Erin Hiemstra adores her son, Carter, 3, more than anything. The San Francisco–based lifestyle blogger at Apartment34 is also acutely aware that motherhood is not always as black or white as the media makes it seem. It’s not either blissful or miserable. At times, it’s somewhere in between: arduous, monotonous, and punctuated by a fleeting feeling that you’re missing out on your old life. Here is her honest cautionary tale.
If you were to judge motherhood by what you see on social media (today’s measure for virtually everything), there appear to be only two camps: the blissed-out mother goddess, or the miserable new mom drowning under the weight of postpartum depression.
Entire sites are dedicated to the glorification of motherhood, where you regularly see gorgeous women in flowing dresses, their child held aloft in an angelic glow, magically not spitting up on the mom’s silk garments. The moms are often photographed standing in a pool. Why is that? How many people do you know even have a pool? Instagram glorifies motherhood even further, showcasing travel bloggers taking their toddlers to far-flung destinations with ease, design bloggers who have picture-perfect nurseries (I’m guilty as charged on this count), moms in their boho abodes arranged just so, babes dressed in adorable knit bonnets and bloomers—everyone so, so happy.
I’m the first to champion everyone’s individual experience and acknowledge that every story is powerful, personal, and valuable. But I’ve rarely seen the story of the reluctant mother be told. The one who wasn’t super thrilled about being pregnant, the one who does not find motherhood to be a mindblowing nor soul-opening experience. The one who never quite felt ready for all this anyway and most days still doesn’t. The one who desperately misses her old life. My story.
I never wore pregnancy comfortably. It did not sit well with me. I always felt invaded. I guess I still do. After giving birth, I kept waiting for that motherhood euphoria to arrive, that desperate longing to hold my baby whenever I was away from him. Nope, I was cool. Once my maternity leave concluded, I thought I’d have the burning desire to escape the office to get home to him. Nope, I was really concerned about the big presentation I had the next day. I thought I would relish in the glorious joy of playing and cuddling with him all morning. Except what I’m really doing is just counting down until nap time.
Everyone says be present. Soak it all in. These moments are precious, fleeting. The days are long, but the years are short. Yes. I believe them. I will look back, and this moment will seem like a little blip across my life’s timeline. But to date, my time as a mother has been arduous, monotonous, tedious even. I’m neither suddenly inspired nor energized by my new identity. I’m weighed down by it.
By this point, you probably think I’m the world’s worst mom. But actually, it’s quite the opposite. I’m a really great mom. No, really! I constantly play with my son. I’m super affectionate. I’m endlessly patient (with occasional exceptions of course—I'm not a saint!). I leave my phone in another room when we’re together. We have zero screen time. I cook homemade organic food. We partake in enriching activities. We sing songs, dance, read, travel. I work extremely hard to ensure all my son knows is love and positivity.
He doesn’t know how badly I miss my old pre-child self.
But oh, how I do.
I miss my old freedoms. I miss my old body. I miss my old friendships. I miss my old memory (the mom brain thing is real). I resent not having the flexibility to work late if I need to, or the energy to go to a 7 p.m. yoga class. I miss the lack of consequences if I overindulge on a girls' night—or even being able to schedule a girls' night.
And these are not occasional pangs of nostalgia. This is like all the time.
I take my responsibility to raise a compassionate, empathetic, loving, warm, and ideally happy little person very seriously, but it is neither what defines nor what fulfills me. I feel like once we have kids, women tend to fall back on motherhood as our common denominator—not our mutual interests, passions, educations or pursuits. It’s so easy to talk about how you survived potty training or the funny thing your 3 year old said the other day. Kids do say the darndest stuff.
But does everything we were before no longer matter? What happens if we’re struggling to find our former selves, but we’re not saddled with the real burden of postpartum depression? What if things are just hard for seemingly no reason?
I don’t want anyone to think I’m ungrateful or unaware of how lucky I am—and how so many others are not. I conceived fairly quickly and had an easy pregnancy. I gave birth to a healthy child. He was a mellow baby and has grown into a sweet, loving, and relatively manageable toddler. I have the economic freedom to pursue a dream job, and I can afford childcare. None of these privileges escape me.
But do you see what I just did there? I felt it necessary to qualify my experience. Caveat it because it doesn’t fit into what motherhood is supposed to look like. I don’t feel like I’m supposed to be feeling.
I am so grateful to see issues like infertility and miscarriage being brought out into the open. These are hugely painful and traumatic experiences that should not be hidden or thought of as a source of shame. I’m glad women are finding their power and are able to open up about their experiences with fertility struggle. There is healing in shared experiences.
So when someone asks me how it’s going, I want it to be able to say: Well, it kinda sucks. I’m bored. I’m exhausted. I’m burnt out. I’m over it. And I don’t want to be judged for it. Nor do I want to feel ashamed of it. Struggling to find joy in motherhood doesn’t mean I don’t love my child. Of course I do. It doesn’t mean I’m unable or unwilling to provide him with all the guidance and parenting he needs. Of course, I snuggle him in the middle of the night. Soothe his owies. Assuage his fears. It doesn’t mean I don’t think he’s the cutest kid on the planet. You should have seen what he did yesterday. It was the most adorable thing I have ever seen a kid do.
I adore my child. But his place in this world means that my identity as simply me—Erin the woman—has been forever compromised, and that is a loss. One that I may never fully finish grieving. And that is okay. I would even argue it should be expected, acknowledged, and honored. I’m fairly convinced that this is not true for the fathers, but that is another discussion to have at another time.
My point of sharing my story isn’t to whine and moan—though it may sound that way a bit. Rather, I just want to share my truth in the hope that it might buoy the spirits of another struggling mom who is nowhere near putting on a floor-skimming gown and prancing around in a field of wildflowers. I hope that by opening up, it might encourage someone else to share their completely normal and (I suspect) highly common experience.
When we can share our stories—the invisible ones that get lost in the middle—the entire spectrum of motherhood, from the highest highs to the lowest lows (and the slog in between) can be seen. If we begin to tell our friends, our loved ones, and other expectant moms how we really feel, we can demystify this thing called motherhood. We can be understood and, most important, validated for who we really are. To all the moms out there who are struggling, in ways big and small, I see you knee-deep in your shit. I’m mucking my way through it right alongside you.
Next up: A mom opens up about raising her son with down syndrome.