Hometown Hollywood: You’re doing great, Mama
LOS ANGELES — Last week I was pushing my son, Arlo, in his stroller around our neighborhood. A woman stopped us, told me she was a mother, and asked how old my baby was.
“Two months” I told her. That’s all I said, just those two words, but that’s all she needed to hear. She smiled, looked me right in the eye and said, “You’re doing great, Mama.”
How did she know that’s what I needed to hear? How did she know those words would make me look like a deranged woman, crying my makeup off as I pushed a stroller around the block? Because lately I’ve been struggling. As a mom, I mean.
I know I should be lost in baby bliss but mostly I just feel sweaty. When I was pregnant, people would tell me that when I had the baby my “life would never be the same.” I used to think they meant my life would be opened up to a new love I could never imagine. But now I think they were warning me. Because I realized yesterday as I crammed three Pringles into my mouth for “lunch” that my life will actually never be the same.
I love my son. Desperate amounts. But since he was born, it feels like I’m slowly unraveling. His presence has revealed feelings I didn’t even know I was capable of having — like a bookshelf that’s actually a door leading to a secret shop of neurosis.
Every fear you’ve ever had focused on one little person? We have that here! Staring into his bassinet for an unreasonable amount of time to make sure he’s breathing? That one’s on sale! I worry about everything — concerned that any mistake will be the reason he can’t get into college or turns into a hoarder.
Am I ruining his life because I forgot to do tummy time? Because I let him pee through his clothes and didn’t notice for an entire episode of “The World’s Most Extraordinary Homes”? Because I’m watching an episode of “The World’s Most Extraordinary Homes”?
At first I dismissed all these feelings as just adjusting to my new life as a mom. But then I began to experience waves of panic — my heart beating faster, by breath catching and my hands getting so sweaty I could use them to wash a car. But I was fine — that favorite of Midwest words, “fine.”
Then, a few days ago while I was holding Arlo, I felt the familiar rush of anxiety — except this time the world started spinning and my vision tunneled. I set Arlo down and put my head between my legs. As I tried not to pass out in my living room, something became very clear.
I need help.
It’s hard to admit that to myself so I thought I’d publish it in the paper. That way it’s in black and white so there’s no denying it. Because you know what I thought every time I felt that rush of panic? It wasn’t, “I should call my doctor” or “I think I need to take a break.” It was, “I hope no one finds out.”
Then people might think I’m a bad mom. They might think I’m weak. They might think I should just be grateful that I got the thing many women, including myself, struggle to have. They might think all the things I can’t stop thinking.
I come from a long line of strong Norwegian ancestors who raised baby after baby with no electricity and no bothersome things like “feelings.” So why can’t I?
But the truth is, becoming a mother has rocked my world in a way that I never expected. And the more honest I can be about that — difficult though it is — the better. Reminding myself that asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness but a sign of strength is a constant, but important, battle.
And when I really think about it, I’ve never seen a single photo of those Norwegian ancestors smiling. So maybe they don’t have it all figured out, either.
If any of this sounds familiar, it’s OK to ask for help. You’re not alone. I see you. I see you worrying over every little thing; I see you wondering how long is too long to go without a shower.
And I just wanted you to know something — something I really needed to hear: You’re doing great, Mama.
Jessica Runck, who grew up in Wimbledon, N.D., and graduated from Concordia College, is a writer living in Los Angeles. Visit www.jessicarunck.com for more information.