This is a story of a confused new mom who was in trouble.
She was blindsided by the quiet and suffocating loneliness of motherhood’s first year. She was shocked at how, despite thinking she was so busy, in actuality, the days were endless. By 10 a.m. most days she felt despair creeping up around her shoulders, as she wondered how she and her baby were going to pass the remaining hours until bedtime.
This is the story of a new mother who would feel relief in needing groceries, as that mundane errand gave her and baby something do, gave her an opportunity to make a dent in the day and remove at least an hour out of the time she was responsible for entertaining her son.
This is the story of a mother who felt immense guilt, to the point of making her physically ill, as she faced the reality that she didn’t love being a stay-at-home mother, as she had expected.
After 24 hours of grueling labor, walking the hospital corridors, getting in and out of a warm tub, and hearing her husband say, You can do this over and over, her first-born baby was extracted from her body with the help of multiple medical professionals. 90 minutes of pushing helped—but to be honest, they had to pull him out just as much as she pushed. From the get-go, neither of them really knew what the hell they were doing as mother and son.
Their awkward and painful journey continued, as breastfeeding was damn near impossible. He fought and she fought for eight excruciating weeks, but just like the day he was born, they finally figured it out. That’s how it always was that first year—one floundering mother and one angry baby, dancing the tango, trying to find a rhythm, trying to meet each other’s needs, but always falling short.
He wouldn’t nurse. He had constant stomach issues. She felt alone. She was miserable. They often looked at each other, wondering what the hell they both had gotten into.
Of all of the choice that mother made, in her endless attempts to be a good mother and find her way through the fog of the newborn days, the single most important decision—the one that saved her, and her son, from darkness, was her commitment to finding friendship. She knew she was lonely, with her husband at work all day and out of town at time for weeks on end. She knew she needed friends, but she was unprepared for the work involved in finding them.
She had always made friends easily, so what was different this time? Friendships in her old life were made quickly at work and in school. But what happens when there is no building full of colleagues to enter anymore? What happens when a mother’s entire life exists at home?
She knew she was slipping into a dark place, and just in time, she reached her hand up and grabbed a lifeline. She joined a local playgroup for SAHMs and signed up for her first event: a play date at a coffee shop with a playground.
I tell this story, my story, because I see young moms, and I know the isolation they feel. I see them at the park, searching the playground with hungry eyes, desperately needing someone to talk to, someone to confide in, someone to say, I know how hard this is.
I’ll be honest. The first event I attended with this playgroup sucked.
I was awkward and nervous. But I went back.
And the second time another mother approached me, introduced herself to me, and we made small talk. By the 3rd and 4th events, I was chatting casually with other moms. Within a month I was hosting play dates in my home. I had made friends. There were events on my calendar. I finally had the need for a calendar again.
My poor guinea pig baby who taught me how to be a mom is now seven years old. I’ve outgrown the SAHM playgroup, as I am now busy with first grade room mother activities and baseball practices and getting #2 ready for kindergarten.
I look back on those early days, and I am beyond grateful for those mothers. Those women saved me. They became my friends—the moms who carried me from baby days to kindergarten. They were the people who told me about a consignment sale where I could score an entire toddler wardrobe. They were the moms who gave me suggestions for dealing with my son’s terrifying allergies. They let me talk about potty-training—and how I was barely surviving it.
We had breast-feeders and bottle-feeders, moms with one child and moms with six, cloth diapered babies and Huggies babies. We had moms with newborns and moms with 4-year-olds and moms with both. Many of us had relocated (myself included) so we needed pediatrician recommendations. We needed to know where to take our kids on hot days, rainy days, cold days. We needed to put something on our calendars.
And we did it together.
Mommy groups are not for the babies. Or the toddlers. They are for us. My #1 piece of advice to a new mother, especially a SAHM, is to find a tribe. I’ll be grateful for the rest of my life that I found mine.
Karen Johnson is a writer and editor. Her blog The 21st Century SAHM is a cathartic mix of sarcasm, angry mama bear rants, and heartfelt confessions. Karen is also assistant editor at Sammiches and Psych Meds. Find Karen on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram as The 21st Century SAHM.
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