It is 3:18 a.m. My newborn son, Arlo, snuffles in his crib, and in a comically small twin bed across the room, I sigh with relief. If he is making noise, he is breathing. If he is breathing, he is alive. The next morning is sunny but I feel drained. As my partner leaves for work, I feel panic: I cannot do this. Please, please, don’t leave me to do this alone. I know rationally that he needs to go, that he can’t solve the problem. I’m supposed to be treasuring this time. But this is so much harder than I expected. This time is pierced by postpartum anxiety. I feel jumpy when I move more than a couple feet from my baby. I feel reluctant to put him down even to sleep.
Thankfully, I found a MotherWoman perinatal support group. I met women who value sharing honest, messy accounts of their feelings and losses because such sharing can help them — or someone else in the room. I could say aloud in the group the messages I couldn’t silence in my head. “We know,” said the faces around the circle. “We hear you. You are not alone. And you are not crazy.”
In my weekly group, I could share my experience: I think I’m supposed to be liking this more. I’ve wanted this baby for so long. But right now, I just want my old self, my old life. I’ve never been so bored or so lonely in my life. And no one chastised me the way I berated myself day and night.
I talked about our sleep issues and no one dismissed them. Outside the group, I’d gotten used to feeling scolded when I admitted we were having disastrous nights well into Arlo’s first year. Hadn’t I sleep-trained him yet? Why wasn’t he sleeping in his own room? The same anxiety that plagued our nights shrouded even discussions about sleep with well-meaning parents. I couldn’t wait for my two-hour support group each week, where I never received unwanted counsel and never felt judged.
Most helpfully, the facilitators — moms themselves who completed Perinatal Support Group Facilitator Training such as the training at Bastyr University — validated my fears. They nodded as I described my anxiety. They took turns holding our babies so we could hug our own knees, giving our bodies a few minutes’ rest between bouncing and feeding sessions. They fed us muffins, and we gratefully ravaged them with two free hands.
I felt both lighter and more grounded after each group. Parenting was harder than all of us moms had expected, but that didn’t mean we loved our babies any less or were any less deserving of them.
MotherWoman helped me believe — to internalize, finally — that there was no better way I could or should be parenting. I am exactly the right mom for my son.
— By Lexi Walters Wright, an editor, writer, and sometime librarian in Florence, Massachusetts. Walters Wright facilitates a monthly Empty Arms Miscarriage Support Group based on the MotherWoman principles. For more information about the Perinatal Support Group Facilitator Training December 4-6, 2014, contact the Simkin Center for Allied Birth Vocations at Bastyr University.