good grief

istockphoto/credit: nitimongkolchai

Last year, my husband and I welcomed a baby boy. We knew when we got married that we wanted kids. Our little guy arrived healthy and happy. As planned, I quit my job to become a stay-at-home mom.

So what’s the problem?

Well, there’s plenty of advice out there, that’s for sure. It’s also true that nothing can really prepare you for parenthood. I found myself looking back a lot at my old self. How could I be her again? The person who had time and energy to wash and dry her hair. Day after day, in my new job, I’d just walk around in an exhausted state. My hair was low priority and usually hung around my face in unkempt strings. Probably the thing I missed most was the loss of mobility. Loading and unloading a baby in a car seat and packing a diaper bag was usually just too much trouble. Plus, who wants to mess with a delicate infant nap schedule?  I actually fantasized about going back to work. That’s how hard it is to be a stay at home mom.

However, I’m sure any working mom will tell you their lives are forever changed, too. If you go back to work, you’re now a Working Mom, subject to child care emergencies, unexpected days at home caring for sick babies, and daycare pickup times. No matter what you do, you’re not getting your old self back.

That’s why the best advice I’ve gotten as a new mom is to grieve. Sounds pretty ungrateful. Well, the fact is in gaining a baby, you’re losing your old self. Instead of trying fruitlessly to get that person back, take a little time to grieve.

Grief gets a bad rap. Who wants to be in mourning? Who wants to be around a mourner? It seems much more admirable to be someone who can roll with the punches and stay upbeat no matter what. But grief allows you to acknowledge a loss in your life and gives you permission to feel sadness. It’s a path toward healing that ultimately ends in acceptance of your loss, allowing you to move on as your new self. Ideally, it’s a process, not a wallowing.

As a new mom, the advice to grieve came like a breath of fresh air. So much of the dialogue about surviving parenthood focuses on the illusion of being able to feel the way you did before. “Go out as a couple!” “Do something for yourself for an hour a day!” It’s just not adequate. It’s not the same. It’s not a return to your old version of normalcy.

If you’ve just had a baby, take it easy on yourself. You know if you need to grieve, and I encourage you to do so. You got this. You just need to get through the grief. Take a deep breath, take some time to look back and reflect, and then turn your gaze forward to all the beautiful and challenging moments ahead.

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