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For the sake of full disclosure, this post was never meant to be Part 3. But as I sat in bed one scary night in April, past my bedtime, cabernet in hand, anxious mama thoughts racing, I realized this needed to be said. Let me tell you a story.
The Basic, Rational Facts
It’s April. Husband is leaving for a 5-day trip, and for the first time in his 11-month life, baby is sick. Well, his temperature says he’s sick, while his temperament says that all is pretty much normal, save the need for slightly increased sleep and snuggles. I drop my husband at the airport while baby’s nanny gives him Motrin and puts him to bed.
The Not-So-Basic, Not-At-All-Rational Mental Spiral
On the way to drop husband at the airport, my mental wheels would not stop turning, and I sobbed a mini-mama meltdown.
More Basic, Rational Facts
Sweet husband lets me have my meltdown, doing all the right things. He assures me that it’ll be okay, but that he completely understands why I find the situation so scary. He says he wishes he could stay and help and he’s sorry he has to go, but reminds me that he’s just a phone call away and that I have plenty of family and friends nearby should I need immediate assistance.
I calm down, drop husband for his flight, drive home, say goodnight to the nanny, pour myself a glass of cabernet, and try to relax.
Earlier, when my meltdown started, I had posted in a trusted mama group on Facebook to air my worries and ask for advice. After pouring my glass of wine, I logged on to read the responses and thank the group for their help. As always, they had provided wonderful, empathetic advice. I typed the following:
Baby is medicated and hydrated; mama is self-medicating by dehydrating.
From Meltdown, to Guilt and Judgment
Before I clicked to post the response, I erased it.
Then I rewrote it.
Then erased it.
Even in the only nonjudgmental mama space I’ve ever been a part of, I was afraid to click post. The mental spiral was back.
Convinced that someone was going to call child protective services if I was honest about my method of mothering that night, I cut and repasted my post time and again, until I finally realized something.
This. Is. Absurd.
I do not need to feel guilty for anything I’m doing here. I am a good mama. The fact that I feel like I will be judged for something so small and so common is indicative of the many ways in which our collective cultural voice tries to define my role as a mother, and I will not stand for it. Not tonight.
I click send.
(Side note: the mamas in this wonderful group loved my response, cheered me on, and congratulated me for making it through. We need more spaces like this.)
Then I think about how frustrating it is that I even feared judgment for something so small, and I think, “Hey, I should blog about this sometime.”
Then, fear of judgment again.
I’m not even slightly exaggerating this thought process.
Then, I came to another, similar, realization.
This is bullshit!
It’s about getting real, because what’s the point of this whole parenting journey if we can’t be authentic about how hard and scary and overwhelming it all is?
But even more than that, it’s about getting way beneath that surface. I can analyze my thought processes in a million different ways to discover where these anxieties come from, but I’m not here to play Freud with my own psyche. It’s the social psyche I want to address in this space.
In other words, I want to know what has happened that has led all of us to expect judgment, to second guess ourselves, to hide away our thoughts and behavior when they seem too dark.
Why am I judging myself for choices that feel genuine, safe, and useful?
Who, and why, and for how long, have people and institutions and religions and pop culture and social media and our own freaking families and friends and minds been forcing us to police the way we approach our own experiences of maternity?
What steps can we take to help undo that damage, to be able to drink wine while a sick baby sleeps and tell everyone about it unabashedly because, damnit, we are good mamas?
This, friends, is the heart of Undefining Motherhood.
Katy Huie Harrison, PhD, is an author, mom, recurrent miscarriage survivor, & owner of Undefining Motherhood. She lives in Atlanta with her husband (affectionately known on the internet as “Husband,”) son (Jack), and dog (Charlotte). She believes our society puts too many expectations on women that make womanhood and motherhood restrictive. Her goal is to shift the paradigm about what it means to be a woman and mother, giving all women a greater sense of agency over their own lives. You can find Katy and her work featured in places like CNN’s Headline News, Romper, Scary Mommy, Demeter Press’s Motherhood and Social Exclusion, & more.