Early Motherhood Has Always Been Miserable

“I declare if I tho’t I was to be thus occupied for the rest of my life,” one new mom wrote in 1828, “I would lie down & die.”

Comments: 41

  1. I'm the married mother of two sons (ages 26 and 21) and a daughter who died shortly after birth. There is no "...narrow and confining definition of the ideal mother" unless you impose one on yourself or your family, partner or peers seek to impose one on you. This was one of the main goals of the feminist movement. Choice. Not only choice about whether to have children, but whether to do it with a partner or not, and whether to work outside the home full-time, part-time or not at all. And motherhood lasts a lifetime, not just the first months of infancy. Each new generation of mothers should seek deep and honest conversations from mothers of all ages in addition to peers. Experienced mothers of toddlers, pre-schoolers, children, teens and adults can not only relate to how hard birth and being a new mom can be, but can put into perspective all the emotional ups and downs, joys and pain, courage and fear that go into being a mother for a lifetime.

  2. This article and the comments demonstrate why it is so imperative that women have control over their reproductive health and choices. Motherhood is not for every woman, and for others, it isn't right until they're well into their 30s or even 40s. I feel fortunate to have loved being a mother, at every stage, but I probably would have hated it if I had been in my 20s and hadn't been able to make a conscious choice to do it, like women of earlier generations. The result of all those women having children without truly wanting them is a whole lot of middle-aged adults with insecure attachment, which takes a lot of therapy to get over.

  3. What the comments below prove is that not everyone experiences motherhood or little children in the same way. I have always loved babies, mine and other peoples'. I adored every minute with my two even though they were 27 years apart and I was a student when the first was born and a full time professional for the second. Yes, I had help for both but couldn't wait to get home and for the weekends and holidays so I could spend every minute with my babies. Although my career has been very successful I have always thought of myself as a mother of two fabulous children first. They have given me the most joy in my life.

  4. I loved having my daughter, breastfeeding, and watching her grow. If I weren't working full-time plus, going to school, not making enough money, being sleep-deprived, and wracked with guilt, worry, and anxiety, I think it could have been among the loveliest of times. And as I recall with the few brain cells I have left, never have I met anyone who so loved to romp, chatter, and jump up and down from 3am-5am!

  5. Certainly this article hits at the truth for many - but it's all about patriarchal White Anglo Saxon Europe and Puritan Protestant America values. Too bad it doesn't look to other cultures where children are loved for being little beasts and communities come together to share the experience. I remember living in Africa where little kids called ALL the ladies in their life "mommie". The burden & joy were shared.

  6. I recently had some old family videotapes digitized. Among them was video from when our children were small -- 9 months and 3 years. I almost did not recognize myself -- so patient, yes, and loving, and attentive -- but so ABSENT from my own life. I adore my children -- of course I do. But that at those ages, they were often -- not always! -- demanding, fretful, and, dare I say it, mind-numbingly boring, obsessed with running the same toy train on same track. In those videos, I watch myself suppressing myself. A slight whiff of hostage video, truthfully. I am not honestly convinced it was the best way for me or us to get through those years. But I was searching so hard for the joy I had been told would be mine. That said, our children, now in their 20s, are pretty amazing and loving and good. So I don't feel like I messed up. Just that it was unnecessary to stuff myself into that box quite so thoroughly. We need to acknowledge this stuff more openly, and I appreciate this article so much for providing context.

  7. I see the picture you’ve painted so clearly, give that young mom with the false smile, the younger you, a big hug. She certainly deserves it.

  8. but there is the 'hot mom' out there - I see them everywhere.. I think they must have maids and gardeners and cooks and drivers and very rich husbands, to help them keep looking hot..That is my only thought. If you are a well-taken-care-of young mom, life can be quite blissful, I imagine..Foreign Service Officer's wives come to mind, because once you are in a foreign country, on a guarantees US salary, you are treated like royalty and will never have to work, and have to join the clubs for the sake of your husbands profession.

  9. "Early motherhood" to me means the poor high school drop out girls and others who begin having children before age 22 or so. I'm a public defender in child protection matters, and I call them "clients." Infants and toddlers are universally difficult, but to take on that burden without achieving the basic emotional maturity of adulthood is utter foolishness.

  10. I loved having babies, and caring for them. My time in "early motherhood" was the happiest and most rewarding time of my life.

  11. My great great grandmother, starting at age 29, had 11 children in 15 years, from 1865 to 1880. Eight survived. The first seven children were each born about one year apart. I had to think she had a wet nurse because those babies were only about a year old before the next one came along. After the first seven babies the next 4 were spaced two to three years apart (until thankfully menopause came along). Five were girls, including the oldest and I think they were doing child care as soon as they could walk. I still have no idea how my GG managed. The household eventually relocated to a spacious home in Switzerland, so I am hoping she had some servants to help her.

