My First Mother’s Day…

…was six years ago.

I had been a mother for exactly two months, and I was right in the throes of motherhood shock and the worst sleep deprivation I had ever experienced.

I was struggling with nursing, but determined (in part personal desire, in part societal pressure) not to give up. My nipples were bleeding, and the hunger cries of Fred every 2 hours brought images of razor blades. I came to dread hearing his relentless calls for food and hated myself for hating to feed my own child…I would read Dr. Sears’ chapter on relaxing and savoring the bond with our babies during nursing and wonder what critical maternal gene I was missing.

I was living in a Japanese surburb, staying home on a one-year maternity leave from my company. For the first time I realized I had no one to talk to during the day, or the night for that matter (see next paragraph). I realized that sleep deprivation + a foreign language + loneliness did not make me a happy mother. There was no park within walking distance and Fred and I spent our days hanging out at the local supermarkets and discount baby store, when I wasn’t entertaining the unannounced visits by my mother-in-law…

I missed my husband that first Mother’s Day. In the weeks leading up to Fred’s birth, Max’s company began a major restructuring. He was asked to head up a second department in addition to the one he was already running. He left the house at 7 each morning to begin his 70-minute commute and came home between 12:30 – 1:00 a.m each night. Often it made more sense for him to simply sleep in a hotel or in the office, but he made it a rule to always come home and help where he could. On Mother’s Day he left a L’Occitane bath gel gift set and a card for me on the dining table. For the coming year, I would bask in these citrus scents in the shower, trying to drown out the imagined crying that lingered in my ears long after my muscles had let go in the steam.

I spent many hours a day on the internet, becoming more and more addicted to the chat forums for young moms. I e-mailed other mom friends who were excited I had joined the club but who were too busy with their young children to write at length. “Gotta go – xxx is crying!” was how most correspondence ended. More than once I picked up the phone to call someone but hung up with doubts.  They’ve got enough on their hands without having to play therapist, I would think. I don’t want to call and start cryingI don’t want to sound like I don’t love being a mother.

My heart would drop like a rollercoaster and then start beating with fear whenever Max kissed me good bye and the front door closed behind him in the mornings. I would imagine the next 15-16 hours alone with this infant whom I loved in theory but barely knew. My thoughts  would race forward to all potential disasters: what if he throws up, what if he falls, what if he spikes a fever, what if I throw him against the wall – what would I do? How will I get help? In the midst of panic, will I be able to remember our address in Japanese, let alone explain my situation to an emergency operator? I would wonder, if I love my baby so much – if I am his mother – why do I feel fear when I am with him? Why do unspeakable images try to fight their way into my head?

My first Mother’s Day was a celebration I felt proud to finally be a part of. Like Hall of Fame inductees I imagine, or Academy Award or even Nobel Prize winners, I couldn’t quite believe that I would be the one people (alright, my husband) would be paying attention to on this second Sunday in May. Am I deserving? Am I really up in there in the ranks of my mother and those who’d gone before her?

I would get my answer slowly in the years to come, as I watch my little boy grow from a quiet and inobtrusive baby into an inquisitive and compassionate young person. And now, on the eve of my sixth Mother’s Day, I can comfortably look back and say to that young mother: You passed with flying colors; you were deserving. It may be your habit to focus more on what you should have done or could have done, but on this Mother’s Day, sit back, enjoy your family, and know that you’ve done well.

Happy Mother’s Day to all my fellow mothers and mother figures, especially to all the new moms 🙂

18 thoughts on “My First Mother’s Day…

  1. I had a hard time breastfeeding my first – and remember (bodily) the toe curling pain I felt. But it only lasted a few weeks. You are a champion!
    And I also know the fear of Dad leaving. But, we make it through. And new mommies – welcome to the club. You’ll make it too!
    Happy Mother’s Day!

    • Thank you for this nice comment! We have to take care of our new mommies, don’t we? Happy Mother’s Day to you too!

  2. The L’Occitane is a luxury! A very kind gesture – Bob tends to get me bath supplies too to show appreciation. It really is a sign of wanting me to relax, but unfortunately I don’t think I saw a tub for my relaxation until DD was 3? The only tub that got use in our house was your little Fred’s hand me down! But the deserving gift on Mother’s Day is beautiful.

