Motherhood is not easy, but worth it
This is part one of a two part series for Mother’s Day.
“Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, The fruit of the womb is a reward.” – Psalms 127:3
Give yourself a pat. Motherhood is tough. It’s life changing with sacrifices. It’s depressing.
Congratulate yourself. Motherhood has made you stronger. It’s life transforming with blessings. It’s joyful.
Motherhood brings about a mish-mash of emotions from the ends of a spectrum – of joy and tears, of pride and frustration, of excitement and mundane. Like taking a roller coaster ride, the fear and thrill experienced as one. Some days going up in exhilaration, some days going down in screams.
The Comparison Game
You may or may not want to be a mother. Regardless, you’re now a mother and this has not been easy. Perhaps you beg to differ. You are the exception. The supermom who slid into the role easily while others struggled. And if you are that struggling mother, you envy how other people’s children (the greener pastures) always seemed easier to take care than your baby of high needs, special needs, etc.
Otherwise when you are all alone trying to tackle a screaming child, you wish you have lots of help like some mothers do. At some point, we mothers compare and see how others ace this journey of motherhood while we fight hard to stay afloat. We want to throw in the towel. This is just not for us.
This rang true for me when I saw how babies around me slept through the night as early as two months old. And there I was, still dragging myself out of bed for my seven month’s old multiple night wakings. It was painfully torturous. I. LOVE. SLEEP. It doesn’t matter what time I sleep, late or early, I simply need sufficient sleep. I’m a stickler for 7 hours of sleep, even though sometimes I’m more awake at 6 hours.
Having to wake up a few times in the night was already a dread. Now, imagine having insomnia hit after being woken in the middle of the night. I got super indignant over the insomnia eating away my precious few sleeping hours. This made it harder for me to sleep. Vicious cycle, but bottomline: “Evangeline, why can’t you sleep through the night like so and so, so and so!”
*Red alert* It’s always bad to compare.
Bad idea to compare infants who generally don’t know what they are doing. Babies can vary among light sleepers, night owls, cat nappers, etc. So how can I fault Evangeline*? As the personalities of babies vary, so do struggles and victories of one mother to another. Each has her own battle to fight.
And if I look around more, there are others who are “worse off” than me. Their two year olds are still waking up at night up. These mothers had tough it out much longer than me. At the end of the day, I’m not alone!
*To save hubby’s and my sanity, we sleep trained her at 8 months old. Glad we did!
The Changes in Mothers
This is my first mother’s day. After 11 months of being a mother, I now understand why this jingle, “世上只有妈妈好,” is famous and often hummed. Not that fathers are not good, especially with many hands-on dad these days, my hubby is a prime example. It is just that the physical, mental and emotional upheavals that a woman go through are naturally at a greater degree. For one obvious difference, woman is the one who experiences the childbearing process.
Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: “Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.” – Proverbs 31:28-29
A mother can make her own life easier by outsourcing different areas, but not the physical changes that happen pre and post childbirth. The breastfeeding struggle. The hurting wound. The uncontrollable hormonal and bodily changes bringing about emotional repercussions. That being said, I think it is the changes that go unseen by most that are long term and detrimental – the mental and the emotional.
Suddenly having to take care of a vulnerable small human being, the mother is often thrown into a disarray and at loss. The learning curve is steep. Between a demanding baby boss, endless household chores, and for working mums, stressful work, the mother are pushed to do many things in short pockets of time. And thus the importance of planning and multitasking.
These require much mental power as the mind constantly churns up with an exhaustive to do list. Then the physical exertion to execute them. Wash the laundry, bath the baby, plan the meals, stock up household and baby stuff when running low, plan and buy groceries, etc. As a planner and a thinker, my mind easily goes into overdrive. Hence, I’m learning to let go and flow in God’s grace and peace.
She looks well to the ways of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness. – Proverbs 31:27
You know how female bosses are stereotyped as not being easy to work for? Because of their eye for details, they tend to nitpick and increase work load. Male boss tend to accept certain risk and sweep off minute issues. I believe women are wired in this way to take care of household matters, things that require attention to details, such as baby care.
Then there’s the maternal instinct to love, protect and care for the young. This instinct stirs up million worries that can easily overwhelm a mother’s mind and heart. “Is she sleeping and drinking enough? Is the rash on her (fill in the blank) normal? Her fever hit 38.5 degrees, should I go to PD, A&E or just feed paracetamol/ibuprofen? Is she okay from all the crying? Should I enroll her in this childcare or that? Is she…?”
These questions are never-ending. Every stage has new challenges and worries over children. Infant care to teenage angst to adult grapples. Growth spurt to puberty to ageing. Hence I have to trust God to take care of Evangeline. I have to tap on His hesed wisdom in this journey of parenthood. One also needs to have the mental fortitude to receive and filter incoming advice from everywhere, from well meaning friends and family to strangers on the street.
