news item: what nobody remembers about new motherhood

When my girls were rounding the corner towards their first birthday, I made a little video montage of them. It was similar to the ones I’ve made in the past for the parents of the children in my toddler classrooms when I worked in childcare, with video clips set to music that added an extra layer of sentimentality. The video is set up to mimic my memory of those early months– a bunch of shots of the girls gazing around sleepily as newborns, then a fast-moving flash of photo stills of our milk-filled freezer, bottles scattered on the counter, and late-night feeding sessions, and then clips of the girls again starting around nine months old, suddenly unrecognizably mobile and animated and interested and BIG.

I’ve watched it over and over, tearing up every time. The video montage of my girls’ first year isn’t about what they did that year, but about what it felt like to me. It’s powerful to revisit that time.

A PAIL blogger sent us an article from The Atlantic this week entitled “Before I Forget: What Nobody Remembers About New Motherhood,” which touches on that phenomenon of “memory montages” which color our memories of the early days of new parenthood:

Like the hormonal magic that dulls our memories of the pain of childbirth, the montage-ification of the first months of motherhood is therapeutic and practical. It allows us to smile fondly at a photo of the baby taken on her one-week birthday, the very day that we woke to her cries just an hour after the last feeding, put lanolin on our bleeding nipples and, sick with exhaustion, made a mental note to ask the man for whom we once wore expensive lingerie to run out for some adult diapers (excellent for post-partum bleeding). And it readies us to produce a sibling for the little tyrant who made us so genuinely miserable on that surprisingly photogenic morning.

But the flip side of rosy-colored memories of early motherhood is a sort of amnesia which, when we interact with other new moms after we’ve advanced to more seasoned parenting, can end up silencing and invalidating their not-so-rosy experiences:

… this benign forgetting also has the unfortunate consequence of making us feel a little more alone in those challenging months, because no one we talk to—not our mothers, not our friends with toddlers, not our pediatricians or lactation consultants—is able to re-inhabit her own experience fully enough to really understand how we feel.

To read the full article, pop over to The Atlantic for “Before I Forget: What Nobody Remembers About New Motherhood.” Then let us know what you think below!

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What are your early memories of parenthood? 

Do you feel that your memories are true to your actual experience?

What sort of sentimental advice do you hear from family, friends and strangers?

What, in your mind, is the most important thing seasoned parents can share with new parents?

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IMG_6389Jules is a former toddler teacher and nanny who turned her Master’s degree in early childhood into a full-time gig as a stay-at-home mom to twin toddlers. She blogs about her parenting philosophy (which she hopes is crunchy but accessible), her quest for better health and daily life with her husband, dog and two funny little girls at Two Pink Tulips.

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Comments

  1. I just reconnected with an old college friend via Facebook, and the first pic I saw is of him holding a newborn in his arms. I wrote something along the lines of “congrats! this time is super hard and exhausting and wonderful. it will get easier.” It’s hard for me to truly recall how difficult those first couple of months were, but I do remember being annoyed every time people would tell me how GREAT it all was and then ask if she was sleeping through the night yet?! Um, no. This is hard. She doesn’t sleep. Of course it’s all worth it, and it does get easier, but man… newborns are exhausting! I guess my point it that I try to let people know that they’re not alone – we’ve all be there – to enjoy those cuddles – and to not feel like a bad parent if you hit your wit’s end more than once!

  2. My memories of the first few months with the elder kid are not rosy at all (colic is just hell, and we had 8+ hours a day of screaming or near-screaming), so it’s a lot easier for me to say, “It gets easier. Enjoy the good stuff but there’s a lot of really hard parts about a new baby so don’t panic. You aren’t doing it wrong, it’s just hard.” We (phew) have had that very rosy idealized experience with baby 2 (so far… knock on wood things keep going well), so it’s a good thing we had the 2 months of colic with the older kid. It really makes me appreciate that this easy baby is the exception to the rule. Newborns are wicked hard to manage.

  3. This one is touchy for me. I had a terrible time when my son was a newborn. He was a perfectly normal newborn, but the PPD kicked my ass. I very much felt what the author is saying – it seemed that nobody understood where I was at that very point in time. Whether they didn’t want to admit it, had forgotten, thought they could pull me out of my “slump” by being overly positive, or were simply too infatuated with him to pay attention to what I was going through, the feelings of depression, isolation and guilt were overwhelming. I think my memories are pretty accurate, because even a year and a half later, they’re relatively fresh and scare the beejeesus out of me as we TTC #2.

    I’ve been known to say to pregnant women or new moms: “Most of my boy’s first year was not great for me. I hope you have it better. But if you don’t, and find yourself sobbing inconsolably for days on end, or if you ever have thoughts of hurting your baby – GET HELP. I know this isn’t all sunshine and roses like you’re probably hearing from everyone else, but that’s why I’m saying it – because not many people will.” I always end by redirecting the conversation to more fun things, like BABY SOCKS!, but after my experience, I want to make sure people are aware that PPD is real, can happen to anyone, and that treatment is available.

    • Thank you for writing this comment. This was my first year as well. It was hell, and had nothing to do with being grateful and everything to do with a legitimate mental health issue. The singing-y “Careful what you wish for!” responses intensified the guilt and shame on top of the depression. I still struggle to really talk about it due to being essentially belittled for it, but I’m always, always available if anyone ever needs to talk about it. I’m just an email away. ❤

  4. I just loved this article. Every damn thing about it is spot on. We had just moved to a new town, had our baby readmitted to the hospital, and my husband had a new job and we had people showing up and just sitting around while we cooked all the meals, etc. Like, we were going through hell, for a great reason, but it was still hell and people were just oblivious. Here are the rules of a new baby: “if you show up, bring food, start cleaning, don’t ask, just start cleaning or doing something, cook food, tell the new mom she is pretty.” The end.

    • this is the best comment ever! And how anyone can forget how exhausting it is those first few days, weeks, months, or even the whole freaking year, is beyond me. It is hard. Yes I wished for a child, but no one NO ONE can prepare you for what reality is. Mix in a little PPD and well, that just throws it all to the wind. And yes…PLEASE…if you want to come see the baby, do something nice for the parents too. Clean, cook, do ANYTHING to help them out. Why do people always forget this?

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  1. […] of motherhood. About how really hard it is, and how no one really talks about it. Check out “what nobody remembers about new motherhood” and share your reflections on those early weeks as a new […]

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