"He's so cute!"and "Oh he's perfect!" were suddenly phrases that made me cringe. It was early spring (in pre-pandemic times) and my newborn baby was nestled against my new mom-bod. He was so cute and perfect, yes—but these phrases seemed to discount the radical change I had undergone in the first two weeks of motherhood.

It wasn't just about him. I was still there, too.

I know everyone intended their comments to be loving, kind and complimentary. They were congratulating me on the birth of my beautiful child, after all. However, the number of onesies I was being gifted in comparison to the number of chores I was getting help with felt off-balance—I mean, I was grateful for the cute clothes, but I so desperately needed help with the chores.

The amount of people who wanted to hold the baby was overwhelmingly more than the amount of people who actually asked about how I was feeling. I was hearing, "Isn't it the best?" much more than I was hearing, "How are you?"

I was okay. I wasn't okay. I was lost, untethered, not sure what my next step was going to be beyond nursing the baby again and then trying to nap beside him before we repeated the cycle. I was in love and full of purpose: to be a mother. I was unsure how this purpose coincided with the rest of my life.

I'd had the birth experience I wanted—unmedicated and at home—but that didn't mean I wasn't raw and ripped open. The smell of my baby was intoxicating. His coos were a type of heaven I'd never known. I understood the desire to be a stay-at-home mom for the first time in my life. I felt the call of homemaking. I also had no idea what this would mean for my partnership, my career hopes or even how to communicate these new light bulbs going off for me.

These were the things I wanted to talk about.

I think, largely, we don't know what to say to new mothers beyond exclamations of cute and wonderful. If we ask a mother, "How are you?" her answer might be uncomfortable. We might not be able to help her or know what to say next.

It is equally true that as new mothers we often don't know how to adequately respond if someone does ask us how we are doing. If we admit we are having a hard time what will that person think of us? If we say new motherhood is challenging, will that negate the love and desire we also feel?

It's complicated.

New moms need to know we can talk about more than how adorable our babies are or how amazing motherhood is. We need to know our conversations can go beyond scheduled feedings and nap routines.

New motherhood made me feel completely brand new. Something in me was awakened that I didn't even know existed before. It was this ancient and primal knowing—a knowing of how to mom.

Yet—I still doubted myself. Will I ever want to leave my baby? I wondered. What if I can never leave my baby? I was some sort of hybrid of the person I was before giving birth and this new version of myself, completely foreign to me.

The radical transformation of motherhood shook me to my core. My cells were literally changed. My goals realigned. My day-to-day living experience was drastically different. My body, a new shape. The way I moved in the world felt like navigating uncharted waters. I'd wanted to be a mom for as long as I could remember and still, becoming a mom was shocking.

In any other life transition of this scale, one would expect to feel a wide range of feelings. Excitement, loss, eagerness, anxiety, joy, fear, discomfort, relief. Things are rarely only "good." But in pregnancy, we're sold a bill of goods that says new motherhood—and new babies—will bring only joy. I was misled by this. My feelings of loss and sadness didn't make sense to me, and no one was asking about them. There was no place for me to reconcile my bliss with my grief.

Thankfully, I had a few close friends I could be honest with. They came bearing food and offering foot rubs, wanting to hear my birth story and also my anxiety over a trip to the grocery store. Friends who asked "How are you, really?" and then listened without judgment or shame. These types of humans are the medicine for a new mama's tattered heart.

I think we all benefit by knowing that birth brings a lot more than a cute baby. The beautiful bliss and bubbly joy are possible, and so is the pain of separation, identity shifts and all the other uncomfortable sensations of growth. Every gain comes with some loss; it's how we make room for our new gift.

Go ahead, mama—feel all your feelings around the birth of your child. Feel the multitude of emotions that come with new motherhood—and as I've learned, new motherhood even as it applies to your second or third child, too.

And friends/family members: Peel your eyes away from that adorable little one and ask new moms how they are feeling. Then, give her the space to share. It is one of the greatest baby gifts I've ever received.