For months, I anxiously looked forward to the day when my third baby would arrive. Of course, I was excited to meet him, but I was also really ready to say goodbye to round the clock heartburn and pelvic pain. During the hardest days of my pregnancy, I even started to believe my life would get so much easier once I was finally done being pregnant and all of the symptoms that come along with pregnancy disappeared for good.
In a way, I was right. In a way, I was totally wrong. Sure, the pelvic pain was gone and the swelling in my feet disappeared within a few days. I can now eat more than three bites of food in a single setting without paying the price in the form of heartburn for the rest of the day. I don’t need a nap at 10am just to get lunch on the table. I can lift my big girls again without worrying about how sore I will feel the next day.
Still, now that I am two months into my life as a mom of three kids under the age of five, I can’t help but think I was living in a dreamworld believing that things would get easier for me after giving birth. Even without the burden of pregnancy symptoms, this is the hardest thing I have ever done. All of my kids are home with me full-time, except for the short day they spend with their grandma once a week. From the minute my feet hit the floor on Monday morning, it seems like I never stop moving. I rush and cook and pick up and referee and bounce a newborn nonstop. If I do settle into the couch for a few minutes, it’s probably because I’ve got a kid attached to my breast.
I’m not complaining, I’m just being honest. (OK, maybe I’m whining a little bit.) I love the life I am living, but it is non-stop work most of the time and I’m struggling to keep up. My children might be the greatest gift I’ve been given, but that doesn’t mean I’m effortlessly keeping my head above water. This mom thing is hard, hard work and I’ve had this new, unexpected thing arise with the birth of my third: I’m feeling anxious most of the time. Most nights I struggle to settle down, to stop running through my to-do list or worrying about the next day, so I can some much needed sleep before my baby wakes again to nurse.
Sometime over the last couple of weeks, I’ve realized that this can’t be my new normal. I know I can expect to work hard all day long, but I can’t keep living with a heightened sense of anxiety over everything I need to do. It isn’t healthy for me and I’m kind of terrible to be around if I can’t keep my stress levels low. It isn’t OK to dread Mondays, to feel panic over a sink full of dishes or practically beg my husband to work from home at least once a week.
If you’re a new mom of three, or even a new mom of one, I have a feeling you’ve felt that same way before. You’ve woken up in the morning, full of worry about the day ahead and you’re convinced there is no end in sight for this non-stop frenzy your life has become. I’m tempted to tell you it gets better, that keeping everyone dressed, fed and happy becomes less exhausting as they grow older, but the truth is I don’t really know if that’s true. I hope it is, but the thing is, I am right here in the trenches with you.
What I can tell you is that I get it. I know what you are feeling right now. This is the hardest thing you’ve ever done. Caring for toddlers and a newborn at the same time is exhausting and most days, you probably feel like you are barely keeping everyone alive. I know what it feels like when a shower is the greatest luxury, to wish for a few minutes of peace or to simply want to use the bathroom alone.
I can also tell you what I have to remind myself every single day: It is OK not to do it all. It is OK to struggle. It is alright to leave the dishes in the sink during naptime and choose to doze off on the couch or read books with your oldest. If you’re like me, this is easier said than done. So, maybe like me, you need to set limits for yourself. Maybe there need to be new rules like, no housework from noon to two or during screen time you have to settle into the couch with a book instead of rushing around the house tidying or starting a new load of laundry.
I can also tell you, from one maxed out mama to the next, to please please ask for help. There is no shame in admitting just how difficult it is to keep up. There is no badge or prize at the end of the first year for putting on a brave face and ignoring your own needs. If you are drowning, reach out for a lifeline. Maybe you need to ask someone to drop by a meal or to take your big kids to the park. Maybe what you need is to see a counselor to talk about coping skills or even medication that could lower the anxiety you feel each day. It’s OK, no one expects you to transition into this new season of motherhood seamlessly.
This new time in my life of caring for three kids and a home and managing my work-from-home job is certainly difficult, but it is teaching me to allow myself the freedom to fall short, to set new expectations for myself and to be honest with other moms who might be struggling, too.