As far back as I can remember, I’ve spent my whole life mothering everyone else—my partner, parents, siblings, friends. I poured all my energy into being present for them and their needs. I was often their problem-solver (voluntarily). I was the friend who stayed up late to help them finish their thesis (even when I had my own deadline). I’d listen to hours of their relationship woes. I’d take on their worries as though they were my own.
I am not sure if that’s just how I am wired or if I acquired this call of duty along the way, but I eventually started questioning why I was so hyper-focused on everyone else’s needs before my own—especially once I became a mother.
A real mother. I created a human being who actually required all that maternal love and energy, and so I figured my maternal instincts would go into overdrive when my baby was born.
I figured my anxiety and any other heavy emotions would subside. Instead, they only intensified. Each day that went by I felt like I would have more of a handle on how to be her perfect mother—the mother I always dreamed of being. I prayed so much for a healthy baby and swore that once she was here I would devote my whole being to her.
The reality was so far from the perfection I envisioned. I was nothing like the superhero I vowed would magically appear after birth. Instead, I felt exhausted. Not only physically, but emotionally, too. Instead of “light and bubbly Mom,” I felt emotionally pulled in so many directions, I was unable to cope.
That first year postpartum, I discovered something about myself: I was exhausted.
I had lost myself in all the caring, all the nurturing and all the giving. I was emotionally spent. My body was tired for obvious reasons but I felt drained for reasons no one could even see.
In my head, I had carved out this role for myself. I set everyone up in my life to have the same expectation of me that I had of myself—that I could “do it all.” That they could depend on me no matter what, could lean on me no matter what. That if they needed me, I would be there. Like some cheesy love song.
And I genuinely meant it. Yet, here I was for the first time as a mother, with a child who needed all of me, and all I wanted (and needed) was to hit pause. Because for the first time ever, everything shifted and I had to pour my whole self into one person, the one person who needed me the most.
Suddenly I became the person who forgot to reply to a text, didn’t return calls, didn’t show up and didn’t have the mental capacity to be the problem solver. I no longer could stay up all night and give the long version of the heartfelt talk I sincerely wanted to give. I no longer could lend my ears, my heart, my thoughts—fully and wholly. I couldn’t prop up or shelter anyone else. I didn’t have the bandwidth.
Now what mattered most to me was my daughter, but yet, I felt guilt on top of my new mom guilt for not being able to show up for other people in the way I wanted to. I wasn’t prepared to feel guilt for failing at all of my other relationships. I didn’t know how to cope with failing at giving.
I became an expert at saying I was okay and carrying on even though I was anything but.
Now, my daughter is one, and although I have not perfected the art of setting realistic expectations, I have learned to accept I cannot do it all. I have learned to be gentler, kinder and more understanding to none other than—myself. I finally learned that I can still be a great wife, friend, daughter, sister, and inevitably a better mother if I finally accepted I could not be that version of Super Mom I once thought I should be.
I can’t always be available and prompt, and I am finally okay with that. My advice might be quick but you can still expect honesty. My hug will always be sincere, my presence wholehearted. I learned that all the people in my life will understand, and are just as giving as I would like to be if I let them.
It took me a long time to get here, but I am happy I finally did. Now, I can enjoy the time I have with my child and be wholly present for her. I feel pretty close to what I always hoped I would become—my very own version of Super Mom.
Emilia’s new book, To the Moon and Back for You, is out now.