My son is a miracle. His name is Matisyahu Chaim, which translates to “Life is a gift from G-d”. Boy, ain’t that the truth. From the moment I was pregnant with him, I was so worried something was going to go wrong. Probably because I was already questioning my ability to be a mother before I even got married. My husband, Dovid, reassured me everything would be fine. But it wasn’t.
The first time I found out I was pregnant, time stopped. I had a true out-of-body experience. I was literally on such a high. Crying, laughing, singing, skipping. The world had so much more meaning. Everything I did had meaning. I was growing a human inside of me. It was all bliss. Until it wasn’t.
I miscarried 6 weeks after that first joyous day. It was one of the most devastating experiences of my life. Physical pain and emotional pain all mixed up together, so that I couldn’t discern one from the other. I felt foolish for mourning the loss of someone I had never even met. And on top of that, I felt like a complete failure as a woman. I wondered if I was broken. Maybe I wasn’t meant to be a mother, and maybe I never would be. Sitting at work listening to other people talk about pregnancy and babies was excruciating.
And then I got pregnant again. The first time around, I hadn’t told anyone about my pregnancy because it was so early on. I don’t even think I told my mother. And then, when I had the miscarriage, I regretted not telling her. Because even though that particular pregnancy ended in sadness and pain, I withheld the joy I could have potentially had by sharing my good news with those I was closest to.
So the second time I got pregnant, I was apprehensive, but I knew that I was telling my loved ones as soon as I could. Because even if it was short-lived, I wanted to live this happy time to the fullest extent possible. So I told my mother, I told my friends, I told my family, and besides for extreme fatigue and nausea, I was really happy.
I did a whole lot of research on pregnancy and labor, but, for some reason, not much at all about what happens post-birth. Maybe it was because I wasn’t entirely convinced I would get a healthy baby after all of it. And so, I was thoroughly unprepared to be a parent. I didn’t know how to care for a child in the slightest. Feeding, changing diapers, lack of sleep, sleep training—all of these were foreign concepts to me. I recall asking Dovid how you get a baby through security in the airport. Like, do you just put him through the x-ray machine in his car seat? Wouldn’t that be traumatic? [*Insert concerned eye-roll here.]
Society gave me the impression that real women give birth naturally, without an epidural. Oh, and they exclusively breastfeed. And they are stay-at-home moms who devote the rest of their lives to selflessly doting on their children and family. So obviously, that was the plan. And that plan went up in smoke, in the style of a Fourth of July fireworks show.
I did end up having my son naturally, sans epidural, and now I’m kicking myself for it, because, my gosh, did it hurt! And the only reason I was doing it was because I had been told that babies who are born naturally are healthier and better off. The best thing I can say about it now is that I feel super accomplished. Like, if I got through that torment, I could probably get through anything. It was so painful that I don’t remember most of it. But, apparently, in my daze, I tore Dovid’s shirt, popped off a few of his buttons, and sang some obscure nursery rhymes. Pretty sure Dovid thought that I was a goner at that point. Luckily for him, I wasn’t totally gone, but I was pretty traumatized from the whole ordeal.
I tried to nurse right away, but I was so exhausted that the nurses just fed Matis formula the first few days at the hospital. The first night was a nightmare, because after giving birth and being traumatized and beyond exhaustion, the hospital I was in didn’t have a nursery. And so, I was up all night, trying to rock baby Matis to sleep. And thus began my path to pure insanity.
Eventually we went home, and I hired lactation consultant after lactation consultant to help me figure out what I could do to make breastfeeding work for me. Not much worked. So for the next 8 months, I attempted to breastfeed all day, every day (even though, in reality, I wasn’t producing much), and supplement with formula so that my child wouldn’t starve. I had no schedule, and I barely slept. I wasn’t in a good place. I had mild to moderate postpartum depression. I very clearly remember thinking I wasn’t cut out to be a mother. A thought that is completely absurd to think about now; today, I wouldn’t trade Matis for the world.
Soon after Matis was born, I got pregnant again, and I was most certainly not ready for another child. And then…I miscarried. Again. This time, though, it wasn’t the same kind of pain. It was a numb sort of ache. I felt like a ghost of myself. Going through the motions of what needed to be done, but not actually there.
The moment I started back at work (thereby giving up my dream of breastfeeding and being a stay-at-home mom), I started to feel more like myself again. I was happier. Not completely, but it made a world of a difference. I actually had the energy and wherewithal to give back to my son and family. I give so much credit to the stay-at-home moms out there. For as much as I wanted it to be my reality, it wasn’t meant to be.
Looking back, I so wish there was someone who had grasped me by the shoulders, shook me, and impressed the following into my psyche: “Nehama, you don’t have to do and be everything you think you need to do and be to be considered a real woman. You don’t need to have a natural birth. You don’t need to breastfeed. And you most certainly do not need to be a stay-at-home mother. You, your child, and your family will be better off if you are healthy and happy.”
If you’re reading this, and you need to hear these words, then I hope I can be that person for you. Motherhood is hard enough without us setting these ridiculous expectations and standards for ourselves. I got so much hate for not exclusively breastfeeding and for sending my son to daycare so young. I get that everyone has their own idea of what is good for a child. But for the most part, we’re doing the best we can. And if we felt less judged by other mothers, maybe we’d be better mothers ourselves, and focus on what really matters. Like spending time with our kids, and teaching them what it means to be good, upstanding human beings, instead of harping on details that don’t make a difference in the scheme of things—like if I exclusively breastfed or not.
Here’s to some mom-judgment-free days in the future. And to some lifting each other up, instead of bringing each other down. Cheers to that!