My introduction to parenthood hasn’t always been easy, but I’m learning to appreciate that we each have our own parenting strengths.
Not long ago, I had my first baby. He’s amazing. Happy, smiley, giggly — and very gassy most of the time. And I love him to pieces.
I never thought I’d be a mom. In fact, I’d planned my life around never having children, because I was told by my doctor that I’d never be able to conceive due to extensive abdominal surgery for inflammatory bowel disease I had back in 2015.
But then I got pregnant naturally, completely by surprise considering we weren’t even trying, after just 6 months with my new partner. And on April 9, I had my miracle baby.
It wasn’t a totally easy pregnancy. For the first 20 weeks, my anxiety was all over the place. I was convinced that my pregnancy was a cruel trick because I’d believed it was never going to happen — that it would be given to me just to be taken away.
I remember panicking before my 12-week scan, ready for them to tell me I’d lost the baby. Every day up until 20 weeks I was filled with anxiety that something was going to go wrong.
I had several scans in the space of 8 weeks just for peace of mind. After the 20-week scan, and finding out everything was OK with my baby boy — that he was healthy and everything was as it should be — I calmed down quite a lot.
Then, at 27 weeks I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes, which meant I needed to prick my finger with a needle to check my blood sugar 4 times a day.
And then at 34 weeks, I was diagnosed with pregnancy-induced hypertension, which left me very swollen and uncomfortable, and so I was sent into the hospital twice a week for blood pressure monitoring.
My baby came out a healthy 6 pounds, 11 ounces, and after 3 days in the hospital recovering, we were sent home.
I’m lucky that despite the issues during pregnancy, my baby is completely healthy and happy. But I’ve been struggling — because to tell you the truth, I’ve felt like I haven’t been doing as good a job at this whole parenting thing as my partner has.
It started with the birth.
The second they pulled my baby out and showed him to me over the screen, I just felt completely numb and overwhelmed, and my first thoughts were ‘Oh my god.’
I couldn’t believe there was a real-life baby being held in front of me. My life as I knew it had changed forever.
The doctors then placed my baby on my chest, and he was all slippery and wet, and I just freaked out a little thinking he was going to fall off of me. I didn’t have *that* birth that everyone talks about.
I was scared because he didn’t cry, and afterward, I immediately felt guilty that my first thoughts weren’t about being totally head over heels in love with him. I couldn’t even hold him properly.
My partner on the other hand, handled it well and held our baby perfectly.
In the hospital, my partner was only allowed to visit once a day for 1 hour due to the pandemic. And so I was doing everything alone.
My one biggest issue was that I couldn’t change him into his sleep suits. I was scared that I’d hurt his little arms or that I’d do it wrong. I asked the midwives to help me do that. They would constantly ask me to do it myself, but I was just too anxious.
For the first couple of weeks, my partner did all the clothing changes. He took to it so naturally.
I watched him just breeze through as I sat there, feeling incapable. I tried a few times but I just got so stressed that he would end up doing it himself to save me from the anxiety.
Due to my C-section recovery, he learned to do most things before me. He learned how to sterilize the bottles. How to put up the stroller. How to put him in his car seat. He managed to change diapers in seconds.
He just took to parenting so easily and I felt so… inadequate. I felt like these were all things that I should be doing and not him.
Because I have postpartum anxiety and OCD, I was put on new medication by my mental health team. I was taking sedatives, which meant I was struggling to wake up throughout the night. And so my partner did the night feeds, too.
As I was struggling with my mental health, there were also some days where I just felt disconnected.
I loved my baby to pieces, but there were times all I wanted to do was lay in bed facing a blank wall. My partner on the other hand was always in baby mode. I questioned why I couldn’t be like him. Why he was such a better parent than me.
I just felt like a rubbish mom. He was doing so much better than me in every way. I questioned myself so many times, feeling like I was failing my son.
Did it make me a bad mom? Did it mean my partner cares more than I do? Does he love his dad more than me? Why is he so much better at this than me? Does my baby deserve more?
I felt like I didn’t deserve to be a mom.
It’s not like I didn’t do anything. I spent all day with my son while my partner worked and did housework. I would cuddle him constantly. I did the feeds during the day.
Over the past few weeks I’ve gotten over my anxiety about changing him and have been putting on his clothes with ease, and I’ve even got quicker at changing his diapers. I bathed him alone for the first time last night, and I felt so proud of myself. I felt more independent.
Over this time, I’ve also had the realization that I’m not a bad parent.
As the medication has begun to work, I’ve felt less disconnected and I spend time with my son doing things — tummy time, sensory videos and cards, and showing him his toys.
But what I’ve ultimately realized is that it’s OK to be good at different things.
Yes, my partner does change my baby quicker. And he’s a professional diaper changer. But I can do it too, even if it’s not as fast.
On the other hand, I’m the one able to get my baby to sleep the fastest. I sing him a lullaby and rock him, and he falls straight asleep. He’s always handed to me so he can drift off before bed, because we know for sure he will fall asleep.
I’ve also realized that maybe it’s a good thing to be good at different things — because it’s what makes us a team.
It’s nice to have something that both mom and dad can be good at, because it makes it more special.
There are still some days where I doubt myself, but this is usually just when I’m having a bad day.
But a cuddle with my little boy sorts it out immediately, and I know now from the way that he looks up and smiles at me, and interacts with me and snuggles up to my chest, that I am a good mom, because I’m everything to him — and that’s all that matters.
Hattie Gladwell is a mental health journalist, author, and advocate. She writes about mental illness in hopes of diminishing the stigma and to encourage others to speak out.