“Hey mama, here’s that lanolin you asked for,” the postpartum nurse says as she hands me a tiny tube of a salve that won’t do much healing for my bleeding nips or my fragile emotional state. Everyone in labor and delivery calls you “mama.” It’s probably because they can’t remember everyone’s name, and I don’t blame them for that. Mama, mama, mama.
My family texts me, asking “mama” for a fresh batch of pictures of my baby. Bleary-eyed from little sleep (and too much late-night RHONY), I hit send. Mama, mama, mama.
Can we cut the MAMA bullshit? I think.
It’s true—I’m a mom now. It happened quickly and all at once—a mysterious being that once pummeled me from the inside out at all hours is now outside of me, and it’s my job to keep her alive. I spoon some mashed banana into her mouth and wonder if the stain on my jeans is breakfast or poop. (Mama, it’s poop.)
I had ZERO expectations of what parenting would entail. My pregnancy was a breeze, and I approached the impending life transition as if I could simply roll with the punches. Newborns are just little potatoes, how hard could it be?
SPOILER: IT’S VERY HARD! Don’t get me wrong, my daughter is the coolest and I love being her mom. Her pudgy thigh rolls are so cute. I melt when she flashes a toothless smile. When she’s asleep, I scroll through the thousands of photos I’ve taken of her. I also sometimes (frequently) have mini meltdowns when she won’t sleep.
Parenthood is beautiful and wonderful, yes, but also extremely overwhelming. Everything is new and there is no instruction booklet. Oh, and freedom? See you in 20-some years.
When she was born, I can remember looking in my bathroom mirror and not recognizing the person looking back. It wasn’t that I appeared any different. But anyone who has become a mom can understand the huge, complicated, messy transformation you undergo when you push a tiny human out of your body. Everything around you is the same, yet nothing is really the same. Everyone else makes the easy switch to calling me “mama,” while I make the not-so-easy switch to actually doing the job. Mama, mama, mama.
Yes, I understand “mama” can be a term of endearment. I understand it can be a way for women to feel part of the same tribe. But still, it feels reductive when I get a text that says, “Happy birthday, lil’ mama,” when, in fact, I’m a 31-year old woman. I wonder why you couldn’t just use my name. HELLO! I’M STILL HERE!!! I want to scream. I have a personality and an identity and a life outside the tiny person I created.
And while you could say this is a personal problem, I’d argue it’s not. I log onto Instagram and a “mom influencer” is shilling sweatpants on Instagram that say COOL MAMA across the butt. I find myself in the baby aisle and there’s deodorant for mamas, bath bombs for mamas and diaper creams that are for babies but still somehow say “mama” on them. Yeah, I did try the Honest Co. “mama” nipple cream. (It didn’t work!) Moms—who are doing the hardest job in the universe, who are people with lives beyond their children—have been reduced to a cheap marketing strategy, a commodity in the capitalist agenda. But the last time I checked, no one is referring to my husband as “daddy.”
As I say goodbye to the person I used to be and try to embrace the new one, I’ll remind myself of this: It doesn’t make me a bad mom just because I don’t want to be defined solely by motherhood—actually, if I have a strong sense of myself, I’m a happier person and better mom to my daughter. I know I’ll never be quite the same as before—I’m OK with that, even. But I don’t need a reminder from everyone else. (I have the poop stains for that.)