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Motherhood and Roller Coasters: Why We Struggle to Find Happiness

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Why am I feeling crappy when I have this amazing baby?

Why am I sad, lonely, angry, frustrated, and overwhelmed when my life is actually going really well? I keep coming back to this question over and over again, like that baby sock I can’t seem to find the match to.

To recap, I have postpartum depression. You can read more about my experience here.  As the meds have kicked in and I can see out of the dark well, I have started to look closely at the Shit Show Circus going on in my head. And I keep coming back to that question.

But as I write this, it occurs to me that I’ve been asking the wrong question. The question is not: Why do I feel crappy? The question is: Why do I think I should feel happy all the time? Why do I think I should slide easily into my new role as a mother, all smiles and Betty Draper about it?

Why do I feel like something is wrong with me when I feel overwhelmed or anxious? Why do I feel like a failure when I have to get on medication or talk to a therapist?

I’ve been focusing on the question without opening my eyes to the answer all around me, without looking at the context. I just stepped on one of life’s greatest roller coasters. Maybe I should fasten my seatbelt and stop asking why I’m upside down.

When we have a baby, we go from having the responsibility of Garfield the Cat to that of President Obama. We go from only caring for ourselves to caring for a tiny, helpless infant with no instruction manual to tell us how to keep her healthy and happy.

And the stakes are so high now. When we were only caring for ourselves, we didn’t sweat the mistakes. Eh, what’s one hangover? Does that big mac really matter? I only tried it once and I didn’t inhale…much.

Suddenly, this little sack of potatoes is the most important thing in our universe. My nurturing instinct is on steroids. I’ve never felt so finely in-tune and protective of anything in my life.  Hell, she gets vaccinations and I feel like I’m being tortured.  Mistakes are out of the question!

These changes, these epic jolts create an entirely new world for us. And we get dropped into that new world without warning the instant they hand us our baby. I don’t know from experience, but I also can guess that the very same shock happens when we add a second or third baby to the mix.

And I’m asking why the transition into motherhood is so hard? Really? That’s like living in a Dr. Seuss village and asking why the houses are bendy and the sky is purple.

When I see the context, it seems pretty damn normal that new moms feel overwhelmed, angry, tired, frustrated, sad, and lonely.  And it seems pretty normal that sometimes we need a little help with all of this.

It’s ok to miss having less responsibility or a more active social life. It’s normal to miss eating slowly, not having to wear shirts that allow instant access to my boobs, or relaxed sleep.

I’ve shaken the snow globe of my brain and emotions and I’m not giving them the opportunity to settle back down. I’m expecting myself to be hunky-fucking-dorey with this new Dr. Seuss world instantly.

So to answer the question at hand: Why am I struggling to find happiness right now?

One word…Compassion

I’ve lost the compassion for myself through this change. I am not the nurturing mother to myself that I am to my daughter.

Like our babies, we are now living in an entirely new world with a whole new set of things to learn.  We are learning how to care for an infant (or how to care for more than one). We are learning how to BE a mother. And most importantly, we are learning how to integrate this new “mom-us” back into our lives.

We need buckets and buckets of compassion for ourselves as we do all of this.  Will you expect your baby to just stand up and start walking one day? Or do you expect a lot of bumps, falls, and cries along the way? I’m betting the latter. And I’m betting that you plan to comfort and encourage her through every step.

It’s time that we do that for ourselves. We are re-learning how to walk here.  We are going to have bumps, bruises, falls and cries. And sometimes we may need to lean on someone or even some prescription.

Compassion means saying “that’s ok.” It means being the soft place to land for ourselves, even through our own falls and temper tantrums.

My compassion has always been there for me. Even now, I can tune in and feel compassion for myself. I had just forgotten about it. Like Dorothy, I just had to click my heels three times.

Today I pledge to bring compassion back into my life.  I pledge to forgive myself for any perceived faults. And I pledge to love and soothe myself through the ups and downs of motherhood, especially when I don’t believe I’m doing it “right.”

Will you pledge to do the same?

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