You're going to think I'm a bad person when you read this. You are, and it's okay. I feel like a bad person. I console myself: There are lots of bad people. I'm just another one.
When I had my baby back in January, it was, as they say, everything and nothing like I'd expected. Labor hurt (as I'd suspected it might), the anesthesiologist messed up my epidural (which was something I hadn't even known could happen), and the moment I saw my son for the first time was so much more crazy and surreal and amazing than I can even describe to you.
It was the recovery after giving birth that threw me for the proverbial loop.
The aftermath. The stitches, the complications, the infections, the thrush, the mastitis, the pain that wouldn't quit.
Everything hurt, all the time, from my neck to my knees, and I didn't think it was ever going to stop hurting. It was like I was suddenly thrust into someone else's body, which was different in every way possible from my own, and was suddenly empty and unkempt and falling apart, somehow bloated and caving in at the same time. It howled and groaned and creaked. Even the brain in that body was different: cobwebby and foggy, irrational, emotional, messy. It was a body like a haunted house.
But there was no time to focus on the pain or the brain or the body; there was a completely helpless human being who needed me -- all of me, more of me than I had to give -- all the time. I was running at my maximum capacity. I could've fallen asleep standing up. On a boat. In a hurricane.
I loved my baby, but he seemed to be mad at me and I couldn't figure out why. I felt selfish and tired; I never got anywhere on time and seemed to end each day even further behind than how I'd started it. I stood in front of the mirror in my messy bathroom and stared blankly at the frazzled woman staring back. Who was she and where was I?
(Sorry. I'm sure you've heard this all before.)
All I mean to say is that I honestly didn't think I was ever going to be myself again.
But then something happened which was not a miracle but felt like one: my body started to heal. My baby started smiling at me, and sleeping sometimes, too, and one day I realized that feeding him didn't hurt anymore. I made cookies and cleaned the bathroom and I felt normal. It was a new normal, shaky and tentative, but I was happy to embrace it.
He still cried, and I still cried too. He still kept me up at night, and I still felt overwhelmed and overtired and we still had so, so much to figure out. But it was working and I was very thankful.
(All of that is not the part that makes me a bad person; it's just backstory. Nitty gritty to follow.)
I had quite a few close friends who were due a few months after me with their first babies. By the time their dates rolled around, I was already reveling in my newfound normalcy. It doesn't hurt to sit down! It doesn't hurt to feed my baby! It doesn't hurt to exist! I made cookies! My baby doesn't hate me, probably!
I couldn't wait to share my findings with my friends when they inevitably found themselves in the swamp of new motherhood the same way I had. "Don't worry," I'd console them, my brows knitted together in apparent loving concern that would surely make them feel validated and understood. "I felt the same way. Everything will get better. It doesn't feel that way now, but it will. In exactly three or four or five months."
I'd let them cry on my shoulder. I'd hug them and bake them cookies. They'd be so thankful for my wisdom and care. We'd bond and grow even closer. We'd share stories and encouragements and tips and knowing looks and tears and we'd say, "It's hard, but it's so, so worth it, isn't it?"
The opportunity presented itself soon enough. I was on a walk with one of the friends and her brand new tiny baby girl. We were talking about strollers and car seats and baby carriers. There was a pause in the conversation, and I launched in.
I mean, I broached the subject gently.
"So. How are you?"
She beamed at me. Beamed. Her face lit up like a billion suns, like the fourth of July, like neon carnival lights. "So good," she said.
And she meant it.
Upon further interrogation (I couldn't help myself), I learned that her baby rarely cried, was already sleeping well, had yet to blow out the back of a diaper, and fed like a champ. My friend loved breastfeeding ("It doesn't hurt at all!"), had the easiest recovery of all time ("The first day was kind of uncomfortable at times?"), and hadn't even asked for an epidural ("I guess I just didn't need one."). In fact, after our walk that day, she was planning to go home, put her baby down for a two hour nap, and make a meal for another new mother we both knew.
I was completely unprepared for that.
Out loud I said, "Wow!"
I said, "I'm happy for you!"
I said, "That's...that's just so great!"
I summoned up a smile and wore it like it was someone else's dirty gym socks.
I hate to admit it, especially on the Internet, but I wasn't happy for her. I was completely thrown off. I was jealous, and I was insecure, and I was majorly second-guessing myself. Was I just doing everything wrong? Did I have the pain tolerance of a two year-old? Was it this easy for everyone else? Or was my friend just a mother of Herculean proportions, a freak of nature?
This, of course, was followed by shame and the horrible realization that maybe my need to console my friends and offer comfort was more for my own benefit than theirs. I needed to know that I wasn't the only one who found motherhood hard. I needed validation. I wanted to make them feel better, of course, but I also wanted them to make me feel better. And I didn't know how to admit that I was having a hard time to someone who seemed to have it all together.
I'd read a million blog posts about how no one actually has it all together. About how those Instagram pictures of clean white kitchens are fake and everyone is secretly drowning in motherhood even if they put up a front of happiness and perfection. But standing here in front of me, lit up like a Christmas tree, was proof: there are those for whom being a mom is a metaphorical piece of cake. With metaphorical buttercream frosting. And as I compared myself to my friend, I was left feeling truly inadequate.
So there you have it... I am a bad friend. You may judge me now. I don't know what to say next. I feel like I have nothing else to say. I am terrible. I am jealous. My friend is Supermom and I don't know how to be nice to her. The end.
I go back and read this essay, start to finish.
I read just the first part. The part about how it was hard but then we started figuring it out and I was thankful, and I'm stuck on that word. And I realize that the opposite of comparison is thankfulness. I realize that if I focus on how thankful I am for this child, for how much we've been through and how far we've come, and how much love is here in this relationship and how much more we have left to figure out together, it really doesn’t matter whose baby is sleeping longer or crying less or who healed faster or whatever. It just doesn’t matter.
I think I know what I want to say now.
How to be friends with Supermom:
Encourage her. Share your joys and your struggles with her. Know that she will have hard days too, she has her Kryptonite, and she might need to cry on your shoulder someday. Don't try to figure out who has it worse or better, just love her well. Be humble enough to ask for help, but understand that a lot of the time, things like sleep and colic and healing are completely out of anyone's control. Comparison, then, is silly. Practice thankfulness instead. Take her out for cheesecake.
Superhuman or not, every mom needs a good slice of cheesecake now and then.
Written by Elena Krause.