A few weeks before welcoming Isabella to my life, I was happily working when it hit me: I was going to be a mother. Sure, it was a delayed, albeit curious reaction considering I knew, at least intellectually, that pregnancy led to a baby. But, it felt like a sucker punch, nonetheless.
Yet, when the idea sunk in, it caused a panic attack. I couldn’t breathe. I felt faint and my heart was pumping speedily. Feeling suffocated by my cubicle walls, I needed to get outside.
When I hit the street and the fresh air, I was sure that I’d feel better. No shot.
Although I was working in midtown Manhattan at the time, and there wasn’t a residential building in sight, it seemed every child that lived in the city’s vicinity came to greet me. Little people on leashes, others holding their parent’s hand and many more in strollers. As shocking as it was to see so many kiddos, they weren’t my problem. It was the women accompanying the children that had my knees buckle.
See, all of them looked like mothers. They acted like mothers, caressing their little ones. They sounded like mothers, lovingly scolding their children for getting too close to the street. And, worse still, was the woman who pulled out a gourmet meal complete with juice boxes out of her bag.
I wasn’t like them. And, in that moment, I didn’t believe I ever could be.
Throughout my pregnancy – and not just the first one, mind you – self-doubt was a constant companion. I’ve had similar doubts in my professional life. It seems imposter syndrome is a common thread amongst us women – even the most famous, accomplished of them. Yet, never was the feeling so strong and so real than during pregnancy.
Now that I’ve made my way through many of my worries and fears mostly unscathed (proof: my two girls are alive), I realize that much of my pre-mama anxieties was rooted in my own negative thoughts of my abilities, and often times, my biased ideas of what a mother was supposed to be.
In the hopes that I can quiet the negative talk that may be racing through your mind, I’ve catalogued some of my biggest mental roadblocks and how you can reframe them in your mind.
Roadblock: I’m already so busy, how could I possibly fit more into my life?
Before pregnancy, I spent at least 12 hours every day in the office without a real break for lunch. And, when I wasn’t in the office, I was firing off emails on my walk to the trains, right before falling asleep, upon waking up and even in the middle of the night. At the time, I was only seeing my friends once a week, if I was lucky, and time with Frank was mainly spent eating pasta while zoning out to old episodes of Seinfeld. It just didn’t seem possible that I could fit another thing – let alone a child – into my life.
The fix: Your time will become a valuable commodity to be handled with care.
Economic theory explains that when there is a low supply of a product, it can demand a higher price. It’s the same with our time. With less time available, you’ll start treating it as a valuable commodity. And, like gold or platinum or coffee, you’ll trade your time to the highest bidder. This may mean you’ll forfeit your morning catch up with your desk mate to clear through your inbox. It may also mean that you’ll be okay with completing your assignment once – and not going through it two or three more times until it’s “perfect.” Done will quickly become better than perfect.
Roadblock: I can barely care for myself, how can I care for another human?
I ate cereal for dinner most work nights. Well into my 30s, my mother still reminded me to schedule my annual doctor’s visit. I had locked myself out of my own apartment more times than I care to admit. And, I never carried enough cash to get me out of a late night bind. Who in their right mind would think I could get my sh!t together in time to care for another human being?
The fix: Just as you’ve figured out everything up to this point, you’ll figure this out, too.
Just because you still need a little bit of help, doesn’t mean you haven’t done some amazing things in your life. Think back to those college years when you were sure you’d never survive finals. Or when you were sure that you embarrassed yourself in that interview only to be awarded the job. And every challenge since then you’ve figured out what needed to be done, and then you rolled up your sleeves and got to work.
You’ll do the same when baby comes. Just like any job you’ve had in the past, caring for baby will require learning – you’ll read up on things, you’ll ask questions to understand how certain things work, and you’ll learn from mistakes before trying a new approach. And, when necessary, you’ll ask for help.
Roadblock: I’ll never be a mother like those other women.
I never yearned to be a mama. I feel guilty writing that as I know so many whose one wish is to mother a child. But, it was true for me. I wasn’t one to ooh and ahh over babies, I couldn’t get kids to laugh, and for much of my young adult life, I wasn’t sure children fit into my life. Because of these and other ideas of what I thought a mother was supposed to be and do, I didn’t believed I fit the “mother” mold, let alone felt worthy to hold the title.
The fix: Just do you.
Because if you try to be anyone else, you won’t succeed. The pressure will strip you of any joy you’d find in caring and loving your child. Plus, you’ll steal your child’s opportunity to have you as their mother.
Despite my initial beliefs, there is no ideal model of “mother.” No one size fits all. Motherhood and mothering will be as unique as you are. The only thing that defines “mother” is a woman who cares and loves a child. Any other classification you wish to add to the definition – be it working mama, stay at home mama, formula-feeding mama, breastfeeding mama, or so on – is completely up to you. None is better than the other. And, all can lead to raising successful, happy children.
The emotional rollercoaster that sometimes comes with pregnancy and mamahood can be trying. My hope is that I’ve helped you rethink some of the obstacles that may be standing in your way in understanding how perfectly suited you are to be a mama to your child.
You got this!