I vividly remember the first time someone asked me that question after having my first child. It was the morning after our first night in the hospital. Visitors were coming in and out asking all of the typical questions. How’s the baby? Who does he look like? How often did he wake up? My husband was going through the generic answers as I listened in an exhausted daze and stared admiringly at our son. The next question jolted me out of my dazed state and took me by absolute surprise.
And how are YOU feeling, Mama?
Me? I thought. I honestly didn’t know how to answer. In the last 48 hours, I’d endured a 24 hour labor and completely sleepless night staring at my son through the glass bassinet attempting to jump out of the hospital bed at every noise he made but being completely unsuccessful as I was recovering from labor.
“I’m okay. Just tired.”
I responded with a forced smile and weary eyes that I am sure did not mask my failed attempt at lying.
The truth is I was feeling much more, but I hadn’t had the chance to realize or articulate my feelings at all.
Physically I was exhausted, drained, and still in pain.
Mentally I was worried and completely unsure of how to keep this little human alive.
Emotionally I was overwhelmed with love but also fear of doing the wrong thing … and the sudden urge to cry about everything.
Being asked that question was uncomfortable.
I felt like I’d been put on a stage with a blinding spotlight unexpectedly shining on me and expecting me to perform, but all I could do was look down and realize that I was severely unprepared, like my shoes were untied or something.
At the same time, being asked that question was awakening.
It made me look at my new self for the first time. And I was surprised. It was a version of myself I didn’t recognize because I didn’t expect for my world to be so completely rocked. Becoming a mom had happened so quickly, like a blur, but it’s impact was vividly strong and so very permanent.
The next season of my life after that required me to start working again. As a teacher, that came with a whole new level of difficult emotions that I didn’t realize I’d have to deal with. After dropping my 6 week old off at daycare on the first day of the school year, a teacher friend stopped me and asked the question. How are YOU feeling, Mama? This time, I wasn’t stunned and I didn’t lie. The tears streamed down my face as quickly as the words that followed. She listened and empathized. She cried with me. And although nothing she said necessarily changed how hard the time was for me, having the opportunity to say how I felt was cleansing, and hearing her say she’d been there too made me feel less alone in the fight.
When we become moms, our focus is turned to our children and it’s often easy to forget about ourselves in the process. We’re always doing work in the background so they can shine, but that work is no easy task. Since being asked that question myself, I always make it a point to reach out to new moms and ask them the same thing. I don’t always expect a completely honest answer, but I do lend a completely open ear in the event they have anything to dump on me. Sometimes having the opportunity to even think about how we’re feeling is a cathartic step toward pulling through a difficult place.
Motherhood comes with different feelings depending on the stage you’re in because we’re growing right alongside our children in each season. Although we may not always recognize the woman behind the feelings, it is important that we still recognize those feelings. And it’s equally important to realize that you’re not the only Mama in the world to ever feel that way.
No matter the season of motherhood you’re in right now, I urge you to ask the question to yourself and answer it honestly.
How are you feeling, Mama?
Then, reach out to a fellow mama and lend an open ear.
How are you feeling, Mama?
Then, be encouraged that you’re not alone in the struggle. Talk about it all. The sweet and the sour. And when you’ve hashed it out, ask the question to yourself again.
NOW, how are you feeling, Mama?