On wanting to be ‘that’ mom [dealing with shame when we don’t meet our own expectations]

I wish she wouldn’t take a photo of this. I don’t want anyone to see this.

AsaNB-49

I squirmed around in my blue linen dress, my cheeks flushed and shame filling my heart as our photographer friend took photographs of our little family. I sat on our living room couch, feeding my ten day old son a bottle of formula. Sure, it was organic and had prebiotics in it and was free of corn syrup solids. But it wasn’t my breast. And I was embarrassed.

When I found out I was pregnant with our little miracle baby, I had every intention of being ‘that’ mom. You know the one. The one we follow on instagram. The one who has five kids and cloth diapers and makes her own baby food from food that comes from your backyard. The one who has beautiful bath tub birth photos. The mom who loves nursing and is constantly carrying her baby around in her wrap or sling made from organic, sustainable materials. The mom who diffuses essential oils in her home and whose hair always looks clean and who can exercise weeks after giving birth.

Do you know any real moms like that? I don’t. But I wanted to be her. 

And here I was hobbling around, my body struggling to recover. My hair was dirty, I smelled of sour milk and a very distinct hormonal sweat, and I was giving my baby the formula we had used until my milk came in so that I didn’t spend the entire hour our friend was there feeding our son in a back room.

I could barely figure out how to use the confusing wrap contraption I swore I’d be wearing every day. I was paranoid to leave the house by myself. I struggled to connect with our beautiful baby boy. And when our son refused to eat because of a struggle with lip and tongue ties, I spent most of the days in tears–wondering if I would ever love motherhood the way everyone else seemed to. 

Could I still be THAT mom? I looked nothing like her. My expectations for myself were high.

Around three months postpartum, I started struggling with severe anxiety and depression. It snuck up on me, really. I thought I was tired and lonely and just nervous about this new role I was in.  And I was. But it was more than that. I struggled to function without my husband’s help. I laid awake at night, my heart racing–even when my baby was fast asleep. I cried as I sat listening to his cries. I started to lose weight and my milk started to dry up. My body needed help. I needed medication and that meant giving my son formula. Neither were things I wanted to do.

I can’t do it. I thought, tears dropping on Asa’s head as I held him in the night. I can keep going. This is healthiest for him. A good mother would keep going. And for days I kept fighting what I knew deep down was probably best. But I didn’t want to fail him. Or myself. 

What THAT instagram mom never tells you is that motherhood isn’t picturesque. Instead, it’s real. It is beautiful and life giving and the sweetest, most life changing experience. But it is far more complex that I imagined and not at all black and white. It is filled with decisions you never thought you’d have to make–decisions you will pit against every other mother’s decisions. 

But comparison will only ever lead you to feel more shame and more guilt.

When I was wrestling with whether or not it was time to wean our son, a strong beautiful mama of three boys told me this:

“There is only one Audrey and Asa combo in the world. You have to do what’s best for the two of you. And that will make you a great mama to him.”

I repeated this to myself over and over the week that I weaned him. I repeated it out loud to myself as I nursed him for the last time, my heart breaking just a little bit that this part of our journey together was coming to an end. I repeated it to myself to fight against the shame that only I was putting on myself. 

The truth is that my son will grow up to be just who God made him to be whether or not he is breast fed or bottle fed. Whether he sleeps in the bed with me or in a crib. Whether I carry him on me or put him in a stroller. Whether he is eventually homeschooled or goes to public or private school.

The truth is that all you really need to be THAT mom—the best mom for your child– is a whole lot of love and grace and Jesus. 

I’ve often wondered what kind of mother Mary was. She found favor with God. But she was also very human and very young and very inexperienced. I have wondered if she felt lost and confused as she cared for the savior of the world. Did she feel an immense amount of pressure knowing who her son was? Did she feel guilt when she lost her temper or when she made a mistake? Did she feel frustrated by how difficult breastfeeding was or cry when she noticed that Jesus’ baby bottom had a diaper rash? Did she struggle with postpartum depression or anxiety? Did her tears fall on the head of the savior of the world?

God never questioned if Mary was the right mother for baby Jesus. He chose her. Just like he chose me. And if you’re reading and have little baby birds–He chose you too! He looks at us and sees us as that mom we all want to be. 

And so, when I look in the mirror each day, I try to remember that. God chose me to be Asa’s mom. I try to let the shame and guilt that comes from comparison wash away. I may not look like every other woman I know. I may have to find my own way. But I am the right mom for my child. And so are you.

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