I recently read a viral article entitled “Self-Care is not Enough to Fix How Much Moms are Burnt Out” and I found myself close to tears. While reading that article, I finally understood what one of my biggest challenges has been lately. It’s not the lack of rest. Or the lack of time to do anything productive. Or the way I struggle to see friends. Or how expensive child-care is. Or how hard it can be to ask for help. It’s all of those things.
However, the crux of the motherhood problem is how hard it is to be a giver/nurturer in a “Society that is asking you to nurture in an environment that does not nurture you back,” as Diana Spalding writes in her article. What do new mothers need to do to be nurturing ourselves as we nurture our children?
I’ve been feeling this anguish and frustration in a heavy way. It seems as though moms and other caregivers are giving so much to our children, partners, jobs, that when we don’t get that back, we feel resentful. Or at least I have. Sadly, that resentment of not being nutured can sometimes grow into a fiery rage. I recently directed that rage at a stranger working at a YMCA in Montreal. I feel ashamed for how I spoke to this stranger who was just doing his job. However, in that moment, after an exhausting time taking care of my cranky daughter in a strange city, it all was too much. I had given all I could and I was desperate for some nurturing to reach me.
I was struggling to nurture myself and I started to wonder how other mothers can be nurturing ourselves in the throes of challenging moments.
On a sunny Sunday morning in June, I was pushing my daughter down St. Catherine Street in her large stroller and I was doing my best to stay calm. But I wasn’t calm. We were tired. And stressed. And feeling shaky from too much sugar (both of us) and caffeine (me). The crowds of Montreal were tricky to navigate and I was anxiously wheeling my daughter past some of the sketchier sections of the street. I was also struggling with some self-judgment for taking my daughter into a big city before we were ready to do so.
As we turned a corner and I tried to balance a coffee in my hands while pushing the stroller, my daughter’s cries started. This cry wasn’t just I am tired. It seemed more of a screech and she started to arch her back in a way that breaks my heart and makes me feel like a terrible human and then I lose more faith in humanity because this type of behavior happens.
I mentally calculated the hours since her last diaper change in my head and realized she was probably sitting in an ocean of liquid. We weren’t near our hotel and I looked around, feeling panicky. There was a sea of stores and trendy shops around us, but I doubted that they had public restrooms with changing tables. Most of the stores looked too narrow for us to even fit through the door. (I also imagine having a baby in a trendy French boutique is a recipe for disaster).
I walked a few blocks and hoped the movement would soothe my cranky daughter. It didn’t. I could feel the familiar sensations of heightened anxiety settling in: quickened heartbeat, sweat pooling, stomach discomfort. Luckily, I happened to notice a YMCA on a nearby perpendicular street. I felt immediate relief, assuming that they would have a lovely bathroom with a changing table. Maybe even a water fountain. But definitely, a trash can to throw away a dirty diaper in, right?
As I maneuvered my way through the heavy doors that didn’t have an automatic door (the only entrance that I could manage with the stroller) and promptly wheeled one stroller wheel over my foot, I realized that the building was empty. I noticed a squash court and even a play area for kids behind a glass wall, but they both were empty and dark. I walked down a hall, praying for a bathroom. My daughter was still crying loudly and I had started to cry as well. Just before succumbing to despair, I came upon a man folding towels behind a counter and I approached him, already starting to relax. I assumed I could find just the quiet and changing table I needed.
“Excuse me. Do you have a women’s bathroom with a changing table?” I asked, full of hope. The man kept folding and didn’t meet my eyes.
“Nope. The YMCA is closed today.” He placed a folded towel in a bin placed next to him and folded another towel.
I could feel my jaw tense. “Is there anyplace I can change my daughter?” I asked, cautiously.
“I don’t know.” He folded another towel and I had to fight the urge to throw his tightly folded towels on the ground.
“Isn’t this a community center?” I think I was beginning to raise my voice at this point while trying to bounce my daughter by balancing her on my hip. It wasn’t working.
“But you don’t help moms with their babies?”
“Not when the YMCA is closed.” He folded another towel.
“But you’re here and the door wasn’t locked.”
“Yep. Good luck, lady.” I didn’t know if he was honestly trying to offer compassion, but it felt more insulting.
“Thanks for nothing,” I mumbled, practically kicking my daughter’s stroller in frustration.
“Can I have a towel at least to change her on?”
“They’re for members only.”
By then, I was boiling with anger. All the yogic breathing in the world couldn’t help. I think I may have cursed at him, but finally managed to find an acceptable spot on the floor away from the man folding towels to change my daughter. I used my sweatshirt as a blanket and luckily my daughter calmed down as I settled her into a new diaper and used about an entire travel-pack size of wipes for us both.
As I positioned my daughter back in her stroller and we slowly made our way back to our hotel, she started to nod off. I felt less panicked, but still a bit raw from the stress of it all. It hadn’t really been a crisis and my daughter and I were fine. But being in the middle of a new city with an upset baby without a quiet place to change that baby felt like a private crisis.
Navigating the world with a baby for the first time often feels like living in an alternative universe that is filled with private crises all day, all the while I need to nurture my child while struggling to try to nurture myself.
While I used to see playgrounds as fun and exciting, I now see fear in the tall slides and danger if a strange person is walking around a kids’ park without kids. (Speaking of slides, how am I supposed to be at both the top and bottom of the slide at the same time?) Grocery stores used to feel enjoyable as I could walk casually around the different isles. Now I am impatient and anxious about my daughter knocking a display over. I used to be more independent.
Now I rely on the kindness of strangers to help me open doors and help me navigate getting the stroller on the tractor ride at Shelburne Farms. Or to hand me toilet paper from underneath a stall while I balance my daughter on my lap or offer me extra napkins as my daughter spills a creemee over both of us.