Whenever a Facebook friend has a baby, I send a direct message. I do this to welcome them into the journey of motherhood. A year ago, when my son was born, I received several messages myself from friends and acquaintances near and far. The messages were welcoming, understanding, inquisitive—and vastly different from the public, all-caps "CONGRATULATIONS!!" written on my wall.
While resting in a hospital bed with a painful abdominal scar, blurry head and confused breasts, these private messages were exactly the kind of welcome I needed. In addition to the well-wishes, I needed to know I wasn't alone.
Each mother I heard from had a story about how their birth, breastfeeding or postpartum experience had been different from their expectation. I had a traumatic birth and from this place of pain I felt like I was gaining an awareness of what really goes on in motherhood.
Beyond the polished pictures of smiling mommies and perfect babies, is the underground belly of mommyhood that no one talks about. Except, perhaps, in private inboxes.
"Let me know if you want to talk," some mothers said. Others confided long stories of their journey with postpartum depression. Even a high school teacher reached out to let me know his wife had gone through a rough time after their first was born and to offer support if I needed it.
At first I was surprised. Could motherhood really be this hard? I felt like I was waking up after surgery to find that I lived in a new world, one that would be a constant uphill climb, despite—or in addition to—the bliss and joy and fulfillment everyone had been raving about throughout my pregnancy. And it was a new world. It was an uphill climb. And because they knew this, those mothers were there. I was offered phone numbers, names of lactation consultants and just the opportunity to be honest.
It was a beautiful gesture and I couldn't help but wonder why this part of motherhood seemed so hidden.
I had a cocktail of bad birth and postpartum activity. An unexpected C-cection, followed by problems breastfeeding and postpartum depression tested all of my strength. My experience with having a baby and becoming a mother was ugly, soul-crushing and life-changing. In those early months of my baby's life, I felt I had lost much of the light I carried within me. The joy and hope I'd known all my life, but especially during pregnancy had vanished, and in its place, a never ending tape of shame and fear played in my head.
And yet, I only posted smiling faces online. Us, picturesque as Madonna and child, celebrated on Facebook with the happiest of emojis.
But I was broken on the inside and so alone. Then, I'd get a message from and old friend from yoga school saying, "I've been there. Call me if you want to talk." And my world would expand. I'd see in it those like me—who survived what I was certain I could not. The underground welcome wagon kept me tethered to humanity and guided me through the early months of motherhood.
Many of us feel motherhood is “supposed” to look like something sublime, particularly in the age of keeping up appearances on social media. But, the reality is that motherhood is hard. So, why do we do everything we can to avoid spoiling the “blissful motherhood” illusion?
I spent my whole life trying to perpetuate that illusion, but when motherhood hit, I could no longer sustain the ruse. My life and ego came crashing down with my hormones and the ability to hold it together became just out of my reach. As I became stronger, I became angrier.
Why do we, as women, feel forced to conceal the truth of the pain that come with varying stages of motherhood? These brave mothers and their messages were gentle nudges that I couldn't have done without. And they made me want to nudge—no, to PUSH with great force—the love they had shown to me.
I spent the first year of my son's life paying those mothers back for their grace. I was open about my struggle and wrote about it frequently. At times, it has felt bare and raw and filled with shame, but I have done it. I have done it for all of those mothers who wrote, and all the ones who feel alone. And when a friend has a baby, I write her a message. Because messages are safe, and private, and a new mommy deserves that space. I tell her I'm here if she needs to vent or has any questions in the early weeks of motherhood.
If she's joyful and experiencing the bliss that so many mommies feel, I'm so happy for her. I hope she never needs to text or call or say she's about to lose it. But if she does, I want her to know I'm here. I'm here, I've been there and she's not alone.
Beyond the shiny Insta-glam shots of birthing and newborn bliss, is the reality of motherhood. Several of us are here, holding space for the possibility of pain and ugliness. There is nothing more beautiful than the realness of motherhood and the sisterhood we may find there.