The hardest hit for most mothers should be the emotional aspect. Woman are generally more emotional to begin with. The overwhelming responsibilities and changes in life can be suffocating. The creeping fear and worries in the mind will also grip the heart. Hence post natal depression is very real and can hit anyone. And the incessant crying of the baby only fuels the downward spiral of vexation. I’ve to constantly remind myself to look to God, and not at the giants in life.
As a first time mum with little help, there are many adjustments to my life. Sacrifices have to be made. Thank God my husband is hands on, otherwise I would have thrown in the towel early on. But there will also be times I feel imbalanced. Like when I wake up to nurse every two hours in the night, I look to my snoring husband and wondered, “Why me?”
She rises while it is yet night and provides food for her household and portions for her maidens. – Proverbs 31:15
I have heard worse, of husbands who refused to give up on their old lifestyles, like fishing or going out for drinks with friends. In these cases, the wives have to step up and make more sacrifices in time and effort to take care of the little one.
The two biggest thorns in my flesh are losing freedom and sleep. Sacrifices that I didn’t want to accept initially. Sometimes I don’t think I can do this motherhood anymore. I know I can’t blame crying babies for crying hysterically to make us insane. But I blame God. Why give me a baby that is so hard to take care? I expend much energy everyday to take care of an active baby with night wakings (before sleep training). Tough for the introvert me. The screams piercing my sensitive nerves.
It was only when I embraced this new life that I realised the old has gone. I heard this line from “Letdown” (first time mums, go watch) and teared. This counsellor told a first time mother, “If you keep looking back, you’ll only think about what you have lost.” So I looked at cute Evangeline, and focused on what I’ve gained exponentially.
Then as you feel your way through the dark as a first time mother, other people will accentuate your worries with their callous comments and remarks. From your parenting skills to anything about the baby. Once, I was judged by an elderly couple at a relatively crowded bus stop.
I didn’t pick up crying Evangeline immediately because I didn’t want her to cry as habit. They started to criticise me aloud, to the likes of, “Aiyo, baby crying already still don’t want to carry.” Imagine my irritability piling up. When I finally carried Evangeline after 2-3 minutes of crying, the old lady said, “The mother thinks the baby is stupid, it’s the mother who is stupid.” I was fuming mad. Seeing that they are old, I kept my mouth shut and swallowed my anger. I knew I would spew caustic words if I rebutted. I’ve since learned that mothers need to have a strong heart or closed ears, otherwise we will be miserable.
Then there is the mother’s guilt when bad days hit. When you had a long and exhausted day and the children were being difficult. You snapped at them and felt guilty afterwards. You felt like the worst mum.
One day at 10+ months, Evangeline was super cranky and kept crying. This became the last straw that broke the camel’s back. I lost it and I snapped. I threw her inside the playyard and went screaming crazy at her. As anger begets anger, she cried and screamed back louder. She violently shook the walls of the playyard to be let out. When I finally cooled down, I apologised, hugged and kissed her. But for the rest of the day, she only smiled a little and largely remained expressionless no matter how I made her laugh. My heart broke. My happy baby was gone. Did I traumatise her? Left an emotional scar in her? I heaved a great sigh of relief when she smiled a little more at me before she slept and resumed being a happy baby the next day. Phew.
I felt guilty. Then I worried I’ll pass on my temper to her. I prayed for God to give me the grace to be a better mother. One who acts and speaks with wisdom, patience, longsuffering, self control and love when bringing Evangeline up! Subsequently I learn to calm myself down first before speaking to her. To scream out my frustration in the pillow before rebuking her in love.
End of the day, I’m not a perfect mother. I have to forgive myself. I’m still learning and trusting that God will bring her up well no matter how I fail. And tomorrow is a brand new day for me to do this motherhood better.
Then there’s also the relational aspect to consider. With a baby in the mix, it’s easy to have differences in opinions and thus friction with the baby’s grandparents and relatives. Somehow, women are more affected by such conflicts.
Then there is the seldom talked about, but important, relationship brought to test when you have a baby. It is marriage. Parenthood is the refining fire of marriage, bringing out fine impurities to surface. It’s been written in many articles that the first years of parenthood is a hard test for marriages.
Marriage shines light on the selfishness in us, parenthood shines the flood light. Parenthood kind of accentuate the problems in marriage. The imbalance of sacrifices also takes a toll on the marriage. So if you know of friends who are trying to have a child to salvage a marriage, tell them it’s a bad idea.
There is so much more to say about motherhood. But it’s a role you can hear all about, but never truly understand and appreciate till you become a mother yourself.
The woman who gets the bulge and stretch marks from pregnancy. Whose mind goes into overdrive from all the tasks running through the mind. Who is sensitive to the cries, whimpers and needs of the baby. Whose heart is set towards family and domestic affairs.
This mother’s day, celebrate yourself. Give yourself a pat in the back.
p.s. Stay at home mums, I’ve a post dedicated for you!