As a new mom, you hear a lot of cliches. As a mom of twins, I got a lot of, “Bless your hearts,” and the understated, but equally unhelpful, “Wow, your hands sure are full!” every time I left the house. The grocery store was my own personal hell. I would have one twin screaming and trying to stand up in the front part of the buggy, and one twin in the back part, throwing food out as my older child sullenly trailed behind me, tossing it back into the cart. I don’t think that it was a coincidence that none of the teenagers that worked at my Kroger got pregnant the first 2 years of the twins’ lives; watching them was such effective birth control!
But it never failed. On my worst days, when my kids were licking the outside of every box of food, when they were yelling and throwing their pacifiers at strangers, or when they would just lay on the floor and refuse to move, there was always some well-meaning elderly person primed and ready to go with a, “Your hands sure are full!” I would love to tell you that I would smile sweetly and reply, “Yes, but you should see my heart!” but typically I was doing well just to nod and keep my mouth shut. On some days, let’s just say it was a good thing that I had both hands occupied at the time!
As redundant and annoying as some of these sayings can be, there is one that can be dangerous. You see it all the time: a new mom is exhausted because she has a baby that won’t sleep more than 10 minutes at a time or has a newborn that refuses a pacifier and constantly wants to nurse. Her partner may work nights or be unable (or unwilling) to help with nighttime feedings or she may have babies and as twin A finally goes back to sleep and mom starts to drift off herself, said twin sends some kind of twin telepathy signal to twin B that now is the perfect time to start screaming like someone is sawing a limb off. The mom, desperate for some empathy, takes to Facebook at 4 am to vent a little, and after 7 am, when the rest of the world wakes up, you see people commenting, “They are only little for so long,” “One day they won’t want you to hold them,” “I sure miss my kids being that little,” or that familiar saying that makes skin crawl: “Cherish the moments!”
Then this new mom, now feeling even more defeated because surely she is a bad mom for not soaking up every single second of motherhood, starts doubting herself, wondering what is wrong with her and why she can’t cherish every magical time her precious offspring poops through its clothes at 2 am. We are doing our moms a disservice when we glorify motherhood and don’t acknowledge how difficult it can be. We live in a society where a mom’s health and well-being is forgotten about as soon as she delivers. So often we have these women struggling with the ever-present mom guilt, post-partum depression, and complete exhaustion. Rather than take that opportunity to be supportive by helping with laundry, holding the baby while mom naps, or even just a few sympathetic words on Facebook, so many people (typically other women) respond with an expression that not only does not help, but can actually hurt. I honestly believe that these women are trying to help, however misguided and ineffective it is, so I would encourage everyone to instead respond with supportive words, an act of kindness, or even some coffee dropped off at the new mom’s doorstep.
After having four babies, one that still doesn’t consistently sleep through the night at almost two years old, I can tell you that chronic exhaustion is a real condition that deserves acknowledgement. I’m sure that one day all my kids will sleep past 5 am and I will get more than six hours of interrupted sleep. And those are some moments that I will cherish!