Photos by Dogwood Photography
See the full photo session here http://www.dogwoodphotography.com/the-courageous-mother-project/
Motherhood was nothing like what I thought it was going to be. It was such a shock to find that I was a mother who was completely undone, frazzled and overwhelmed. The first 3 years of motherhood were a blur filled with sadness, disillusionment and discomfort. I remember one day in particular, when my children were 6 months old and 2 yrs old (#3 wasn’t even an blip on the radar), and I spent the whole day on the living room floor feeling like I couldn’t move. The heaviness of my despair and exhaustion physically weighed me down. I just lay there praying for the clock to tick faster, for the day to end and for everyday to just please pass me by. I wanted someone, anyone, to come and rescue me from this life.
I write this letter from my present day self to myself 5 years ago on that day, my darkest day.
Dear Mom on Your Darkest Day,
I see you on the living room floor and I know that what you are experiencing right now is crushing and heavy and guilt ridden. I also know that you will survive it. Becoming a mother broke you, stripped you bare and pulled into question everything you believed to be true about yourself. It made you think you were a really bad person who had somehow managed to fool everyone in your life into thinking that you were a good person. It made you think that deep down you must be an angry resentful wallowing pile of self pity and it took two tiny little humans to prove it, and to expose you to yourself. I have a message for you, because I lived through it and made it to the other side. You will eventually get your life back and it will be even better than the one you had before.
You’re in your living room today totally bare, with all of your former self in pieces on the floor around you, with only the raw inner core of who you are left. You feel vulnerable, raw, ugly and exposed. The thing is though, is that before you were stripped down like this you didn’t really know what that inner core contained. When you passed through this transformative and painful time you were stripped of all of your masks, your unrealistic ideals, and your perfectionism. You were left with only the true core of yourself. When the worst is over you will get to pick up the pieces of yourself that you want to keep and leave the rest on the floor of that messy living room. Motherhood tore you down but it also gave you the chance to rebuild a better and stronger and more contented you.
Postpartum depression was your cocoon, tight and binding and suffocating but you will emerge a butterfly.
You began this journey into motherhood wanting it so badly. There were awful moments in the difficultly conceiving that you thought you might never get to have a child. So then when you find yourself 3 years later with 2 beautiful, healthy children, but you’ve never been so miserable, you begin to wonder what is wrong with you? What could ever make someone like you happy if not these beautiful children? Why can’t you feel joy? What kind of a monster are you if you can’t find joy and peace in loving your own children?
You are on the floor in your pj's with messy hair and giant bags under your eyes, the baby is on the floor beside you while the toddler is watching TV (again) and eating fish crackers (again). You just want to close your eyes for a few minutes. When you finally do your mind is flooded with images of all the other Moms who are out there with their kids. They are all learning, playing and laughing outside, while you are in here just wanting the day to be over. You torture yourself with comparison to these utopian Moms.
You can’t see the bigger picture because you are in the middle of it. But I made it through that day to the other side and so I can see what you can't.
Let me tell you what I see.
I see a mom who is too exhausted and depressed to play but who uses physical closeness to let her kids know she is there. Yes they're eating crappy snacks and watching TV but you're right there holding them and responding to their cries and utterances. All you can muster in that moment is meeting the most basic of needs and giving physical affection. But you know what, at the core, that's all your kids really need from you right now. Like you, they will survive this time and they will be ok.
If you zoom out just a little bit more you would see the whole townhouse complex in which you live and I assure you that there are other moms at home on their dirty living room floors feeling as lonely and as failure-y as you are. You don’t see them when you go out and so you think you’re the only one. You are not the only one.
Zoom way way out and you will see the context of where you live in time and culture. In a society that puts you in an unfair place of high expectations and little support. Society says motherhood is beautiful and natural and effortless. You find it beautiful and relentless and all consuming. All of your circumstances combined to result in where you are. It is not a deficit in you.
You thought maternity leave would be a vacation because up until you had children, your home was a place of rest and rejuvenation. So logic said when you got to stay home everyday it would be restful and relaxing. But actually maternity leave is more like bringing your work life home with you...to live. Moving your desk and phone and computer and colleagues and boss right into your bedroom and working 24 hour days for the next 2 years. All of your colleagues get to go home and shower and dress everyday while you have to stay and work in the same pyjamas with no shower or meal breaks.
But it won’t stay like this. Do you know what the key to your redemption will be? A mommy group of faith where women who are awesome and amazing will share that they struggle and fail at motherhood all the time. At first you will think "well they must not actually be as bad as me because I see them as amazing.” Yet you will hear about their struggles and be surprised to see lovely peaceful women who speak of rage and yelling. You almost won’t be able to believe it.
These women will surround you with love and grace until it sinks in and you begin to feel it for yourself. You will wonder how they can’t see for themselves how great they are. You will extend grace towards them and wonder why they can’t do that to themselves. You will extend encouragement and support to them and wonder why they can’t be more kind to themselves. Then it will click, why can’t you allow all of those things for yourself?
Over time you will find out that you are more like these amazing women than you thought you were. Brave, faithful and grounded.
I will leave you with this, dear struggling Mama, your future contains 3 (yes 3!) amazing beautiful children. Even in your darkest days your children felt your love for them. On your darkest day your spirit feels dull and distant and you’re worried this is the new you. It's not. It's temporary, like your spirit is at the shop for a tune up. You'll get it back even better.
Much love and hang tough precious Mama,
Karen Barré is an accomplished mom of 3 that can make snacks ALL day long and still find the time to make light-sabers out of paper and duct tape. As long as the conditions are perfect. And everyone slept the night. And we have groceries in the house. Or paper. Okay, I did it once, it was a highlight.