Thursday, March 11, 2010


Ever since I had my baby five months ago, my head's been one big muddle. The adorable little guy fills me in a way I didn't know was possible and brings out a degree of love and devotion I didn't know I was capable of having. At the same time, he arrived with a jolt that seemed to knock off balance various delicate pieces of my life that I thought I had put into place over the years.

Since his arrival, I've been trying to unmuddle myself. To work through the various reactions I've been having and try to sort them out. The reactions have ranged from deep feelings of contentment and cloying affection to unshakable anxiety. Some days have been better than others. On some days, like today, I feel like I've emerged from that cloud and have happily moved on. On other days, I'm convinced it's just the hormones. But when, all of a sudden, I find myself emotional and overwhelmed, with my little brain feeling like it's ready to burst from a slew of endlessly trivial demands, I find myself squeezing my hands against my skull, as if to keep it contained. Other times, I feel the urge to bang my head, as if to knock out some of the excess junk that clutters the limited space up above. But then I return to my placid state when all seems perfectly fine, and I wonder what the hell was my problem.

In a nutshell, I don't feel like myself these days. I feel anxious, almost all the time. I often go through the day as if I'm being chased. If it's not feeding, changing, cleaning, singing to, and playing with the baby, then it's the daily ritual of two to three loads of laundry and six or seven cycles of bottle washing, sterilizing, and then preparing for the next round. When there are spare moments, I find myself mopping the floor, cleaning the refrigerator, unloading the dish washer, and cleaning the bathroom. After that, I look for other tasks. I feel as if I'm preparing for a hurricane, urgently bracing for the emergency, fearful that I'll be caught without my windows boarded, my supplies insufficient.

I'm struggling to reach a state of stasis. The problem with trying to sort all this out, however, is that I'm not really sure what is going on. All I know is that I feel uneasy, as if I forgot whether I turned off the stove before leaving for the day. I don't know if it is caused by the heavy responsibility of caring for another human being or the general stress of going through so many changes in life. Or the anxiety of not bringing home a regular paycheck. Or the fear of being doomed to a life of housework. Or hormones. Or maybe a combination of all above. Whatever it is, it is triggering associations that I am not consciously making and sending my instincts into overdrive.

The closest I can compare is the time in my early teens when my dad quit his job and my parents opened a small business together. As I've written about here many times, it caused a great upheaval in our family life in terms of our sense of financial and emotional stability. When my parents started working crazy hours, it became the responsibility of the children to run the household. I became mired in housework, and soon, manically folding the towels into perfect rectangles, meticulously wiping the dust off of the crevices of accordion lampshades, and organizing and re-organizing the cans in the pantry were the only ways I knew how to maintain a sense of control.

The other day, I was talking to a friend about how I feel these days. I told her that I feel as if I've reverted to my teenage days. When I told her about that period in my life, she asked me if I ever processed it.

"Process it?" I responded. "What do you mean?"

"You know, talk about it with someone. Maybe with someone in your family?"

Talk about it... In my family? No, we didn't talk about it. We were Koreans. We didn't talk about emotions, with the possible exception of anger. I wouldn't even know how to ask my parents how they feel. The closest approximation I can come to is asking them how they are. And to such a question, they would respond that they are eating well, or exercising, or spending the day at church.

In our family, we each hurried through the day, on our own. And learned to live with it. Whatever "it" was.

Or so I thought.

Over the years, I thought I had dealt with those events of my childhood. Or at least removed their sting. I learned to worry a little less about my parents, relax a little more, try not so hard to shape a family life that I thought we should have, instead of the one we were living. I thought I had put the intensity of my emotions behind me. But I'm starting to realize that you can never really put a part of your life behind you. Your life is your life, in one continuum. All you can do is shelve it. And maybe over time, the dust piles on, but sooner or later, you need to wipe the dust off and deal with it.

So I decided to find a way to deal with it, instead of waiting for it to pass. I called a therapist and started talking to her about my feelings of anxiety. And decided to write about it. Before I called the therapist, I felt pretty damn inadequate. Why were other women able to transition into motherhood on their own, and not me? Why couldn't I just be overfilled with joy like others and not be so mired in this state of stress, especially when everything in my life is so great? Really, what is my problem??

