It is isolating to be a mom. Yes, it’s isolating to be frail and elderly, or to be a year deep in med school, or to be the first female president. But motherhood is the territory I’m currently navigating.
I know that seems contradictory. After all, what other time in your life will you constantly be surrounded by persons that vie for your presence the second they open their eyes until the second they close them?
Their feet tumble after you when you head to the bathroom, when you go fold laundry, when you fetch the mail.
And I love it. I really do. For YEARS I craved that precious fellowship, and felt I might never reach the privilege of being a mother.
But here are the conditions in place for the isolation. First off, it begins with a major life event: the birth.
The 21st century birth in my country is most women’s first exposure to the hospital. Many times it is the first time you get an IV. Or find yourself signing consents for major surgery. And then you are experiencing the subsequent blood loss. (One doctor who recently graduated from med school told me the bloodiest area of medicine by far is labor and delivery. The amount of men that pass out watching their wives give birth is also a testament to that) And then the searing stitches. And if you had a c/section, the abdominal muscles are crying out at having been torn through and folded back together. And… guess what? In this time of complete vulnerability, you are suddenly and utterly deprived of sleep.
you are responsible for a feeble, helpless person, one who is wholly dependent on you for sustaining them. For bringing them to appointments, for recording wet and dirty diapers, for navigating this confusing “instinctual” world of nursing. Nursing, as some of my CLC (certified lactation counselor) will say, is like a 2nd labor in itself. Especially when it’s your first. AS instinctual as it’s supposed to be, it sure doesn’t feel natural until weeks in and you’ve finally established of rhythm. When they do sleep, you stare at them, assessing their sleep mattress, ensuring safe sleep standards, and checking the rise and fall of their chest until you feel satisfied that they are fine. Then you check on them five minutes later in a panic, convinced the battery may have fallen out of your plugged-in video camera and you couldn’t hear those imaginary cries for help that were firing off in your mind.
The last night I was pregnant with Titus, I went to bed with fireworks blazing outside. A friend texted me, “you going to stay up until midnight?” It was the last day of the year of 2015. It was 9pm. I texted back, “no, because next year I’m gonna do plenty of midnight hours. 😛 ”
Oh, how true that was! I was admitted the following morning. I was so jittery with excitement in the hospital that I couldn’t sleep but for 15 minute stretches every couple hours at night. By the time we were discharged, 5 days later–thanks to the IV antibiotics my son had to receive– I maybe had slept a combined total of 8 hours according to my handy, dandy Fitbit. Not unusual fare for people inducted in the halls of parenthood.
We went home. The sleep onslaught escalated. My 9 lb 5 oz goliath baby wanted to nurse every hour and remain in our arms constantly. I remember texting the lactation consultant, my eyes bleary with want of sleep that I could barely see the iPhone screen at 2pm. “Is this NORMAL??” I essentially whined. Her immediate response was validating and warm and filled with suggestions and encouragement, but I fell asleep on the shag carpet of the nursery before I could articulate a response back.
When my husband went back to working nights, there was one time I was dragging myself from room to room, holding Titus in a cradle position, just praying for him to fall asleep long enough so I could try and close my own eyes. I was playing my Titus sleep playlist on Spotify, making my usual trek around the house to lull him to sleep. I checked on him 20 minutes into the ritual and was thrilled to see him snoozing. As I quickly headed to the nursery, I veered off to the side in an ill-fated exhaustion-stumble, and his bald, little noggin banged emphatically against the door frame.
He instantly woke up, peals of distress ringing out anew.
The sleep deprivation, the inability to waltz into and out of a store without at least two tantrums, the paranoia that swoops in when you look away to check a deal on a shelf and your child suddenly disappears, only to be found nestled behind the peanut butter tower at Kroger.
It’s exhausting! But, in our isolation, we have to recognize we are not alone.
We are all in this together. The mothers who were in our shoes, twenty, forty years ago, assure us that the time will pass all too quickly.
We see the memes of how many Saturdays we have left from now until our child’s graduation from high school. The closer I get to 3-0, the more I realize that I have failed to live in the moment. My new prayer is that I will do more rejoicing in the moment and not awaiting the next phase. Too many times I chose discontentment because I wasn’t a) done with nursing school or b) finished with NCLEX or c) married or d) in a house and not an apartment or e) didn’t have babies to hold or f) had night shifts at work to contend with.
Yes, it is isolating; but babies are only young once. At the same time, to help refresh our souls for this season, we should take advantage of self-care. The mother’s day out programs, the offers for free babysitting, the lunch delivered by kind-hearted individuals from church, our efforts to read books to stimulate our minds or listen to podcasts while the babies nap.
One cautionary tale I’ve experienced are the deleterious effects social media can have in search for community. The omnipresent social media “mommy” groups. When I had my son, I was added to a frenzy of local mom groups. I would surf through the posts and find that the majority of them revolved around complaints and gripes. This doctor treated us rudely when we said no to vaccines. This husband of mine refuses to pitch in with the housework. This landlord won’t honor our deposit now that we’re moving out. My M-I-L fed my kid red dye when I have repeatedly told her NOT to. And so on.
It’s reflective on human nature that negative posts generate the most attention. Neil Postman in his 1980s book Amusing Ourselves to Death discusses this demoralizing feedback system via the information-action ratio; that we are constantly besought with a deluge of news and it is impossible for us to personally respond to each item. When we feed our brains constant noise of other people’s mundane grievances, we tip the scales in our brain with negative information. We become full of clutter; it is useless clutter that does not edify. We become numb to actual grievances by normalizing ambivalence as we scroll through.
Secondly, there is an insidious prevalence of MLM companies pushed in these mom threads. I struggle to form friendships in mommy groups, because each friend request I’ve ever gotten was immediately followed with a “hey hun, you seem like you could really benefit from this product.” It is even more disheartening when it’s an old friend you haven’t seen in years. They pop you an IM, asking how you’ve been and would you care to meet for lunch, but come to find out the REAL reason they’re contacting you is because they’ve discovered this AMAZING new eye cream/lip gloss/weight loss shake/energy pills/aromatherapy/wraps/candles/handbags etc.
I don’t support multilevel marketing strategies. These pyramid schemes (oh, but those are illegal many will say, yet draw out a literal pyramid when showing their system, aka Michael in The Office) prey on stay-at-home moms with the false narrative that you can make money by selling their product in this misconstrued business model. I fell for a few a couple years ago under the notion I really was supporting a friend’s venture, and paid inordinate amounts of money trying to support people over products that were decidedly cheap and not FDA approved. The company founders, such as Beachbody or LulaRoe, thrive on the notion of tribalism. Be part of our team! You may win a trip for a cruise. Or access to paid weight loss surgery. Check out this documentary from Vice on LLR. I found it a devastating insight into the industry and its toxic repercussions.
How did you make tangible efforts to combat that feeling of isolation and fatigue in your early years as a mother? Do you think social media has made it easier or more difficult for us as a community? How can we combat the pitfalls?