I grew up in a multi-generational home; my great-grandmother was the first person to hold me, and when my mother came home from the hospital, my great-grandmother was our guardian. My mom tells me stories about how my great-grandmother would sit at the door of our bedroom and fend off unwanted visitors so my mom had all the time in the world to rest, recover, and take in every millimeter of the new life she had created. Before we immigrated to the US, I spent the first few years of my life surrounded by the loving and warm embrace of two grandmothers, countless uncles, aunts, and cousins (who to this day are like my older siblings). It was a true manifestation of “parenting takes a village.”
When I became a mother to my son, I was lucky enough to have my mom stay with me for a month. It was a whirlwind month: I went into labor at 35 weeks and 6 days. When our son joined us earth-side just 12 hours after I felt my first contractions, I was in shock. I’d created a human?! This baby – I grew him?! And now, I was responsible for him? Surely, I would never live up to the standards.
I failed at motherhood before I had even been given the chance to succeed. Society told me that because I am a woman, I was built to build a human. Unlike men, I was made for this job, and this job only. I was told I would instantly bond with my baby and would never feel more like myself. My “mother’s intuition” would be like the voice of Morgan Freeman, narrating in my head the “right” things to do at all times: guiding me through unmedicated vaginal birth, giving me step-by-step instructions to achieve the perfect latch and pump gallons of extra breast milk. I should be able to calm my baby’s crying with a single touch and co-sleep day and night from the moment the umbilical cord is cut, all while looking and feeling positively radiant.
So I failed. Because the parameters for success—with the help of society and the medical system—set me up for failure. What no one tells you about motherhood is how vulnerable it is. On the day our babies are born, so are we. We are just as new, tender, and afraid as our babies. I distinctly remember, to this day, being wheeled down the hallway of the hospital—a moment I’d imagined for so long. I was overwhelmed with a feeling of emptiness. My baby, who had been moving around inside me, was now in my arms and I realized that I actually didn’t know him at all. I would have to build a relationship with him. The person I knew as myself, that I’d worked hard and long to feel confident about, was gone. My husband and partner, the one I loved with my heart and soul, felt distant.
I felt unbridled joy. Awe. Contentment. But I also felt lost. Because no one told me that when I gave birth I would come home to three strangers: my baby, myself, and my partner. We don’t talk about this (BEAUTIFUL) part of the newborn phase. This opportunity to (re)build a relationship with your baby, yourself, and your partner. I hadn’t anticipated this new growth, so instead of feeling excitement for what could be, I was just overwhelmed by loss for what had been.
These feelings of loss didn’t make any sense to me. I thought I was supposed to feel like a glowing and radiant goddess. Instead, I felt shame. And a sureness that I was not made to mother. But here’s the thing; none of us were born knowing exactly what our babies need and exactly when. We aren’t baby mind readers (that’s the superpower I’d want). And that magical bond? It doesn’t exist. Data and research shows that it is BUILT. Because our babies are people we need to get to know, just like anyone else.
I wasn’t born just knowing how to care for my son. Sometimes I still don’t know what he’s trying to tell me or what he needs. And today, we’ve lost our village: for so many reasons, we no longer have generations of women in our homes passing their knowledge on to us. But my son and I, we are learning one cry, smile, head-bump, and relationship-repair at a time. And that’s what makes us made to mother.
Vaishnavi is a PPD strong mama of a #mashupamerican baby. For her, mothering will always be about growth, discovery, and the type of worry that makes her knees buckle. Vaishnavi shares the truths of motherhood so we can get back to the business of loving ourselves and cultivating our inner strength. You can follow along her family’s journey on Instagram @motherhood.etc.