For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to be a mom. I hoped for it, and after our loss, I prayed it was still in the cards. In this, as my “rainbow baby” pregnancy with Gracie was coming to a close, I sat in the hospital bed perplexed. Perfect pregnancy, healthy baby…I finally had my dream ending. So what wasn’t sitting right? Why was I afraid to go home?
I had been waiting my whole life for this moment: going home with my baby. I was supposed to feel ready. I never expected to be questioning myself. In the flurry of decorating the nursery and washing the clothes and choosing the car seat, I had overlooked the fact that caring for a baby was going to be hard. Yet, in those days in the hospital after birth, I found myself totally unsure what to do when she cried. I fumbled through feedings and literally crying over spilled milk. I realized that as much as I wanted to be a mom, I didn’t actually know how to do it.
We rolled out of the hospital doors, and suddenly, I was in charge. I had been made the coach and the team captain of a sport I had never played. Trapped by expectations from the title “mommy,” to say I felt overwhelmed is an understatement.
Mommy will make it better.
In my head, I found myself thinking: “Other women know what to do; you aren’t good at this.” First defined by clinical psychologists Dr. Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes in 1978, imposter syndrome is described as “an internal experience of intellectual phoniness.” These feels are usually around something we care deeply about. Motherhood, full of emotions and misconceptions and highs and lows, presents as a perfect host for feelings of phoniness.
In those first days home, I treated myself as an imposter. It felt like other people were supposed to do this mom thing, but not me. Different than playing house with friends as a kid, this was real life. There is nothing fun about waking every 30 minutes to your baby screaming and not knowing what to do.
I had no concept of how consuming a newborn baby can be. But as I muddled through days and nights, not sure what I was doing and what year it was, I was kicking myself for making all the plans I had for maternity leave. I could see now that my life would be put on hold, and what upset me most is that I didn’t foresee things being this hard.
If only I could go back in time, I would have granted myself grace sooner. I would hug my exhausted shoulders and assure new-mom me that just because always knew I wanted to be a mom didn’t mean I would know how. Not right away. I would have recognized that I needed space to learn, and grace to accept that I would always be learning. I would have stopped beating myself up for falling short of a standard of perfection that cannot be attained.
I would have accepted that I was coming to the table without a fully healed heart. I had lost a baby before Gracie, and I didn’t realize how much that would affect my ability to adapt to newborn life. Loss has a way of sneaking in and stinging you when you least expect it; memories replay unexpected, reminding you of your past hurt. The guilt of falling short of an unnecessary standard of perfection was magnified through the pervasive lens of grief.
It was only after I began attending a local moms group that I found my tribe. We were all new at this mom thing, and we met Tuesdays at 10am to talk about it. We were a circle of friends bound by newborns, toting car seats and overflowing diaper bags, a beautiful blend of life experiences, goals, careers, relationships, and hobbies. We hailed from all walks of life, and we were all stumped by the same rashes, the same feeding issues, the same sleep dilemmas. We needed one another, we bonded.
Until I sought a community of mom peers, I didn’t know how lonely I was.
I softened and allowed humor to color my new struggles. One night, we couldn’t figure out why Gracie wouldn’t stop crying, and Jon offered her $20. We ended that dilemma in her room; I nursed her as Jon sprawled out on the floor, covered with 4 tiny baby blankets, completely in solidarity with me.
As I watched him try and get comfortable, I realized how proud I was of us. Maybe we were imposters, but Gracie didn’t know that. Fake it until you make it; from what I could tell, we were doing just about as well as everyone else.
Every new parent is confused. No one knows what they are doing. There is peace in humbling ourselves to acknowledge our own imperfect humanity. This journey is all trial and error. If we trust ourselves and our good intentions, we come out confident in our ability to improvise.
So if you are new at this, or if you are still accepting your new roles as mommy, or if you are like me and you still don’t really know what you’re doing, it’s ok to give space to the imposter thoughts. We’ve all been there. But allow them to foster feelings of grace, not shame. Find your tribe, they are out there. Don’t go through these isolating days alone.
Everyone is new at this; kids change every single day.
You are doing your best, you know you are. Your best is all you can do.
And baby always loves mom.
Flaws, questions, meltdowns, exhaustion…doesn’t matter.
To your baby, you are already the perfect parent.