Jenna Hatfield: On Wanting to Be the Perfect Mom

postpartum depression, mental healthDear New Mom,

I wanted nothing more than to be a mom. No, no, that’s not true. I wanted nothing more than to be a great mom. No, that’s still not right. I wanted nothing more than to be a perfect mom. I was going to be the be-all-and-end-all of all mothers. Ever. I was going to be the mom that other moms were jealous of, the mom they look at in awe.

The kind of mom that would never have failed a child.

Two years prior to the birth of my amazing oldest son, I relinquished my firstborn daughter at birth. I was just out of college when I found out I was pregnant. I began preparing for parenting when I was placed on Level III bed rest at 18 weeks, thus making it impossible to save money. I panicked. I ended up placing my baby for adoption.

The facilitator through which I placed told me I would be sad for a while after the birth of my firstborn, but that it would get better with time. That I would wake up one day and realize what I did was so good. A few weeks later, unable to find the good, I instead found myself in a bathroom with a razor blade. Nothing happened — but I wanted it to. I wanted to stop feeling empty, physically and emotionally. I wanted the hurt to stop. I wanted to stop feeling. In general.

I got through that difficult time of postpartum depression coupled with relinquishment grief and loss by some miracle. I had no counseling. I had no antidepressants. I didn’t even exercise. I only had the hope that someday, when it was really my turn, I would be the best mom ever.

That’s what pulled me out of the depression.

And that’s what plummeted me right back in when my oldest son was born.

Imagine my shame and horror when I wasn’t the perfect mother. I couldn’t automatically calm his cries with a gentle shush and a quiet rock in the chair my husband had purchased for me. The stress I felt made me feel guilty. And angry. Angry with myself. Angry with my husband that he didn’t magically know how to be a dad either. Angry with my son — for crying, for not sleeping, for not allowing me to be the best mom ever. If he would just smile and sleep and eat and … and … and …

By the time he was two months old, I knew that what I was feeling wasn’t normal. Unlike my previous trip down this road, I had the Internet at my fingertips and was able to see that I was experiencing a lot of feelings of postpartum depression. I just had the lovely addition of postpartum grief and loss exacerbating my emotional state of being. I know it’s not an official risk factor for postpartum depression, but many other birth mothers I’ve had contact with over the past nine years have shared similar stories. That the un-dealt-with trauma of relinquishment made it easy for postpartum depression to grab hold, strongly. So I got myself into therapy. I went on antidepressants for a while. I got back to myself.

Another son later, I’m still not a perfect mom. I never will be.

 

Maybe you relinquished a child and are confused about your postpartum feelings now. Maybe you didn’t relinquish a child, but you were absolutely sure you would be a perfect mom — and, like everyone else, you’re not. Maybe you suffered a previous trauma and it has completely caught you off guard now that you’re a mom. Maybe you are just surprised at how hard all of this really is — how motherhood is nothing like what you imagined.

You’re not alone, new mom.

Please don’t struggle alone with postpartum depression unnecessarily. There are mothers out there who have lived what you have lived — however unique you think your story is, however “crazy” you feel, however alone you feel. You are not alone. Please reach out. Do more than land on a blog that you Googled — email, reach out via Twitter, join a discussion. Ask your doctor for a referral to a therapist.

You don’t have to suffer. You don’t have to sit and feel like a failure. You’re not. You’re amazing. You can — and will — get through this.

You are the best mother for your child.

I believe in you.

~ Jenna

Jenna Hatfield is an editor, writer and photographer. She blogs about family at Stop, Drop & Blog and adoption at The Chronicles of Munchkin Land. She is the Family Editor at BlogHer. You can follow her on twitter, @FireMom.

The 4th Annual Mother’s Day Rally for Moms’ Mental Health is presented by Postpartum Progress, a national nonprofit 501c3 that raises awareness & advocates for more and better services for women who have postpartum depression and all other mental illnesses related to pregnancy and childbirth. Please consider making a donation today, on Mother’s Day, to help us continue to spread the word and support the mental health of new mothers.

About Katherine Stone

is the creator of this blog, and the founder and executive director of Postpartum Progress. She has been named a WebMD Health Hero, one of the fiercest women in America by More magazine, and one of the 15 most influential patient advocates to follow. She is a survivor of postpartum OCD.

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Comments

  1. This: “..I’m still not a perfect mom. I never will be.” coupled with this: “You are the best mother for your child.” are my two favourite sentences of this entire piece. Amen. Thank you.

  2. Jenna,

    This was poignant and beautiful. Thank you for sharing so openly and fearlessly.

    I’m not the perfect mother either, but always wanted to be. Only now am I realizing SHE DOES NOT EXIST. Even if I think I see her sometimes in other moms. We do the best we can. And we’re amazing.

    Thank you for this. <3

  3. I wanted to be a perfect mom too and PPD seems to magnify that want. I know from reading this that you may not be perfect but you ARE an awesome mom. Thank you.

  4. wow. this story is amazing. thank you for sharing…and reminding us that there is no such thing as a perfect mom…but we are the BEST we can be for OUR kids.

  5. Beautiful post, Jenna. I love it and you!

  6. Beautiful letter, Jenna! I think it is so important how you mention reaching out to that random blog a new mom may find if she’s googling for answers amid her pain and suffering. We’re all in it together. Support can be found online just as much as in-person these days, as we all know from this amazing community. Happy Mother’s Day!

    • It’s true. Therapy may have helped in big, big ways, but my online friends that rallied around me during the days before therapy and in the days between, they are a saving grace in my life.

  7. I too wanted to be the perfect mom. I would look at my other friends and compare myself to them. I now know that I am the best mom that I can be for my girls. “You are the best mother for your child. I believe in you.” Those two lines give struggling moms such hope.