I caught myself doing it the other day — wearing my exhaustion like a badge of honor. It’s not that I’m not tired — I am, but I don’t think that my chronic weariness is somehow proportional to my quality as a mother. In fact, extreme fatigue makes me a worse mom. Call me selfish, but I’ve made a number of parenting choices for my own personal comfort. My decisions are how I maintain my well-being, autonomy, and sense of self. It’s not that I’m not willing to make sacrifices. I committed to that when I became a parent. I do, however, defend my right to do what's best for me because that, in turn, is what's best for my children.
It was very early in my motherhood journey that I realized martyrdom wasn’t for me. I intended to labor for as long as possible without a pharmaceutical intervention, and I did… for 20 hours. Getting the epidural helped me relax, which allowed my stalled labor to progress. I was able to appreciate (I won’t say enjoy because I still felt it) the experience, and I was certainly glad to be numb when I needed an episiotomy. I opted for a medicated birth with my second child as well. It bothers me when unassisted labors are referred to as natural, as if there’s something unnatural about how I did it. I figured if pain relief was an option (and I understood and assumed the risks), why suffer unnecessarily?
Breastfeeding ended up being another hill I didn’t want to die upon. With both my kids, I struggled with low supply and faced the specter of failure to thrive. I tried a reasonable number of interventions: herbal supplements, drinking more water, pumping, and seeing multiple lactation consultants. I drew the line at a supplemental nursing system, which is a device that allows the baby to stimulate the breast at the same time they receive formula through a small feeding tube. It’s also, in my experience, extremely difficult to use. And, I wasn’t willing to triple feed (nurse, bottle feed, pump) around the clock. When my son’s latch caused me to bleed through a nipple shield, I called it quits. I had some guilt around not nursing, but the fact that I can now actually enjoy feeding my baby cured me of that pretty quickly.
When my daughter was around four months old, my chronic sleep deprivation was starting to take a toll on my physical and mental health. She was no longer a newborn who needed to feed frequently. She was full, dry, and capable of sleeping for an extended period of time, but she was still waking. It was at that point I decided to begin sleep training her. The first night I let her "cry it out," she lasted all of ten minutes. She began sleeping for longer stretches, and by eight months old, she slept twelve hours through the night. I know sleep training is controversial, and I recognize it’s not for everybody. But I also know I’m not earning any mom patches for “Got Up With The Baby Six Times Last Night.” Being well-rested, however, does makes me a more patient, thoughtful mama.
Something else that fills my bucket? Alone time. Not everyone wants to be away from their babies, but there’s no shame for those of us who do. I went to get a massage two weeks after my daughter’s birth. She stayed with my mother-in-law, and it was magical. My mom watched her at three months so my husband and I could go out for dinner on our first wedding anniversary. She’s three now, and she’s had overnights with her grandparents, aunts and uncles, and friends while I’ve taken trips, celebrated my birthday, and gotten a colonoscopy (OK, that one wasn’t for fun). I don’t think there’s any part of time away for the sake of self-care that makes me a bad mother, so pardon me while I plan my next mom-cation.
I had always thought I would want to be a stay-at-home mom, and I did… for a time. At the 18-month mark, though, I started to need more intellectual stimulation. When a part-time writing opportunity came my way, I enrolled my daughter in preschool and never looked back. After my son was born, I returned to work after twelve weeks. I have found I like how my work makes me feel relevant and appreciated, provides supplemental income, and still allows me to be present for my kids. It would be one thing if being a SAHM was entirely fulfilling for me, but it just isn’t. I never want to make my children feel responsible for Mommy giving up her career dreams for them, and I’m choosing to do that by actively pursuing them.
Having it all is a myth — I certainly don’t. Ideally, I wouldn’t have to choose between breastfeeding and being pain-free or between letting my baby cry and getting the sleep I need. If we’re being honest, our society isn’t all that supportive of moms. If it were, we’d have paid maternity leave. But we don’t, so we have to prioritize. Yes, the safety and well-being of our children comes first, but it’s also OK to take steps to meet our own needs and desires. We’re not doing our kids any favors by putting our interests, relationships, goals, and health on the back burner. As far as I’m concerned, what’s good for the goose is good for the, um, goslings. A content and fulfilled mama has happy, secure children, whatever that looks like for her.