I spent my first night as a new mother sleeplessly imagining various scenarios in which we gave up the baby for adoption. There were people out there who would have given everything they owned for our good fortune. All the more reason for us to offer our daughter to them, I thought. Lying there in my mechanical bed with a baby whose needs I felt incapable of meeting, I could think of only one good reason to keep her: Her grandmothers would never forgive us.
I just never thought it would be like this: what a spectacular failure of imagination. Some women have written about new motherhood, in memoirs in particular, and I’d even read these, but their words hadn’t registered, I hadn’t conceived the weight of it all. The days without sleeping, how time slows down, the world shrinking, the unceasing cries, that unceasing need-and being the one person in the world equipped to meet it.
Such a failure, however, is reasonable, because who would want to imagine it? People don’t make movies about this stuff because nobody would want to watch them. And a novel about three days in the life of a new mother would be the longest book in the world.
I was utterly miserable during my first days of motherhood, and by “first days” I really mean about six weeks, and three months, and maybe more than that. And I’m not even talking about postpartum depression. Though there’s no doubt this is a very real affliction, it’s also a label that undermines the very simple fact that living with a newborn is, as parenting writer Ariel Gore describes it, “like suddenly getting the world’s worst roommate, like having Janis Joplin with a bad hangover and PMS come to stay with you.”