What I Couldn’t Have Known
By: Brittany Bergman | Date: June 19 2017
I was twenty-five when my boss had a baby. Knowing in my head what a big milestone this was, I was generally and genuinely excited for her.
One day near Emily’s due date, she was mysteriously absent from a daylong, all-staff meeting, the one she’d been hyping to our team for weeks. My coworkers and I whispered our wonderings about whether she was in labor, when she’d have the baby, what he would look like.
Sure enough, baby Henry arrived that day, and in the e-mail announcing his birth was a link to meal-train sign-up form. It was both my first experience with a meal train and my first experience with a peer having a baby, and I remember thinking something like, What a nice way to show our support! And so smart that we can visit the new baby and bring a meal all at once.
Emily and her husband are health-conscious vegetarians, so I made a gigantic pan of Paleo vegetarian lasagna, stored it in the fridge at work on my assigned day and then carted it to their house still cold. I oohed and aahed over Henry while the oven preheated and then for another 45 minutes while the lasagna cooked. I dished up their plates and then served myself a portion, settling onto the couch for dinner.
It wasn’t until I had my own baby that I realized I had violated a sacred rule.
More than that, despite my best efforts, I’d missed the mark by celebrating Henry without truly seeing Emily.
Four years later I became a mother and the recipient of a new-baby meal train.
At the beginning, breastfeeding was a challenge, requiring the effort of both my husband and me to get her to latch on. If she stayed latched and stayed awake, I was looking at a thirty-minute feeding—closer to an hour if she drifted in and out of sleep. She was eating every two hours, and I was exhausted beyond what I could reasonably bear.
My breasts were engorged and leaky. My dark circles looked like black eyes. My lady parts were so tender that I had to brace myself to sit down. I listened to my baby cry for hours most days, her lungs stronger than my rocking skills. I’d just had my world entirely rocked by an explosion of love and trauma and primal mama-bear instincts.
I did not want to make small talk. I did not want anyone else to hold my baby. I did not want people to wait for us while I nursed her. I did not want anyone to see my disaster of a house, with the piles of dirty dishes and unsorted baby gifts. I did not want to put on a bra.
I wanted to be alone with my husband and my baby, but I also desperately craved connection. I needed to be seen and loved by the sisterhood of mothers who had gone before me, tenderly cared for by women who knew what this season was like.
I also needed to eat and couldn’t imagine doing the work of making food for myself.
By the time I had my daughter, I’d watched many friends become moms. I’d smiled and played cheesy shower games, given tiny pajamas and swaddle blankets as gifts, brought meals and held newborns and told the moms how perfect their babies were (and truly, they were.) I had wondered when it would be my turn and nodded along politely as new moms spoke in generalities about how hard and wonderful it all was, how painful their labors had been, how very tired they were.
But I had failed to listen to them and to champion their prowess, mostly because I didn’t understand. What I couldn’t have known then was the heaviness of their sentiments—the true weight of motherhood.
I couldn’t have known until that weight was placed on my chest, skin to skin, my tiny girl lifting her head and locking her eyes on mine.
I couldn’t have known until my nipples were bleeding and raw, but my daughter needed to eat, so I quietly cried my way through the feeding.
I couldn’t have known until I’d been up the better part of the night, my daughter and I the only two people in the world awake, and perhaps the only two people in the world alive. It was just her and me, swaying along to the Piano Guys.
I couldn’t have known until I couldn’t do anything: I couldn’t sleep, couldn’t cook, couldn’t pee without pain. I couldn’t entertain guests, couldn’t seem to make myself presentable, couldn’t pull myself out of the fog long enough to have a normal conversation. I couldn’t stop the worry, couldn’t protect my tiny girl every minute of every day, couldn’t tell what was normal for her or for me. I couldn’t put into words or even process how deeply my whole identity had changed.
I couldn’t have known how much new moms need to be cared for and loved and celebrated—perhaps even more so than their babies.
So from the bottom of my heart, to all the women who became moms before I did, the ones whom I did not adequately care for or celebrate or understand: I’m so sorry. I know better now.
About the Author
Brittany L. Bergman is a writer and editor living in the suburbs of Chicago with her husband and her daughter. Brittany writes about living simply, savoring motherhood, and finding the sacred in the everyday at BrittanyLBergman.com. You can also find her on Facebook and Instagram.