You don’t have to be thankful. I’m giving you permission to sit where you are this holiday.
Our server forgot my soup yesterday. I was sharing a meal with my sweet five year old, but I ordered an extra soup so that we could both have one. Rather than be a mature adult and ask the server about it, I pouted. My daughter kept asking, “Mommy, where’s your soup?” It was well-meaning, but made me even more agitated than my forgotten soup. She took a loud slurp of her soup and immediately complained that it was too hot. I calmly got her a piece of ice, still seething silently at our server, and she complained yet again that it was too hot. I snapped, “Well, just be grateful you have soup at all. I’d love to have a hot soup.” She looked down sadly, and didn’t ask for ice again.
I was ashamed of myself. We were out to celebrate her. That’s why I gave her the soup when the extra was forgotten. And it made me think of all the times I had been scolded for not being thankful for what I have. The silent resentment that my feelings are valid too, damn it! I remind moms in the postpartum support group that their feelings are valid, but that’s not always the way society sees it.
Thanksgiving five years ago, I had a baby in NICU. She was beautiful and I got hearty congratulations. I had wanted to have her, but reality was far different than I had anticipated. I was 19, terrified, and doubting my ability to mother this baby if I couldn’t even prevent her from needing the NICU. I had failed her already, and she had just been born. I wasn’t thankful. I had a 3rd degree tear that hurt me when I sat or stood or walked. I could only hold my baby once every three hours, and I hadn’t even changed her diaper yet. I was angry. Angry that my midwife’s phone wasn’t functioning properly and she missed my daughter being born by minutes. Angry that the attending OB just sat there and allowed the nurse to bully me into purple pushing. Angry that my nurse had told me I couldn’t squat to give birth because, “You’ll tear really bad if you squat.” And yet I had the worst tear my midwife had ever had to stitch up to that point.
People would tell me, later, that I shouldn’t be angry, because all that matters is a healthy baby. I just wanted to scream, not only because I matter too, but because in my mind, I hadn’t even managed that. I pushed it down and faked it. I explained away my depression, did my best to quash my guilt, and pushed forward. But I couldn’t fake being excited when I found out I was pregnant again when my daughter was only 15 months old. I was terrified. I told nobody except my husband until I could wrap my head around it. I pretended that I was waiting for 12 weeks gestation to announce in case of miscarriage, but I was really just trying not to panic. I finally realized I could change my birth story with this new baby, and finally I had some semblance of peace.
Thanksgiving three years ago, I had a newborn and a two year old. I was struggling to put one foot in front of the other, struggling to function. I had just started therapy but most days were still a blur of screaming, both mine and my children’s. I couldn’t just sit at my house and rest, because being alone with my kids was far more terrifying than venturing out in public with them. I felt torn between the toddler I’d finally fallen in love with and the baby I’d felt an instant connection with. My mind couldn’t fathom loving them both, so it was a constant tug-of-war of emotion, and normally found me loving only the one that wasn’t crying. I was angry that after a healing birth, I still wasn’t content with motherhood. I was angry that I couldn’t ever sleep because even if my baby was asleep, I felt uncomfortable in my body.
I was anxious and angry and certainly not thankful. An innocent dig about feeding the baby some of Thanksgiving dinner had me hyperventilating in the other room. When a well-meaning family member took my screaming baby out of my arms as I sat down to nurse her, I screamed at him. I felt unfit. During this time, I told my husband several times that I wouldn’t blame him if he left me, as long as he took the kids too. I thought they would be better off without me. I couldn’t see myself ever escaping this dark hole. People would tell me how cute they were and through the cloud of severe postpartum anxiety and depression, I honestly couldn’t see it.
And yet, any time I dare voice my frustrations with motherhood, I am met with scolding. I vented on social media once about my “little monsters” coloring all over the walls and got told that all children are miracles, that it’s so lucky that I have both of them, and that “thousands of people wish they had kids to color on their walls”. When I complained about the constant leaking and engorgement that comes with oversupply, I was reminded that not every mom can breastfeed. I’m aware of that, and my heart goes out to the moms with little to no milk supply. My clogged ducts are just as valid. My kids get sick, I get, “Isn’t it nice that they want to snuggle again?” No. I can think of a whole host of things I would prefer to do than be puked on by a sick kid. Will I snuggle them? Absolutely. I’m not a monster. But it’s not “nice”. “Nice” would be a random snuggle from a healthy kid.
I’m not the only one that experiences this either. Any time a pregnant person complains, they’re told to be thankful. They’re having a baby. It’s a miracle. Who cares if you had to have a PICC line and/or Zofran pump to live through the experience? Isn’t this the happiest time in your life? You’re struggling to stick to your gestational diabetes diet? Too bad. The baby is far more important. Someone would love to live through hyperemesis gravidium and gestational diabetes and preeclampsia simultaneously in order to have kids. Why aren’t you more grateful?
Let me back this up. I absolutely don’t want to demonize those that are able to be positive. It’s a gift to be able to empathize with others even through your own struggles. I absolutely understand that there literally are women that would give anything to have a baby.
A good friend of mine has been battling infertility since she got married. This has been years of heartbreak, of smiling and congratulating pregnant friends and family members (myself included) and then breaking down at home. She’s getting the IVF process started, but while her heart is full and ready to be a mom, she’ll still have empty arms this Thanksgiving. She has already gone through so much for her future babies. *If you want to give her family more reasons to be thankful, please consider sharing or donating to their GoFundMe account.*
I totally get that venting about my littles when she’s been longing for her own can seem insensitive. Yet while she can’t yet relate to this stage in my life, she understands that this is my day to day reality. Hormones all over the place, milk spraying strangers, kids embarrassing me by asking strangers if they are pregnant, and daily frustrations that come along with parenting. And I understand that much of her day to day is living for the future. I can’t relate to hormone shots and all the side effects that come along with them. I can’t relate to the financially and emotionally draining journey that is in-vitro fertilization.
Life is just hard sometimes. Life with kids is hard. Waiting and trying to conceive is hard. Both are physically and emotionally exhausting. So I won’t tell her to be grateful for the silence and sleeping in this holiday, and she won’t tell me to be grateful for the noise and sleeplessness, because we really all owe one another the benefit of the doubt. Before you try to tell someone to be grateful this season, remember that no matter how great hot soup might sound to you, it can still burn someone else’s tongue.