Rain poured outside and flooded the streets of Portland, but inside a dimly lit tapas bar, four other ladies and I toasted to the upcoming marriage of one of my oldest friends, Rose. As I sipped a caipirinha, I boasted that I had showered, put on makeup and worn my hair down (for the first time since having Edie) for the occasion.
Another woman laughed. “Wow, you paint quite the picture of motherhood,” she said. I laughed, too. It says a lot about my newly altered life that I feel a need to take a selfie to document the rare night I wear earrings.
It got me thinking about what early motherhood looks like, and what new moms show, to those on the outside.
Saturday night during the bachelorette party, I did not mention that it took most of the afternoon to stop crying long enough to put on mascara. Edie hasn’t been gaining weight, and Saturday she barely ate. Every time she screamed against my breast sent me into a new bout of tears. I was sure I was doing something wrong. I resorted to nursing her while standing up and swaying; it calmed her just enough to eat for a few minutes at a time.
I kept the day’s travails to myself because I didn’t want to dampen the mood, but it’s more than that: I want to project the image of myself as the kind of mom who has her shit together (and can feed her child, for crying out loud).
Throughout Saturday, I wanted to bail on Rose’s party. I felt like a mess. When Edie and I have a tough day, I want to hole up at home. I leave my hair in a bun and stay in what Eric calls my Kurt Warner sweats (on account of the droopy butt). I tend to withdraw into a cocoon where it’s safe and warm.
When I’m feeling vulnerable, the last thing I want is to zip myself into something more form-fitting than an oversized t-shirt.
I don’t think I’m alone in this. I don’t usually see moms with tear-blotchy faces out in public. This is whom I do see: Moms wearing Lululemon pants meeting at the café to walk their kids in schmancy strollers.
We—the general we, the public—hear about the hard times of parenthood (diaper blowouts, sleepless nights, blah blah blah) but don’t witness them. It’s easy to fall into the mental trap of assuming that after the initial infant crash course, parenthood becomes a breeze.
Yes, the Ryan Gregory household runs much more smoothly than in those first few weeks. But just because we close our desperate moments behind an apartment door doesn’t mean they don’t happen.
Perhaps I need to remind myself that those yoga-toned moms at the coffee shop also let their crying echo against the shower walls sometimes, and that it’s ok for me to go out—and it may even do me some good—with or without tear-smudged skin.