The Things They Don’t Tell You – by Erin McCrea

I recently admitted to somebody that I can’t keep indoor plants or fish alive. I can’t keep a plant alive, and I kill the fish every single time I clean the tank! I can’t keep plants and fish alive, but somehow… I am responsible for a four year old boy.

In May of 2016,  I was released from the hospital, two days after an emergency c-section. When they told me I could go home, all I could think was, “How can you let me leave? I don’t know what I’m doing. My baby won’t even breastfeed! I have no idea how to be a mom.”

I didn’t tell them I couldn’t keep a plant alive. I probably wanted to. At that point, I didn’t know yet that I was a fish killer. I wasn’t ready to leave yet because I didn’t think I could do it. Nobody told me how to do it. I didn’t believe I had the ‘Mom Instinct.’  

I had Gestational Diabetes while pregnant, and needed insulin to control it. I had sciatic pain during the last trimester. I had to pee at least eight times during the night. I was focussed on one thing before my son was born, and that was getting through the delivery. I didn’t think about what would happen after he was born. I didn’t think about the fact that I had no idea how to be a mom.

Nobody told me that the scariest part of having a baby was not giving birth, but taking a little tiny newborn home. Nobody told me that breastfeeding would be the hardest thing I’ve ever learned to do. Nobody told me the feeling of defeat I would get the first night that he cried the entire night, and I didn’t know how to comfort him. People don’t talk about these things. You hear that breastfeeding is important, and that you will feel an instant bond with your baby. 

I did a prenatal class at Fitbump. I will forever be grateful I took it. There were only three of us in the class because she had just opened. One had a toddler, and the other two (myself included) were going to be moms for the first time. I was grateful to Amanda (the owner of Fitbump) and the other participant for telling us the truth. The truth is – it’s not always easy. In fact, it’s hard.

We came home with our son, and people texted to ask how my son was. They came to visit, and they asked how breastfeeding was going. They held the baby, but didn’t ask anything about how it was being a mom. I didn’t tell them. I didn’t tell them I was exhausted, and anxious, and had no idea what I was doing. 

A nurse stopped by to check in. I remember sitting with my son while she sat across from me. She asked me how I was doing. When I tried to answer, I cried instead. I was so embarrassed. At that moment, all I could think was that she’d know I didn’t know what I was doing. I was worried she would see that I wasn’t a good mom. This fear was real, and all these thoughts went through my head in about five seconds. She looked at me, and said, “I know it’s hard.” Something about the way she looked at me and said it made me realize I wasn’t alone. I wasn’t the only mom feeling this.

When I did my first phone call from the nurses with questions about postpartum depression and anxiety, it came out as borderline for Anxiety. When I did it the second time a few weeks later, I didn’t have anxiety from the answers I gave. I want to be completely honest right now and say that I knew the answers they expected both times. I was not honest during the questions. The first time I was more willing to admit my struggles, but not all of them.

Even though they were asking these questions to help me, I still didn’t want them to think I was a bad mom. I didn’t realise that having anxiety didn’t make me a bad mom, it made me a real mom. If anybody follows me on Instagram, you know I admit to my anxiety all the time now. It was a long journey to that point. In the early days of motherhood, I wanted to share cute photos of my son, and pretend things were perfect. I wanted to convince myself it was perfect.

If you’re reading this, and are part of the Ask Mum Community, I’m sure you’ve already learned this: motherhood is not perfect. Not ever. In fact, it’s hard as hell. The only thing I’ve learned is that it’s okay to be honest about it. I love my son more than anything in this world, but I have struggled many times during these four years. Every time I think I have it figured out, things change. He changes. I change. Covid-19 happens. I’m forever grateful for the community of moms I’ve met and connected with.

Our first month was really tough. I came home from the hospital with a little stranger that was all mine. I made him, but I had no idea how to be his mom. I knew he was mine, and I loved him from the start, but I didn’t know if I was going to do a good job. I have never been one of those people confident enough to say “I was made to be a mother.” I never knew if that was true. There were points in my life when I didn’t think I’d be a mom, or that I wanted to be a mom. The moment I found out I was pregnant with him, I knew I was made to be HIS mom, and it is a privilege to be a mom. I’ve seen people who should have been moms, never get the chance. I didn’t realize how lucky I was in my first month with my son. I was too busy trying to survive. 

I know now, with four years of experience, that every moment with him is something we’ll both keep forever. But every moment is not easy. I don’t love every moment. I wish somebody had told me that getting through the birth would be the easiest part. I wish somebody had told me that being a parent is the scariest thing you’ll ever do. I’ve always prided myself on jumping into scary situations (except for bungee jumping… I tried, and couldn’t do it), but I had no idea what I was getting into when I decided I wanted to be a mom. With most of the scary things I’ve done in my life, I have no regrets. It’s worth it – anxiety and all.

Sometimes, when I know a new mom, all I want to say to them is, “I know it isn’t easy.” Then I remember what I was like during the first few weeks, and I remember how hard it was to admit I was struggling, and I can only hope they are able to talk about it with somebody. 

Motherhood for me is constant learning. It’s adapting, and it’s adjusting. For me, it’s also admitting that I don’t always know what I’m doing. It’s admitting that I will always have more to learn. It’s knowing how grateful I am to be able to raise my beautiful boy, but knowing that it’s not easy. People constantly tell you that every new age is harder than the one you are currently on. I think every child is different and every parent is different. You aren’t a bad mom if you struggle. I still catch myself thinking I’m a bad mom. I think about how I could have done something better, and I have to stop and remember that I’m the best mom for my son, and tomorrow is another day. 

In conclusion, my indoor plants are currently dead (my outdoor ones are great though). We have three fish left (I’m not telling you how many we started with), and I have one happy toddler. We are growing together in this journey, and even though I wish somebody had told me that I should look farther than birth, it’s going to be the most amazing adventure of my life. I may not be able to keep a succulent (yes, I’m serious) alive, but I can make my toddler laugh. That’s got to count for something. I’ve got this. So do you.

Thanks for reading,

Erin McCrea

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