    I’m glad that you have memories of feeling honored, since I know you spent your energies festing your Mother in Law during your Saitama days. The reward on Mother’s day I think I felt most when DD turned 1. I really hijacked that celebration as an “I made it a year as a Mother!” At 5, the birthdays have turned more to being about her, which is fair 🙂

    I’m glad you turned to Mother web sites in your early days, because the one and only time I did it linked me to you! On-line bonds actually materialize. Happy Mother’s Day!

    • Love this, Kathryn 🙂 M got me shower gel and I agree – the bath is a luxury b/c you really don’t have more than 5 minutes (max!) when they’re that little! I agree that the baby’s first real birthday was my first real Mother’s Day. I remember my sister-in-law saying, in the middle of the party, “And congratulations to Cecilia – she worked so hard this first year. You made it.” and since then that is how I would wish my new mom friends their 1st birthday wishes.

      Yes, thank goodness for the mom forums – I made a real life friend out of those! And now more through blogging 🙂

  3. I wish I were there now, to look into your eyes as you told this story.

    That was my first mother’s day, too. Awful. How did I survive? I somehow did. The panic, the racing heart, the despair, the loneliness. All alone, not used to being home. With a screaming, crying baby.

    I made it. And went on to have 2 others, without incident.

    The first one. I look back, and marvel at the strength I had. I hung on to sanity for him, my son, my firstborn.

    Happy Mother’s Day, wonderful sister.

    • Alexandra, I admire you for being a mom of 3. I often wonder if much of the despair and challenges of that first year have to do with a mourning of the “old” self. Sleep deprivation made everything seem that much worse, but for me alot of it was saying good bye to me and my life as I had known them up to that point.

      You’re a wonderful mother. I hope you have a lovely Mother’s Day!

  4. Aside from the fact that my daughter took to breast feeding like a duck to water and physically it was never an effort for me (both of which are rare) I read this post and so much of what you have written about those early days as a new Mom resonates with me. I did not have a foreign language to deal with but was in a foreign land with no family or Mom friends, a husband who was working all hours and a baby who would not take a bottle, not ever, so I was always on the clock if I ever got chance to leave her which I so resented. I did not enjoy that first Mother’s Day and felt I did not deserve the beautiful Coach bag my husband bought me as I felt I was failing on so many levels as a new Mom. But this year I am going to enjoy Mothers Day and be proud of where I am now.

    I am so glad to hear you are in that same space – have a wonderful Mothers Day.

    • Thank you, Aging Mommy (funny for me to call you that). It’s interesting to see that it wasn’t just me who didn’t feel deserving on that first Mother’s Day. We are so hard on ourselves, even though we really take on the hardest job – the only one that doesn’t come without training or breaks.

      Happy Mother’s Day to another wonderful mom!

  5. My husband would be gone for 12-30 hours shifts during E’s first year and I felt the same dread as the door closed behind him. And the intense loneliness of parenting in a new city as a new parent (although I did speak the language) . I remember walking down the street on a Saturday morning seeing all these dads with their children and crying with exhaustion and jealousy.
    You are such a wonderful Mom and writer.
    Happy Mother’s Day.

    • Thank you so much, Alex. You too – your honest writing is a wonderful tribute to all the mothers out there.

      It’s amazing how so many mothers went through the same thing, regardless of where we lived. But we all survived and are surviving.

      I hope you have a great Mother’s Day!!

  6. Very nice and honest writing in your post. Being a new mother is exhausting. Happy Mothers Day to you and I am so happy you send encouragement to the new mothers who may be feeling similar fears and loneliness.

    • Thank you! I haven’t been a mother for all that long, but so far there has been nothing like that first year. I wish you a wonderful Mother’s Day to you too 🙂

  7. “I would imagine the next 15-16 hours alone with this infant whom I loved in theory but barely knew.” Oh, yes, this is such a perfect description. And all the tears … on my part and my new baby’s! But we do make it, don’t we? We do earn the prize.

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