We’d circled up, second or third babies in our arms, ready to share our hearts and hear what was in everyone else’s. It was my turn and I was hot and flustered from being late and walking too far with the car seat containing a 10-pound-plus babe.
I hadn’t planned what I was going to say, and I found my voice cracking and tears streaming as guilt-soaked words escaped. The ease with which I let them flow told me how long they’d been there, waiting at the door, ready for their chance to get out.
I’d become a mother for the second time. A combination of soul contracts, experience, karma, and luck gave me a birth and postpartum experience that I’m still surprised to find myself describing as easy.
No, pushing an 8lb. 10oz. baby girl with a 100th percentile head size out my first-time-pushing-vagina drug-free was not easy. But everything is relative, and compared to my first run-in with birth and newbornland, it’s all been as smooth as adjusting to having two kids still in diapers could be expected to be.
I felt guilty for how well things were going. Because they were soooo hard the first time. So my first daughter got an anxious, controlling, hanging-on-by-a-thread, sometimes not-hanging-on-at-all mama. And my second was getting the mama I’d always expected to be and was shocked to not be able to locate the first time around.
Calm. Chill. Lots of milk. Instantly connected and in love. Not concerned that every decision I was making was going to permanently damage her wellbeing. Happy. Enjoying every minute the way everyone tells you to. (Which is so irritating when you’re experiencing the hardest days of your life, BTW.)
I felt guilty for how much time I was spending with our brand-new daughter and how I wasn’t able to spend as much time with our first because of being in pain or nursing or needing to rest.
I felt guilty for how much help I’d needed during pregnancy with our second because it was not an easy gestation. And I felt guilty for how much help I’d needed from my husband with our first because I struggled so much every step of the way.
I did my share, cried about feeling like a bad mom, and let the guilt out. Then I had a conversation with my husband that I needed to have about those dark, early days with our first daughter, and we both made amends to one another: me for the ways I couldn’t show up; him for the ways he’d contributed to my feeling bad about it.
I know that guilt isn’t a particularly productive emotion, but that doesn’t really help when I’m in the throes of it. As Arianna Huffington says, “Sometimes I think they take the baby out and put the guilt in!”
But what do we do with it when it shows up, as it inevitably will if we care how our actions impact others?
I’m not a guilt expert, but I’ll tell you what I did:
- I let it have a voice. Emotions that get stuffed fester. Then they turn into things that are harder to move through than an emotion like disease or destructive behaviors.
- I had a conversation about it. I talked with my therapist and my husband. I made amends where I could.
- I forgave myself. The truth is I really did the best I could when our first daughter was born. I was as present and calm as I could have been, given the circumstances. Going back in time and giving the woman I was 2.5 years ago a fist bump while telling her she was doing a damn great job was really helpful.
- I gave myself permission to blow it. I never really thought I was a perfectionist until I had a conversation about mom guilt with my therapist. She helped me see how I’ve never given myself space to actually be human and blow it. Super painful to realize. So I’m opening myself to the possibility of blowing it as a mom, as a wife, and as a woman in general. I don’t want my girls to think they have to be perfect. I want them to know you can blow it and repair. So they have to see me do that, as painful as that feels to admit.
- I decided to act from a different place. I know that if I spend time with our first daughter from a place of guilt, the time spent is meaningless. Instead, I approach being with her from a place of the pure enjoyment of being with her, even if it’s only five minutes of connection before the baby cries and needs me. If she can get all of me for five minutes instead of a distracted, guilty version of me for an hour, I know she’ll be better off.
Guilt can be productive as long as we let it transform us instead of eat us. @katenorthrup (Click to Tweet!)
Kate Northrup is an entrepreneur, bestselling author, and mother who supports ambitious, motivated and successful women to light up the world without burning themselves out in the process. Committed to empowering women entrepreneurs to create their most successful businesses while navigating motherhood, Kate is the founder and CEO of Origin Collective, a monthly membership site where women all over the world gather to achieve more while doing less. Her first book, Money: A Love Story, has been published in 5 languages. Kate’s work has been featured by The Today Show, Yahoo! Finance, Women’s Health, Glamour, and The Huffington Post, and she’s spoken to audiences of thousands with Hay House, Wanderlust, USANA Health Sciences, and more. Kate lives with her husband and business partner, Mike, and their daughter Penelope in Maine. Find out more and receive your free copy of the 5 Simple and effective ways to get the results you want in your business at katenorthrup.com.
Image courtesy of Giulia Bertelli.