Talk About Kevin. If you haven't read it, it's a very well-written, if fundamentally chilling, piece of fiction about a mother whose son grows up to commit an atrocious crime.
The story is written from the mother's perspective, and the description of her reservations and fears about motherhood is quite realistic. She's a career woman who abandons trips to Paris for Play Doh, who has trouble balancing her new family with her existing sense of self, who struggles with her identity as a mother. Sound familiar?
That deep-seated fear of failure...I think it even starts in pregnancy. When I went into labour with my first child, my water broke late at night, and the nagging pain eventually turned into back labour. (Side note: if you haven't experienced back labour, it feels like someone is driving knives into the base of your spine. People say you forget what labour feels like—I remember exactly what it felt like, and it was the worst thing I've ever experienced.)
After 24 hours, my doctor concluded that the labour wasn't progressing and recommended a C-section. Exhausted and emotionally drained, I burst into tears. I'd wanted the opportunity to push the baby out, to prove that I was strong enough to bring another human being into the world. Needing a C-section felt like a cop-out—as though I was already failing at motherhood before I'd even had the chance to start.
Similarly, during those first few sleep-derived months with a newborn who wouldn't nurse, so many people said to me, "Enjoy this time...it goes so fast!" And they were right: it does go fast. But for much of that time, I felt tired and frustrated, thinking maybe I just wasn't cut out for the gauntlet of motherhood. I kept wondering, Why am I not enjoying this? What's wrong with me? And I still feel that way sometimes: when I lose patience with my eldest, when I second-guess a decision I've made—or when, frankly, I just don't want to be around my kids for a while.
Motherhood is full of moments that make us question ourselves and our abilities. Our children stress us, test us, try our patience. So why do we feel the need to be tough all the time? Why do we feel that we have to be perfect?
We're all in this together. And the greatest gift you can give to another mother isn't a toy or a baby book; it's your time and understanding.
Or, you know, an offer to babysit.