Resilience in Motherhood is Natural and Celebrated Yet Rest is Not

Every night, for a split second, I tease myself into believing that “tomorrow, maybe I’ll sleep in

motherhood rest

Photo: Pexels/ Sarah Chai

Every night, for a split second, I tease myself into believing that “tomorrow, maybe I’ll sleep in.” The fantasy doesn’t last long as I’m usually brought back to reality by my dog’s bark, my baby’s cry, or a notification from some device reminding me something else needs to get done. And while I knew pre-baby that I’d be losing so much sleep, particularly in the first year postpartum, I never knew how hard it would be on my body, mental health, and spirit. We all hear the advice “get your sleep now” while pregnant, but no one really talks about the tasks that make up the grueling day-to-day demands of being a mom. And it’s interesting because while I talk about motherhood often, I rarely talk about how tired I am and also how ashamed it makes me feel. My friends and I, all of whom are new moms now, talk about everything: the changes in our bodies, the hair loss, the engorged breasts, the changes in sex life, the trauma that comes with delivery — whether it be vaginal or cesarian— but when we talk about being tired, there is always a layer of sugarcoating on top of what we’re trying to say. What we say is, “I’m so tired. Having a baby is insane!” What we mean is, “I am so tired. I barely recognize myself. I’m scared I’m not enough. Please help me.”

That’s the reality of it. We are drained, exhausted, and empty. And when we feel we have nothing left to give, how can we possibly believe we are good mothers to our children?  The need for rest is severe, and if not fulfilled, a mother’s mental health and self-esteem can drastically suffer. And while intense sleep deprivation is expected, no one talks about its effects on your livelihood and how that can affect your parenting and your perception of parenting. In fact, in a 2021 survey from Motherly, 93 percent of mothers say they’re burned out. For mothers birthing babies through the height of the pandemic, any tribe or support system had to be kept at a physical distance to keep the baby safe. So the teachers, grandparents, and neighbors that would usually lend a hand could no longer assist in all the day-to-day responsibilities. Then, there are also mothers who don’t have a safe support system around them. There are single mothers. There are mothers with multiple babies, mothers with twins, mothers living under the poverty line, undocumented mothers, mothers also taking care of their parents, mothers living with an illness, stay-at-home mothers, and mothers who go to the office. All mothers, I promise you, are overworked. 

Maneuvering through motherhood is like walking on a tightrope day in and day out while also carrying your children on your hips and still trying to get everything done during the day. While some do these things with their partners, or parents, the pressure of having to show up and come through for everyone  at any given moment is overwhelming. We’re not okay. But we make it look like we are because we are resilient. Yet, for some reason, I’ve never heard anyone say, “let the resilient ones rest, too.” 

For decades, society has praised mothers for being strong, brave, and resilient. We used to raise the babies, clean the house, and cook the meals. Today, we’re also celebrated for being entrepreneurs, chasing and acquiring degrees, being breadwinners and homemakers, climbing the corporate ladder, opening up positions for other women, and raising babies. All while simultaneously still not “letting ourselves go,” keeping up appearances, working out our bodies, and aging gracefully. We do it all and we do it everyday. No breaks. In fact, when speaking of your mother, you probably mention how much she endured and how she sacrificed. You are probably empathetic and proud of how hard she worked and how much she accomplished. But do you ever talk about how she took time to rest? 

It’s been engrained in our minds that it is our responsibility to do it all, all of the time. The role has been glorified and glamorized to an unrealistic extent. Everyday mothers will tell you how guilty they feel if they sleep in or even if they eat before their children eat. Most mothers will feed themselves off the leftovers from a toddler’s plate. Most mothers will wear what’s comfortable to pick the baby up in as opposed to what they feel looks good. Most mothers will have their hair in a bun because who has time, really. Most mothers will fall asleep 2-3 hours after they get in bed because they have to go over their mental to-do list. Most mothers have an exact timeline of when the diapers will run out, when the wipes will run out, when the snacks will run out, when the rash cream will run out, when the dog needs to go to the vet, what groceries are needed for the upcoming week’s meal, what milestones baby is behind on, what doctor’s appointments are coming up. Most mothers will know everything about what is needed to keep the home running smoothly, but won’t remember the last time they had a good workout, an uninterrupted meal, a long shower, a quiet space. And although we’re deserving, we still feel too ashamed to ask for rest. 

We don’t emphasize the importance of a mother’s well-being. We don’t cater to her downtime. We don’t invest and fund resources that specifically focus on postpartum assistance and postpartum mental health. In corporate America, mothers are expected to return to work within three months of delivering a baby. THREE MONTHS. The body barely starts to recover from delivery at 6-8 weeks, but mothers don’t even feel like themselves again for at least a year postpartum. Additionally, most mothers face the difficulty and confusion of their hormones constantly fluctuating due to delivery, nursing, sleep deprivation, and biological changes. And some mothers even develop postpartum depression. Yet, we’re expected to go back to business as usual with little to no support and no dialogue about how we feel. It’s sad, and it’s a lonely place to live in. And it speaks volumes for how the people who make the world go ’round are treated and are ignored. 

When my daughter grows up, I want her to realize that my resilience went hand in hand with my rest. I want her to know that I rounded up my family and friends and shamelessly told them, “I need rest. I need sleep. I need me time too. I need your help.” I want her to understand that taking days to myself, taking longer showers, sleeping in, or spending hours on my hair and my skin routine wasn’t about laziness, neglect, or vanity. But it was about self-love, self-care, and self-respect. I want my daughter to see me and understand that I’m only powerful because I’m mentally healthy, I’m aligned, my body is strong, my soul is rested, my vision is clear, and I’m at peace. I want her to know that quiet, stillness, and calmness should also exist in a mother’s hectic world. And maybe when she grows up and if she chooses to have babies, we’ll have a system in place where every mother from all walks of life will have access to a postpartum tribe who will offer her care, assistance, and hands-on support. 

We’re resilient, yes. We are powerful, no doubt. But we are also human, and we are beyond tired and deserving of rest.

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