My life has essentially gone the way I had planned. I graduated high school, attended college, worked for one year, attended grad school, started my career. Toward the end of grad school I met my husband and eventually we started a family. This is what was expected of me by my parents and also eventually myself. This is what I wanted, and what I strove for. I was doing well at my job and with a couple of years of practice I felt confident in what I was doing.

As a mom however, I didn’t, and still don’t feel like I know what I am doing. It seems like it should be second nature to know how to care for a child as a woman. It’s hard to believe that seven years have gone by since the birth of my first. 8 years ago I found out I was pregnant, and after a full year of trying and 3 rounds of ovulation pills it finally worked. We were over the moon.

Most of my friends already had their first children and I just couldn’t wait to know that feeling of love myself. All through my pregnancy I was excited especially as my belly grew. I cried the first time I felt his tiny leg kick from the inside. Even though I had morning sickness and heartburn I absolutely couldn’t wait.

I woke up 36 weeks and 3 days pregnant, brushed my teeth like any other day when suddenly there was that gush of water that everyone describes. To say I went into denial is putting it lightly. I paced around the house, called a friend, and finally called the labor and delivery department at the hospital. They told me to come in immediately but I still hesitated because I was so early. I showered, ate, and finally decided to go.

My labor was a slow 22 hours, for most of which the nurses tried to tell me I wasn’t in actual labor, which then led the Dr to discover my water had only partially broken. By then I had been there for 17 hours and on pitocin. Once they broke the rest of the amniotic sac the pains really set in but it finally felt like actual labor.

My sister didn’t believe I was in labor so I took a picture to send her, I was in disbelief myself

I have never admitted this to anyone, but the very second they laid my son on my chest-I felt numb. I hate to say it. I really do. There are endless images of mothers crying with joy and seemingly filled with so much love in that first moment therefore it was what I had been anticipating. I felt relief and I knew I loved him, but whether it was exhaustion or fear and uncertainty-the rush of emotion never came. Despite being early and a tiny 5 lb 7 ounces, he was perfectly healthy. I spent a total of four days with him there as they were concerned with feedings and weight gain, but finally we were allowed to go home.

While inpatient and then at home, my main concern was feeding him. They told me not to let him go more than 3 hours without a feeding. They gave me a chart of progressive amounts of milk he was supposed to have to properly gain weight. I painstakingly kept a journal of the 10, 20, sometimes only 5 mL of milk he would take in. Sometimes an hour apart sometimes 15 mins apart. I tried so hard to breast feed but his latch was weak. I felt like a complete failure whenever I had to supplement with formula.

My schedule ran as follows: Attempt to feed him by breast, actually feed him by bottle, get him back to sleep, pump milk, store milk, eat something or sleep for 30 mins, then repeat. That was my 2.5-3 hour cycle for the first few weeks of his life. I was exhausted and exasperated. We had no help, and my husband didn’t know what to do either. Sure family and friends would stop by to hold him, but I don’t think anyone knew how much I was struggling. I was cooking, cleaning, and living this crazy cycle of feeding my son.

I thought I had to do it all because no one told me any different. No one told me that it was impossible and that I should be taking care of myself. No one said breastfeeding wasn’t for everyone and that it wasn’t always natural. I felt like a failure every single step of the way. I didn’t stop to appreciate the fact that my son was healthy and gaining weight and sleeping well because of how difficult it was for me to take care of him. I felt extremely guilty because I was not happy and in love with this new life. I was so incredibly sad.

Yes, I had severe post-partum depression. Yes, I lied on the Dr forms and said I was fine. Yes, I needed professional treatment. And no, I never received any. Everyone else seemed to be fine taking care of their kids. I thought if I admitted I needed help it meant I wasn’t good enough to be a mother. And now I mourn the first year of his life, because I spent it depressed and guilt and angry and sad. I can’t help but think my now beautiful intelligent and hilarious seven year old has anxiety issues because of me. I will always carry this guilt with me.

I was good at my job. I liked working. I did, and still do, work a lot of hours because I know that I can feel successful and accomplished. I feel the complete opposite with being a mother. I always feel uncertain, insecure, and that I have to put in extra effort to be mediocre at it.

I’ve come to realize I’m not a “baby” person. They are so adorable but I get so much more joy out of interacting with my four and seven year old. They make me laugh and we can play games and I can teach them funny jokes. I love being able to go places and not have to carry 50 items and worry about nap time. I didn’t realize how temporary it all was. The night feedings and sleepless nights (just kidding my four year old still wakes up every @&#$ing night!).

Even now I see my friends having their kids make creative projects or go different places each day, have them enrolled in multiple activities. I feel like I really have to work hard to figure out what to do with my kids. I search Pinterest endlessly for ideas because I am not creative in the least. I have a coworker who texts me places she has taken her kids and I follow in her footsteps because I don’t even know how to find these things out. I feel like I really have to try to be good at this. And most days I am too tired, so I feel like a failure when all they have done is watch TV and play in the backyard.

What I have learned? Not every mother instinctively knows what to do in every situation. Not everyone has the same emotions. Hell, I had a completely difference experience with my daugther-a natural conception, a fast drug-free delivery, and the rush of love and tears and emotions during her birth. It’s so different for everyone and can vary with each child. When people offer advice they mean well but they are speaking only from their own experiences. And don’t get me started on the advice from non-parents!

My advice for parents is fairly broad. Ask questions and ask for help if you need it. You are not supposed to know everything or how to do everything. It’s okay to not feel great mentally or physically, but do not wait to seek help if you are feeling down. Let your family and friends know because they might not know to ask. Reach out to strangers on the internet, you’d be surprised how many people have similar experiences.

You know what else? I still don’t feel like I know what I’m doing. I know how to set rules and expectations but not always how to deal with my son’s anxiety or my daughters poor sleep habits. I talk with other moms and always find out other moms feel the same. So, I may not be perfect but I’m at least always trying. This doesn’t mean I’m a bad mom or a failure. I know this phase will be fleeting as well, and I’m so very thankful I waded through the darkness and can live peacefully on the other side.