“Guilt” is My New Middle Name

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Addicted to Photography, Ottawa, October 2013

Addicted to Pho­tog­ra­phy, Ottawa, Octo­ber 2013

My full name is “Juli­ette Éloïse Bossard-Giannesini” but you can just call me “guilt”—that’s my new mid­dle name since becom­ing a mother.

Mark was born at 11:04 a.m. I felt the first pang of “mom guilt” at 11:05 a.m., when some­one (a nurse?) announced that the baby was cold. “I’m sorry,” I said groggily.

I don’t even know why I apol­o­gized. I mean, I was busy get­ting stitched, it’s not like I was play­ing with the thermostat.

It all went down­hill from there.

Later that day, a nurse chas­tised me for not pick­ing up Mark fast enough: “When your baby is cry­ing, you must fig­ure out what he needs! So drop every­thing and attend to his needs.”

I bowed my head and accepted the scorn­ful look. Never mind that 1) I was in the bath­room try­ing to, ahem, clean up a bit (with­out get­ting too graphic, remem­ber that I had just given birth) 2) I hadn’t even real­ized Mark was cry­ing because there were four new­borns in the room and that I was still adjust­ing to the fact that I was no longer preg­nant, that our son was here with us.

Oh, and in case you were wondering—yes, I felt guilty about not dis­tin­guish­ing my son’s cries.

I don’t think I ever stopped feel­ing guilty.

A few days after Mark was born, we took him to the doc­tor for a rou­tine checkup. It was the first time we leav­ing the house together after com­ing back from the hos­pi­tal. We were run­ning late (of course, Mark had pooped right as we were about to leave), we were sleep-deprived and stressed out, like two new par­ents tak­ing their kid on a “long” twenty-minute drive.

I put Mark in the car­rier and walked to the car. Prob­lem: we couldn’t fig­ure out how to secure the car­rier to the built-in base anchored to the back seat. Feng tried, I tried and it just wouldn’t lock properly.

Do you know what we did at the end? That’s right: we didn’t lock the car seat to the base. I sat at the back and held the car­rier. Go ahead, call the police, call child pro­tec­tive services.

I was on the verge of cry­ing. I felt like I had screwed up my first “respon­si­ble mother test” even though we made it to the doc­tor just fine and fig­ured out how to secure the car seat prop­erly for the return trip.

In the past year, I have felt that “mom guilt” feel­ing at least sev­eral times a day. Run­ning late for Mark’s feed­ing? Guilty! Mark doesn’t eat? Guilty! Los­ing patience? Guilty! Los­ing con­trol of the sit­u­a­tion? Guilty! Mark is cranky? I must have done some­thing wrong!

I don’t sweat the lit­tle things. When Mark falls, bumps his head or eat sand at the play­ground, I shrug it off—meh, he is a kid, right? I don’t mind if Mark eats some choco­late or some fries. I don’t mind say­ing “no”. What’s stress­ing me out is not being good enough as a mother. Not being patient enough. Not being car­ing enough. Ever heard of the “impos­tor syn­drome” where peo­ple feel like a fraud even though they are per­fectly com­pe­tent? That’s how I feel as a mother.

Fuck. I’m feel­ing guilty right now for writ­ing this instead of play­ing with him. Never mind that if I have to look at him throw shoes down the stairs (he is appar­ently at the “wow, grav­ity is fun!” stage) I am going to lose my mind.

That’s it. Now I am def­i­nitely feel­ing guilty for even writ­ing this. I should love my son’s com­pany and I should cher­ish and trea­sure every sec­ond I spend with him… shouldn’t I?

The funny thing is, I am usu­ally a fairly bal­anced per­son. I don’t over­re­act much and I’m not exactly a drama-queen. I can even be described as “assertive” (or even “stub­born”, depend­ing on whom you ask).

I used to have my shit together.

I’m not sure why I always feel that other moth­ers do a bet­ter job than me. I don’t know why I am mak­ing my life more com­pli­cated by con­stantly refus­ing help or try­ing to do every­thing alone.

Do you ever feel guilty?” I asked Feng. “About what? Mark? Nope. Why should I? He looks fine, doesn’t he?”

