Lately, I’ve been talking to a lot of new mothers who feel so much pressure to have it all together and don’t feel safe expressing how overwhelming it can be to have a child. If you have a new baby, and you’re feeling like you have no clue how to be a mother, you’re SO not alone. When my daughter Siena was born, I felt so unraveled by her, as if she could see right through me to all my insecurities. I wrote this in my journal when she was just a wee one, so if you or someone you love has a new baby, this post is for you…
Stop staring at me, like you can see inside me, peel me like a tangerine, dismantle my muscles one by one, crack open my ribcage and see my quivering, shy heart. Stop gazing at me with those opalescent eyes and your X-ray tell-all vision that sees through every steel wall I erect. Stop, Siena. I don’t like it.
But you don’t listen to me. You lay there, a pink, swaddled prodigy with the white fluffy cat-eared hat that barely fits your enormous head, rubbed almost bald on the back of your head, even though we turn you from side to side to avoid it. You keep staring, with your cornflower blue eyes, as if you know every secret, every vulnerability, every mistake I’ve ever made.
You’re an old soul — I can tell, but how do you know so much already? You’re only one week old. But oh, little one, you’ve had to go through so much already. Your Papa telling me he wanted to go meet God on the day you were born. You, absorbing your Nana’s tears into your warm, pink baby skin that smells like spring. You, sleeping bare skin to bare skin against your Daddy’s chest, nourished by a sort of paternal nursing.
And me, then there’s me, so broken and humbled and driven to my knees with the certainty that I have no clue how to be a mother. And you know this already. I can tell. You can see right through me, and we have no secrets, even though I wish I could shelter you from my raw, bleeding pain and the deluge of my insecurity. I will never be a good enough mother. I will never be the mother my mother was to me. And you can tell, looking through me with your wise guru gaze.
I have nothing to give.
When I was your age, my mother had been a mother her whole life, she knew it like she knew her fingers and her toes. It was never something outside of herself. It WAS her. But I’m not like her. I look at you and your wise little eyes and your downy feather hair and your pink tulip lips and your perfect little monkey toes that grasp everything that comes their way. And I feel like a blank. I have no idea what to say to you, how to touch you, how to sing the right lullabye, how to help you navigate this world I don’t understand. I envision years of birthday candles and Goodnight Moon and Barbie dream houses, but I don’t know how to teach you to make the perfect wish, learn from the books you read, and imagine a life better than Barbie’s.
There’s so much I want to share with you, experiences I want to kindle, treasures I want to savor, but I don’t even know where to start. My heart is so heavy. Papa will be gone soon, and you’ll have lost the best teacher you might have known. From a dying man who says, “I’m not scared, I’m joyful,” you could have learned how to honor love, how to cherish beauty, how to respect peace, but I have nothing to give. My shy, quivering heart beats wildly with the certainty that I will never be the mother you deserve.
To those who say they don’t know how to talk to children, they always say, “wait until it’s yours.” But you are mine – I can tell from the matching eyes and the olive skin and the fragile tree-limb fingers that look like mine. Yet, still, I don’t know what to say. And you know it. You taunt me. You laugh inside, chuckling, thinking, “Oh Mom, give it up. Stop pretending. Just be you.” I know it’s not enough.
Left to my own guesswork, I would stand here, like I am now, watching you in your cradle, as you stare wide-eyed, peering straight under my skin and saying, “It’s okay, Mommy. I know how much you’re going through. I know you can’t be what I need today, while your broken heart says goodbye and the scar I made on your belly still bleeding. But don’t worry, Mommy. Some day, when I need it most, you will know what to say.” I see it in your eyes, this wisdom, this omniscent baby-knowing that turns me inside out like a discarded sweater, exposing all of my knitted flaws and how-to instructions.
Oh, precious, you come into my life in a typhoon of emotion, swirling around you and me in rivulets of pain and joy that ebb and flow like the moon-driven tides. You should be crying, you should beg for milk and cuddles and a clean diaper when you need it, but instead you are frighteningly quiet. I wonder if something might be wrong with you. What if my flawed body passed on some silent gene that makes you still?
But I know I am wrong. There is nothing wrong with you. You do this on purpose, asking nothing of me because you know I have nothing to give right now. You will ask later, cry when you need me, laugh when you’re happy, throw yourself to the floor, drama-queen style. For now, you will just be, floating in the remnants of the eternal pool from which you came, while you gaze at the world you’ve known before, while you unfold me and gift me your love.
When you were born, I had a wish, that I would be able to share with you the joys of this world, to eat the ripe, sticky fruit of its pleasures, and to give yourself permission to be the most Siena of Sienas. When you were born, I kissed your cheek and said “Welcome, baby. I have so much to teach you,” but what I should have said is “Namaste, teacher.”
Have you ever felt this way? Why do we seem to think it’s not okay to talk about these things? Why is there so much pressure to be born with the Mommy gene? Why can’t we feel safe to express the doubts, hesitations, and challenges we mothers face?
If you’re one of those natural mothers, more power to you! But if you’re not, we want to hear from you! Tell us what you think.
Loving my kid & still feeling like a mess sometimes,
Lissa Rankin, MD: Founder of OwningPink.com, Pink Medicine Woman coach, motivational speaker, and author of What’s Up Down There? Questions You’d Only Ask Your Gynecologist If She Was Your Best Friend and Encaustic Art: The Complete Guide To Creating Fine Art With Wax.
Learn more about Lissa Rankin here.