What Depression Has Taught Me About Motherhood

Early on in my pregnancy, I devoured snarky mommy blogs. There was (and still is) something satisfying about reading other womens’ stories of sarcasm-in-parenthood: triumphant in their realism, unflinching in their dual identities of devotion and “what the fuck, this is crazy.” Proof that motherhood does not come with a shiny veneer of bliss and that anyone who expects it of themselves has a rude surprise in store.

Then somewhere around week 20, I started to see a lot of snarky mommy blogs with the theme “hold on to your butts — motherhood is hard as shit,” and I adored these blogs as much as I adored other snarky mommy blogs. Until I didn’t.

I’ve learned to live with depression through most of my adult life. Sometimes, depression has meant that I’ve stuck with a job long past the point of it being life-giving and fulfilling (or even healthy!). Other times, depression has meant me not leaving the house for days on end, giving up friendships and abandoning projects that I once found interesting. Mostly, depression has meant me struggling to find value in myself.

Something about the “hold onto your butts” snarky mommy blogs performed a strange alchemy in me. They played right into my worst fears about myself: that I wasn’t “cut out” for motherhood, that I had enough trouble caring for myself sometimes (so how could I be trusted to care for another human being?), that it was going to be all too much.

I lived with this fear for weeks. It was nascent and cunning — it hid below the surface and spoke up when I was already feeling overwhelmed by other things (registries, baby showers, holy shit this kid needs a room, wait let’s remodel our kitchen).

Then a new pattern emerged.

“Hold onto your butts” blogs were still there, but I noticed a new detail that I hadn’t quite grasped before. Almost all of these “motherhood is hard has shit” blogs used the same example of just how hard motherhood can be: “you go for days without a shower.”

If you’re like me, and you’ve felt the muddy stranglehold of depression seep into the corners of your house and take over your thinking, you know as well as I do that the first thing to go out the window when depression comes knocking is self care.

I admit this because when you’re deep in depression, and self care has long since become a negotiable part of your day (and negotiations often favor “more sleep” and “more Netflix” over “eating a meal” or “calling your friend back”), it’s frighteningly easy to see lack of self care as proof that you’re simply not worth caring about. And that’s a hard thing to admit. So I admit this because maybe you need to hear it. 

When I read yet another “motherhood is hard as shit” blogs and I saw “you go days without a shower” listed as one of the reasons why motherhood is hard — I started laughing in relief.

Days without a shower? Ha! This woman has clearly never been depressed!

Sounds so strange, doesn’t it? That I would be cheered up by thinking “thank God I’ve been depressed, I know what it’s like to go days without a shower!”

But it’s not just that I’ve experienced days without showering. Or that I’ve experienced what it’s like to brush my teeth without toothpaste, and know that that was a triumph of self care.

I’ve experienced what it’s like to return to self care after days and weeks (and sometimes months) without it. I know that it’s possible, I know I am capable.

So now, when I think “oh my God, I’m not cut out for this motherhood thing,” I can at least remember that I’ve learned how to negotiate different ways of self care and different ways of being in the world. I’m not always “on” and I have permission to try and do new things when my balance seems off.

Do I know yet what it’s like to be a mother? Nope. But I do know what it’s like to turn the shower on after a few days, to slip into hot water and to feel the relief of returning to myself.

Thank God depression has taught me at least that much.

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