When you’re nearing the end of your pregnancy, you begin to obsess about what to pack for the hospital. There are 100’s of lists online, in magazines, in books and from friends with suggestions of what to bring. Every single item is meticulously thought out, obsessed over and probably packed and repacked. My first hospital bag included music (that I never listened to), delicious smelling reed diffusers (that never left the bag), dum-dums for myself and the nurses (that never got unwrapped) and a video camera (that was never turned on). And then, when you’re leaving the hospital, that bag is even more full than when you arrived. There are the hospital blankets and hats for your little one, extra diapers, medications, flowers, balloons, stylish mesh underwear for mama, cooling pads & that water bottle that will never leave your side. Oh, and the baby of course. But amongst all the items, there’s one more thing that gets packed up. It slides in very nicely next to the sweats you arrived in; you may not even know you took it with you: mommy guilt. Right there between the Desitin and discharge paperwork; small, unassuming but very present. And you don’t even know it’s there or that you’ve unpacked it, until you do.
The first time I realized I’d been sent home with mommy guilt was when I unpacked the diaper bag at the mall to make my daughter a bottle. With formula, not breast milk. Because I chose to. Oh, the guilt! (and the looks from other women, but that’s another post for another day) The next time was when I went back to school to get my Master’s degree when she was four weeks old and left her two nights a week with – gasp! – her father. Oh, the guilt! When she was around three months old, I was pouring myself a cup of coffee in the kitchen and Ella decided it was the perfect time to roll over for the first time, right off the couch and onto the floor. Her first fall happened on my watch! Guilt!! It has been an ever present feeling in motherhood. Right beside obsessive love, mind numbing exhaustion and mama bear protectiveness; the guilt never really goes away. My daughter asks me to play princesses with her every single day. I comply about every other day. The guilt of not playing princesses with her every day eats at me every day. I am convinced that on my death bed, I will review my life and feel nothing but regret and sorrow that I did not play princesses with her more. That every mistake she makes in her life, I will attribute to the fact that I should have played princesses with her every day. (Honest moment – I HATE playing princesses. I loathe it. It’s not so much playing princesses as much as it is her watching me play with Jafar, Ursula, King Triton & Prince Eric. Just sitting there, watching.)
So now I have another little bundle of joy. My water broke at 36 weeks with David so I hadn’t packed a bag or begun obsessing over every item. I’m just happy I managed to pack a toothbrush and a pair of warm, fuzzy socks. I was definitely sent home with the mommy guilt again, only this time, they gave me an extra dose. When you have to leave your 3 day old baby in the hospital because you’re discharged and he’s not, the mommy guilt is almost as painful as the postpartum recovery. When nurses know his daily schedule and you have to stand there while they give you a run down of what he likes and doesn’t like, the mommy guilt is palpable. And when he’s finally discharged only to return a few weeks later because he’s lost 20% of his body weight and the hospital social worker comes in just to “chat”, well, the mommy guilt almost knocks you over.
So, there it is. I have mommy guilt. Every day. Even on the days when I think I did “good job”, I still feel like I could have done better. I see my friends and acquaintances and think, “They’re doing it right! I need to do it the way they are.” I always want to be doing, creating, playing, teaching and helping my kids grow. I always feel a little bit like a failure. I always think I could be doing more. I’m secretly terrified of Ella’s high school graduation, when she misses making valedictorian by one point – obviously because I did not spend enough time playing princesses with her as a young girl. I’m constantly battling with the realities of what I can do today and the dreams I have for my children and their future. But, I have a full time job, a husband and friends and I like to read, cook, entertain and go out. So, today, I’m going to let go of some of that guilt. I’m going to play with my daughter (maybe even princesses!), I’m going to cuddle with my son and I going to count it as success.
Photo credits Dionna McCarthy Ryan+Dionna photography www.ryan-dionna.com