February 23, 2020

Motherhood is a Teary, Tired, Lonely Village of One.

I am writing this down so I remember.

So I remember the desperation, the depth of it. The real, visceral pain of it.

So that I’m not destined to repeat it…

When my little lion was just over a year, every time someone told me “It takes a village,” I wanted to punch them in the face. Not because I disagreed. I agreed, fiercely.

Motherhood is all-consuming. Relentless. I’ve been told countless times that “It takes a village”—and that is true. It really does.

I’ve also been told, “Make sure you ask for help if you need it”—and I did ask for help. Or so I thought. I called out to the village. I shouted and cried and raged. The village was silent. I cried into the long, sleepless nights and desperate days and wondered:

Why doesn’t anyone hear me?

Why doesn’t anyone hear me?!

Why doesn’t anyone hear me?!?

(Motherhood pro-tip: Don’t believe any of it. It’s all talk. There is no village. That’s all a fantastical work of fiction. I have discerned that mothers are actually a village of one and should adjust expectations accordingly.)

To those who told me “It takes a village,” I wanted to scream, I wanted to rage:

“Don’t you dare look me in the eye—bloodshot and puffy from 382 consecutive sleepless nights and desperate, teary days—and tell me what it takes. I know. I know you can’t lean in to help that isn’t there. I know that if a mom falls in the night and no one hears her, it never really happened (so, please God, don’t make everyone uncomfortable by talking about it). I know that no one wants an honest answer when they ask me how I’m doing, but even if I give one, they’ll pretend I said I’m fine.”

(Motherhood pro-tip: All the well-intentioned advice is useless. When people tell you to take care of yourself, what they mean is take care of yourself enough that you can continue to struggle on alone. “Take care of yourself” and “Take care of it yourself” are not the same, but will become a grey area here in your village of one.

When people sweetly tell you to hold that baby because the dishes and laundry can wait, they don’t mean it can wait until they get there to help you with it. No one is coming! They just mean dishes and laundry can wait until later when you are alone and no one has to witness your breakdown while trying to do it all with a baby crying in your arms and your back hurting and tears rolling down your face.  

Clean coffee mugs and fresh onesies are finite resources, so figure it out, momma.)

And so, while I was in the depth of it, I wrote these words down so when that chapter was over, I would not brush it all off and smile at other new mothers and repeat the same cruel, useless things that were said to me by well-meaning friends and strangers in my darkest, desperate moments, like “Enjoy every minute of it,” and “Make sure you take care of yourself,” and “Ask for help if you need it,” and “It takes a village.”

No. I would remember. I would do better.

And now, two years later, while I still feel the spikes and edges of this anger and desperation, the loneliness of being unheard, I’m also settling in to the quiet, nagging knowing that when I don’t feel like I’m being heard, I am actually not listening to myself. The ultimate “It’s not you, it’s me.”

It’s hard for me to accept the help I cry out for because this acceptance asks me to hold on to that moment when I am broken open enough to receive and value what I ask for. I want to do it all, be everything, and hold it all together.

Help is a slippery fish for me.

When I finally get what I’ve been trying to reel in, I’m too clumsy to keep it. I ask, but push back and do it myself anyway because somewhere at my core I believe that the doing is what determines my value. My worth is not Who I Am, but What I Do. I cling tightly to my carefully created story of No One Is Listening because it’s easier than examining when I lost the power of my voice.

As I grow into motherhood, I hold space for all of this, cradling my own messy evolution as I cradle my lion through the night. I accept that my anger is the result of all my expectations breaking down and letting go.

Clearing space to hold so much more—so much more knowing, loving, growing, crying, failing, trying, nurturing, and creating. Relentless and beautiful. Clearing space to hold my anger, my sadness, my loneliness. Clearing space to hold this new life, and my new self as a mother, and clearing space to hold you, Momma, just as you are.

So hey, Mommas, I see you.

Yeah, you—tired, glazed eyes, and slumped shoulders. I see you in your stinking, stained shirt, desperately downing cold coffee at 2 p.m. while trying not to cry.

I see you. I won’t look away. I’m not uncomfortable with your struggle, and I won’t pretend you said you’re fine.

I hold the space for you to be a beautiful mess and a growing character. I know you want to do it all, and I will support you while you try to stand, ready to pick up the pieces or hold that baby while you pull yourself together or let yourself fall apart.

I will stand here, holding space, for the steady heartbeat and breath that makes up the new life of you. I support the inhale of receiving and the exhale of letting go.

This is hard. You’re not failing. I’m not failing. We are breathing our way through it. The holding on and the letting go.

And the listening. I am listening.

You are not alone.

You are a goddess—and I am your village.

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