I go through diaper bags the way some people go through lipstick, a box of diapers, or a week’s worth of food. At one point, I used four or five different bags as diaper bags, hoping one would “fit” just the right way, that the weight I carried would feel less heavy, and my shoulders wouldn’t ache at the end of the day.
Inside my bags, I carry all the essentials for a preschooler and toddler: at least four diapers in a wet bag with a full pack of wipes, allergy medications, an inhaler for my son, band aids, Neosporin, toys, granola bars, applesauce pouches, cheddar bunnies, and something for myself to snack on. Always, the snacks, for my pregnant and always-hungry self, and the never-ending pits that belong to my children.
I didn’t think it would be this hard to find a bag that didn’t weigh me down. But the diaper bag has come to represent something different to me five years and 10 diaper bags into motherhood: I think if I find the magical bag that makes the physical weight of motherhood lighter, then there is hope I can find the magic solution to lessen the mental load of motherhood.
I had never considered the mental burden of motherhood until my first baby was wrapped up and placed in my arms. However, I did have articles and blog posts and advertisements thrown at me for nine months, telling me all about the best diaper bags and the best essentials to carry inside said bags. I wanted one that was cute and functional, something that didn’t make me feel like I was carrying a bag for my baby. I used totes filled with makeup bags of all sizes, in which I kept extra clothes, snacks, and diapers. Everything had a place and with every bag I easily switched out what I needed for each excursion out of the house. And yet with every one, I felt weighed down.
As my children grow older, I am surprised by the weight of motherhood, and it turns out my diaper bag is not to blame.
My three-year-old reaches for my hand as I maneuver the car seat with his baby sister in my other arm. My dad walks behind me, carrying my diaper bag in his hand, keeping his jokes to himself about how heavy it is. I’m not in a laughing mood as we walk up to the Children’s Hospital Therapy Center for my son's evaluation. He barely speaks, and, when he does, it is nearly impossible to understand him. I ignored my motherly instincts for a year, hoping and praying it would resolve on its own. Now there is no ignoring the fact there is something wrong.
I sift through the diaper bag, picking out the smaller bags and explaining the contents to my dad in case the baby wakes up from her nap. He nods as if he will remember anything I said and goes back to rocking the car seat with his foot, reclining his head against the wall. I take my son’s hand, and we walk through the door, down a narrow hallway, to a room where we will spend the next hour with a speech pathologist.
Once the evaluation is over, we meet my dad in the lobby, and I am overcome with gratitude that I didn’t have to go through this alone. He picks up my diaper bag and my sleeping baby as I grapple with the weight of my son’s diagnosis—Apraxia of Speech, a neurological speech disorder.
My three-month-old has been sick for a week and doesn’t seem to be getting any better. Her cough sounds like a barking seal. I Google “cough barking seal” and am immediately met with the symptoms of respiratory viruses. I load up the diaper bag, expecting most of our day to be taken up by doctors and nurses in the ER, since it is a weekend and her doctor isn’t available.
After a few hours in the hospital room, I receive a text from my sister asking how my daughter is. I tell her we will be here for quite a few more hours to keep an eye on her oxygen level. I also tell her I am starving. The hospital is a five-minute drive from my sister’s house, and she comes to check on my daughter as we wait to see if her oxygen levels go up. She brings lunch and company, and for a few moments I am able to relax and forget about the aches and pains in my body from sitting on a gurney for hours.
Eight hours later, my daughter and I leave the hospital with an oxygen tank attached to her and instructions on how to carefully drive home without bursting into flames. I am petrified as I walk out of the hospital with a sick baby, a car seat, a diaper bag, and an oxygen tank. The fear of the unknown is heavier as we settle into our new normal, not knowing when the machines and tubes will leave my daughter’s side.
Motherhood is a heavy job. Raising real people who will go on to live real lives should be heavy work, but I don’t want to mess anything up. I spend so many hours throughout the week fearing I am not doing enough. Is my child ready for kindergarten in the fall? Is he self-sufficient enough to get through an entire day without me? Will my children be kind and compassionate adults, always willing to lend a helping hand? Will they look back on their life with me and say I did a good job?
The moment I announced my pregnancy I was met with advice about the gear I would need for the baby—which store has the best clothes, which swing feels just like mama’s arms, the diapers that don’t leak, and the diaper bag that is guaranteed to fit everything, including the kitchen sink. The tangible stuff is what makes money, it’s what is sold to every woman with a growing womb. We make room for all of the stuff we are told we will need yet are rarely told to make room in our minds and in our hearts for the real work of motherhood.
The long days that turn into long nights, the incessant tears from the newborn and the exhausted mama, the cough that turns into an ER trip and ends with a baby on oxygen for a week, the hours spent in an observation room watching a preschooler learn how to talk. These are the things I carry with me every day, the things that weigh me down when I think of all that motherhood is.
I am a few months away from having my third child and am considering—for the 450th time—which diaper bag would be the best fit for a kindergartner, toddler, and baby. The choices feel overwhelming and, at this point, I am most concerned about the health of my back while chasing three kids around.
I know what it is I am looking for in a diaper bag: a backpack that allows for two free hands, enough space for the snacks and the diapers, and maybe a notebook for myself to record my thoughts, which is the only way I have found to lessen the other load I carry on my shoulders. I know that my full-hands are about to be outnumbered, and I have yet to find that magical diaper bag that fits everything I need, that is comfortable and easily accessible. I’m sure it is out there waiting for me. I also know it isn’t the diaper bag I have to worry about. It just feels like the easier choice.
Guest post written by Jacey Rogel. Jacey is a wife and a mama to three. She is living in the newborn fog and surviving with the help of coffee. When she's not sleep deprived, she can be found reading while her older children go on grand adventures in the backyard. Writing has been a salvation for her since she became a mother, helping her through the hard seasons that accompany motherhood. Her writing has appeared on Coffee + Crumbs and The Village Magazine. She occasionally blogs at jaceywrites.com.
Jacey is a member of our Exhale community. To learn more about Exhale and how you can join this amazing community of creators and dreamers, visit www.exhalecreativity.com.