Grief in Motherhood

I knew there would be parts of motherhood I wouldn’t expect, and that there would be experiences I would have no way to prepare for. That’s parenthood in its truest form. What I didn’t expect (besides a pandemic) was to feel an intense form of grief that my motherhood journey, especially the beginning, didn’t look as I imagined it would.

I have always wanted to be a mom, and when my husband and I decided we were ready to start trying to become parents in early 2019, I was so excited. After getting pregnant with my daughter, I did what a lot of moms-to-be do: I daydreamed about who she was, what she would look like, what her personality would be. Would she have her dad’s bright blue eyes or my gold-flecked hazel ones? Would she wear her heart on her sleeve like me or would she view the world through an analytical lens like her dad? 

I was so excited to meet her, to take her to Mommy & Me classes, to go to the park with my friends whose babies were close in age. I looked forward to putting her in a red shopping cart and wandering the aisles at Target, filling that cart with things we likely didn’t need. I couldn’t wait to show her off, to pass her around at a monthly meeting with my community service organization, to watch my friends I’ve had since elementary school snuggle her, to see the look on our family members’ faces when they saw her for the first time. 

And then the world shut down, lockdown orders went into effect, and no one but my husband and I held our daughter from the time she was 3 weeks old until she was 3 months old. People only saw her from across doorways, through car windows, and on social media. 

We couldn’t go out, no one could come over, and there were a lot of tears shed, both from her and from me. She cried inconsolably, stricken with reflux and colic, and I cried because I felt like a failure, that I wasn’t cut out to be her mom. I struggled with wanting the months to pass so the colic would go away, but wanted to keep her small and squishy. I spent the first 8 weeks of her life feeling as though I was living in a dark fog that didn’t end until I was prescribed an antidepressant and got back on my therapist’s calendar. I honestly don’t remember much from those first few months, either because I don’t want to or because that time just didn’t imprint on me. There aren’t very many pictures of both my daughter and I in between the week we brought her home and early spring, when we were finally able to venture outside into the sunlit warmth of our backyard. 

There were no Mommy & Me classes, all were cancelled in the wake of COVID-19. My daughter has never been to a grocery store or sat in a shopping cart; the multipurpose cart cover we registered for has never been used. She has never sat in a restaurant high chair and colored on a kids menu. Her first holidays were spent at home with just me and her dad, meals were dropped off on our front porch instead of shared around a table, her first birthday cake smash was broadcast over Facebook Live. She goes to daycare, and had a brief window of time this past summer when she got to see her teachers’ faces when the mask policy was temporary lifted for vaccinated employees, but it has now been reinstated due to the rise of the delta variant.  

Between the pandemic, colic, and my postpartum depression, the first 20 months of my daughter’s life have looked nothing like I daydreamed about when I was pregnant with her. What we missed during her first year, the milestones family and friends didn’t get to see, and that some of our loved ones have still never met her in person aches in a way that is hard to describe. That I can never get back her newborn weeks because of the fog of postpartum depression and wishing them away so that the colic would end hurts me deeply.  

I never imagined I would grieve parts of my motherhood journey when I had wanted it for so long. I also felt guilt for wishing away my daughter’s newborn months, when I had so deeply wanted to be a mom, and knew that those days are fleeting and disappear so quickly. I’ve spent many a therapy session on how this is actually natural, that when what you imagined doesn’t match up with reality, your heart may break a little. It’s even more likely to happen when it’s something you’ve dreamed about and then you feel was snatched away from you, like the first year of my baby’s life that I can never have back that was totally changed due to an unforeseen pandemic.

It hurts sometimes to look back, so I honestly try not to. There are still things I haven’t processed, feelings I’m still working on. Right now may still not quite look like what I imagined, with the pandemic still ongoing, but the life we have and the daughter I do have is pretty amazing. She still has big feelings (just like me!), and she lights up any room she’s in. She’s hilarious and smart, and she brightens up my days. 

I may have missed the first weeks of her life, and it may hurt me to think about how I wished her first months away, but I didn’t miss her first real smile or her first deep belly laugh (I did miss when she rolled over, her dad got to see that first, but she did eventually do it for me). I didn’t miss when she started to sit up and looked like a Weeble-Wobble without all her core strength, and I didn’t miss when she started crawling or took her first steps. I certainly didn’t miss the first time she looked at me and said “Mama” on Christmas Eve and melted my heart. I haven’t missed her shrieks of excitement, or the way her feet sound when she runs full tilt across our hardwood floor, or the way she loves to play with stickers, or how she says “KeeKee awww!” when she sees a cat. I haven’t missed out on the way she runs to me with her arms wide open for a hug. There is so much to enjoy now with her, in this moment, and I know I have all the time in the world with her moving forward. 

If you’ve experienced grief in your own motherhood journey, you’re not alone. Especially during the pandemic, I’d imagine there are a lot of us out there who feel pretty similarly, but it isn’t brought up much because society says that motherhood is the most joyful, wonderful thing out there. It absolutely is, and the level of joy my daughter gives me is something I have never experienced before, but it is also okay to grieve that her first 20 months of life look nothing like I had hoped and dreamed they would. If you feel grief about that too, it’s okay, and your feelings are valid. It doesn’t mean you love your baby any less, and from one mom to another, you’re still a great mom. Promise. 

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