I never knew I could be so excited about peeing on a stick, but there I was, shaking so badly I almost missed. My husband and I had been trying to conceive for nearly four years, and the next few minutes would reveal whether I'd spend the evening toasting to a new adventure or silently resenting the obnoxiously cute baby pictures flooding my Facebook feed . . . again.
When the double lines appeared, I fell to my knees and ugly cried tears of joy. My brain started working overtime recalling all of the cute and clever pregnancy reveal ideas I'd tucked away for the time when it was finally my turn. And then, nine months too early, it hit. Hadn't I just downed half a roll of raw cookie dough? Did that workout class last night leave this tiny embryo inside of me clinging on for dear life? Mom guilt hijacked my blissful moment, and it didn't let go.
Google went from being my best friend to my worst enemy. I became painfully aware of potential risks from innocent activities like taking a bath or forgetting to take my prenatal vitamins. Every time I fell short, I wondered if I'd just made a choice that would affect my baby for the rest of his life. It was getting harder to enjoy the miracle of pregnancy I had anticipated for so long, and I knew it was time to make a shift that would restore my hope for finding joy in motherhood.
Talking with other moms-to-be helped me learn to give myself a break as I realized that I would never hold another woman to the impossible standards of pregnant living that I'd felt so much shame in failing to achieve. I proudly banned the word "should" from my vocabulary, and replaced the occasional Google search with a gut check, relearning to trust my intuition and silence the constant catastrophizing that had taken root.
Wrestling with mom guilt is still a daily struggle as my son hits his toddler years, but the "what ifs" look different now. What if I'm giving him too much screen time? Will he end up battling ADHD because I just couldn't bring myself to turn off Mickey Mouse Clubhouse during those burnt-out moments? Am I taking enough time out of each day to teach him new skills, or is he going to be a college student whose mom still ties his shoes? And that. Dang. Pacifier.
Coping with creeping mom guilt has meant incorporating self-compassion into my life. For every failure I find myself dwelling on, I fight back by listing off successful mothering moments in my head or in a journal. On the hardest days, those moments may be as simple as feeding and bathing and hugging my babies, and that's okay. I say "I'm sorry" when I screw up and commit to forgiving myself with the same admirable, no-strings-attached attitude my son forgives me with. Mom guilt hasn't stopped trying to take the reins, but it no longer wields the power to rob me of the simple joy and fulfillment motherhood has to offer.