I have only been a mama for a short while, but I’ve already learned what I suspected to be true: motherhood is hard. Early motherhood and the newborn daze (days? Either works, I suppose.) is hard because of the usual suspects: sleep deprivation, challenges feeding the baby (no matter your method), worry, endless decisions, and so much more. And yet . . . I think the hardest part of motherhood—for me—has been the unexpected and permeating sense of loss.
Loss of what? Loss of everything, I may say on the hardest days. Or to be more specific, loss of my time to do as I please—to run, to bake, to read. Loss of silence, of my living room (baby paraphernalia seems to multiply), of a schedule not built around every-three-hour feedings. No matter a mama’s specific loss, I think we could all name things lost as we become mothers.
Of course, the more socially acceptable way to discuss this loss is to talk about sacrifice. (Aka mommy martyrdom, if you prefer to add some snark and/or sarcasm into the conversation.) You can also—rightfully so—acknowledge all the good and rewarding and special parts of motherhood. I live for the moments when my tiny three and a half month old son grins at me. I love rocking him in our mid-century modern armchair that we purchased off a Craigslist-using-hippie’s porch a lifetime ago. Seeing my husband play with our baby makes me happy in ways I never could have imagined before. Still, this loss sticks with me. Guilt becomes its companion, and I feel silenced. Because other mothers talk about sacrifice, and I feel loss.
I think I have been more susceptible to the awareness of loss because my journey to motherhood began with it. Just before I confirmed my suspicions of pregnancy, my beloved 94 year old grandpa passed away. The loss of my grandpa threw me into an episode of mourning the likes of which I had never experienced. He cared for me as a child while my parents worked. Therefore, he remains part of my earliest memories: we read together, fed the ducks, and ate bagels with butter. We celebrated his birthday only days before he passed away. After I found out he was gone, my greatest regret was that this important man would never meet my children.
I found it slightly comforting when I realized that the timing of my baby meant that my grandpa indirectly met him our last time spent together. But it isn’t the same, and it has been easy to travel down the trail of regret, wishing circumstances were different. As I approach a year without my grandpa, a year of mourning and sadness for my loss, but also joy and expectation for my son, I realize how similar these situations of loss are.
Just as we can mourn for the loss of a beloved grandpa, so we can mourn for the changes in our lives as we add a baby. As mamas—no matter how long or short our journeys of motherhood have been—we owe it to ourselves (and others) to not sugarcoat the losses we experience by always wrapping them in sacrifice. This minimizes our grief. Just because a baby appears in a moment doesn’t mean we change in one. New mamas need to know that it is okay to mourn and wish for that which once was. They need to know that, in time, new joys will come. Grief can still exist in the goodness. That doesn’t make the goodness any less good.