“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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