I don't know the answer. But once I find out, I'll let you know.


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. You are very brave for sharing these feelings, and I admire you for it. Perhaps other women who are struggling with these types of issues will feel less embarassed/ashamed after reading of your experiences. Thank you.

  3. it's great that you're sharing your feelings. i think many moms feel the same way you do. you're so invested in being a mom, running the house, that you start feeling that if everything is not perfect, it's your fault. and that can only cause more anxiety.

    my advice (as a working lawyer mom of a 8-month old) is to give yourself your break. hire a cleaning lady to come once every two weeks. take it easy on keeping everything too sterile. remember that exposure to germs is actually beneficial for your little one. do you really need to sterilize the bottles every day? does everything have to be perfectly spotless? what terrible consequences will befall your family if you don't wash your baby's clothes every day (if it's not actually dirty, that is)?

  4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  5. You're not alone. I felt depressed and everything seemed so out of my control (well, it kind of was cuz my mom was living with me and that seemed out of my control). I felt a lot better after talking to a psychiatrist and getting treated for PPD (post partum depression)... and also when my mom moved out. I only had to medicate for a little and then I was feeling like myself again. so.. yeah,

  6. Thank you for being honest and thus destigmatizing going to a therapist. *I* appreciate it.

    Fellow U of C alum

  7. I echo the thanks for being so honest. I've been struggling with this whole motherhood thing too. It is like... I don't know. I feel like it's the job I've trained for all my life: I've always loved kids, I've changed my cousins' diapers since I was 7, babysat for decades, helped to care for my little brother (although not enough, in retrospect) when he was an infant, always been interested in cognitive science/behavioral science/early learning, etc.

    It's not like I miss my "previous" life. It's that I wish I had more hours in the day, more energy in me, to live the life I have right now, to be fully a mom to my precious, wonderful son, and to spend at least just a little time with my husband or to myself, to be able to work at something I really enjoy, but I just don't.

    I feel like I'm only 30% the person I can be for all of these things. And I'm already "outsourcing" our dogwalking, gardening, housecleaning, and partly the care of our baby. I only do laundry like once every 3 days for the baby and once every two weeks for myself.

    What is the point of my life, I wonder, if other people are living it for me? And why am I still so tired? I have a very flexible work schedule. I even cut down to 4 days a week. And the baby is in daycare around 5-6 hours a day while I'm working. Almost every night, I feel like I might burst into tears, or I actually do, even if nothing has gone wrong, per se. There's always this sense that I'm constantly falling behind at work, missing something with my baby, drifting further away from my husband, losing a sense of who I am.

    Today, the baby cried when I tried to kiss him after passing him off to M, his daycare provider. My heart broke. I know it was just because he was fussy and tired from being sick, but it cut like a knife to see him cuddle closer to her and turn away from me.

    I just realized, writing this down, that these are exactly the signs the pediatrician asked me & my husband to watch out for post-partum. I guess I need to seek help too. It's scary.

    The thing is, I still want to have more kids. My pregnancy didn't go well. I have been upset at my labor and birth so much so that I would cry about it at the drop of the hat for the first 3 months. I love my baby so, so, so much, but I'm a wreck right now, and feel like I can't juggle it all, even though it is a smaller load than someone like my mother handled. I can't see my husband, or any reasonable person, agreeing to have another baby with me.


    Sorry to unload so much at your blog. I just meant to say, you are not alone, but ended up writing a novel.

  8. I just realized, that I shouldn't have said my pregnancy didn't go well; it went superbly! The baby was perfectly healthy, I got through it fine, and most of all, it went to term, which was my biggest fear.

    What I should have said was, "I handled the small ailments of my pregnancy really, really, really badly, even though nothing went wrong, which makes me feel like I'm a terribly weak person."

  9. Thank you for talking about it. Here, and with your therapist.

    If I knew the answer I

  10. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.