Okay. So maybe it’s just me then.

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About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.

6 Comments

  1. Long time, I have not commented.

    I am going to tell you a story. I had Paul a year ago (+1 week). I was pan­icked, in shock. Breast­feed­ing was a dis­as­ter (not enough milk, baby scream­ing, we gave him a bot­tle after 3 days…).
    I have now a per­fectly and lively tod­dler. But, “omg”, the 1st 6 months were rough, really rough. I had a screamer. He knew 3 stages: eat­ing, cry­ing and sleep­ing (mainly #2). We blamed Silent Reflux and milk intol­er­ance. We will never know because now he drinks and eat whole milk, yogurt and cheese.

    This week­end, I saw 2 babies, a 3 month old and a 5 month old. One was hang­ing out on the floor, happy… not a cry. He “fussed” for 30s (that would have been a coo for Paul). the Mom excused him, you under­stand he was hun­gry. The other one was no bet­ter, all smiles. and both of then slept through the night by week 6. I was watch­ing unicorns.

    And the guilt came back: it was my fault, I could not breast­feed (because?), I should I fed him on demand, or every 2hours. My 3 hour sched­ule totally messed him up, I am such a bad mom. I work 11 hours a day. I see him only 3 hours a day.
    Bad Mom… I some­times want some per­sonal time, read a book and not been both­ered. Bad mom… I live 5000 miles away from his grand-parents. I should give him his fam­ily closer. Bad mom. I am enjoy­ing too much my work in Hous­ton. I should quit and get another job in Den­ver so he can be raised in a bet­ter way. I am so self­ish. Bad Mom…

    But then, Paul said his 1st word “Chat” point­ing the cat and smiled at me.

    Then I remem­ber each kid comes with dif­fer­ent chal­lenges. We just have to try our best. Love them and pro­tect them of what is needed and we have, as a par­ent, to try to be happy ourselves.

    Who knows Paul might become some­one else’s Uni­corn one day.

    • Hi Car­o­line,

      Thank you so much for shar­ing. It means a lot to me because we don’t like to share the “neg­a­tive” side of moth­er­hood. I mean, when peo­ple ask, I invari­ably say I’m okay, he is okay, even though… well, we aren’t always okay.

      We all have to make choices. I didn’t want to stop work­ing first for finan­cial rea­sons and then because I love my job and work­ing makes me happy. That said, even though Mark doesn’t go to day­care and I see him a lot, he doesn’t always have my full atten­tion and some­time I am stressed out because of work, lack of time and all. So I know the feeling!

      See­ing “easy babies” made me real­ize that, well, Mark was not an easy baby. He is bright, fun and all but he was and is high-maintenance. Couldn’t put him down for two sec­onds, I had to carry him against me all the time dur­ing wak­ing hours, didn’t sleep much and all.

      Paul is most cer­tainly someone’s uni­corn! It’s all phases. Yes, maybe he was more demand­ing as a baby but it has noth­ing to do with what you did or didn’t do. You know that, right? ;-) But then, he may do other stuff ear­lier than other kids, have a great bond with you, etc.

      And you are a good mother. :-)

  2. Well, I’ve passed the same not one, but two times. And even now that my chil­dren are 8 and 10 some­times I think I should “do more”, “be more”, “give more”, etc. Any­way, I know I love them, and they know too, they also know that, even if I don’t play much with them, and I’m often “off lim­its” because of my work (I work from home too), I’m always there, when they really need me. Always. Noth­ing is more impor­tant than their real impor­tant needs (even an “urgent” hug can be one). And I think that this is what they need to know.
    And another thing that used to give a rest to my guilt feel­ings was that I knew what I would have been like, if I had spent myself entirely on their needs, even the small­est ones. I would have been a hor­ri­ble, unsmil­ing, unin­ten­tion­ally resent­ing mother. And that would have been bad for me and for them (and for my hus­band too). And I would have felt even more guilty than I usu­ally do.
    So be your­self, love him, and do what­ever you want to, as long as you are there when he really needs you, and nobody else :)

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