  12. Of course raising children is hard! It's also rewarding, loving, and all the wonderful emotions of the human condition. And becoming a mother is not an active choice; it's an active responsibility that includes dads.

  13. Motherhood is idealized in the media but certainly not in my family. My ggrandmother had 13 children, then my ggrandfather died and their oldest who was 15 had to "pin up her pigtails and go to work". My grandmother had 2 children and my grandfather left them after losing his job in the Depression. She and her children moved in with her older sister, the one with the pigtails, who worked her entire life and never married since she "Never met a man who's underwear she wanted to wash". My mother married late and had the 3 of us in quick succession. She had a career and was miserable staying home with us. Fortunately my dad's 2 "spinster" sisters retired about the time we started school and offered to take care of us so my mom could go back to work. This was considered scandalous in our 1960's neighborhood, I was pitied by my friends but was relieved that she was finally happy. Lastly I also have a professional career, married and had our twins late. Knowing myself and their stories about the realities of motherhood, I had married an equal partner, sought out a company with good work life balance and benefits, got as much help as I possibly could and even with all that I was totally overwhelmed. By drawing on their experiences I was able to avoid the idealized motherhood hype and the advice of "well meaning" people which allowed me to be confident in my decision to keep working and do what was best for all of us. Bottomline tell your real stories, they matter.

  14. This feature is too simplistically binary. My first child was fairly easy; my second was more difficult. And both children varied from time to time. And I was working full time (5 days from a home office, 2 days from an office office, while each child was six months old). Besides being a journalistic cliche', the dichotomy between 'real' and 'ideal' does not fit most situations. I guess 'nuance' is a cliche' also, but that's what's needed in features about 'motherhood.'

  15. My Mom had 3 children by the time she was 18, and my father was an away-from-home seaman for the majority of my life till I was 16. She was an excellent mother and devoted herself to raising and educating 3 kids who've grown up to be very kind and loving adults. While she never said it directly, I knew she would not relish being a grandmother and helping to take care of grand kids...up to today she still mourns for the life she imagined for herself. I benefited from the choices she made. There are no easy choices or answers....for anyone.

  16. "Since becoming a parent is now more of an active choice for many women than it had been previously, the pressure to find it delightful remains a norm." It shouldn't feel that way. During both labor and those grueling first months of sleep deprivation I thought to myself "thank god I never have to do this again if I can help it." Knowing that helped get me through the early days, not pretending that it was delightful.

  17. What was the point of this article? Sure, motherhood is hard especially in those early years. Working moms and stay-at-home moms face lots of challenges. But my four adult children make me smile and feel proud. Love is what it’s all about. If you want none or one, that’s fine. But I wish women would stop whining about how tough it is to be mothers.

  18. My wife and I must be aliens. We both had full-time jobs, but with early day care, sharing of tasks, adjustments, discipline, and consistency, the first year wasn't so bad. There was a a lot of fun watching the development. After that things got better and easier very quickly.

  19. I absolutely loved being home with my three children when they were young! Certainly I was tired but the joy they brought me then and continue to do now, outshines every other experience in my life. I am eternally grateful!

  20. So now you’ve survived the birthing process. Yes survived. Childbirth, eons ago and still today can prove lethal to the mother, but here you are a survivor ,a woman with a baby. A baby that these days often is a planned event in your life. The years pass. Nursing,diapers,loss of sleep, evolve into homework,feeding ,helicoptering ie every sport and hook developed to help with application and acceptance to a place of higher learning you are convinced will guarantee the success of your child. Then the wedding plans ( or not) and the arrival of grandchildren. The holidays, the unfortunate occurrences that bring pain. And all the while you are becoming older. Now you are 70 and wait for the phone calls and hope for the visits. And you look back,reminisce about the wonders of your motherhood and the events of your child’s life with you. And if you are fortunate to have had a successful life, and are still healthy, you will ,I hope realize that of all your accomplishments, producing,nurturing another human being, your child ,was the best thing you ever did in life. Oops sorry have to end. There’s the doorbell ,it’s my daughter and grandkids. Can’t wait to see them.

  21. I had my oldest daughter at age 30, very much planned and wanted. My husband and I were a high achieving professional but our baby cried all day every day. We had never experienced such failure and were living 1000+ miles from family. The best day of her infancy was the day I went back to work when she was 9 weeks old. The ability to talk to adults, eat with both hands, take my time in the ladies room, were what kept me going. Amazingly, I had a second child, 5 years later, whose infancy was a joy. My biggest regret in life is that I didn't move next door to my parents when I needed help.

  22. Gotta be easier for moms now surely because no man is going to get away without changing his share of diapers or getting the baby in the middle of the night. If you have a man who won't do it, you need to choose better. I did my share and yeah, thank god that stage is over.

  23. Being a mother is the most difficult thing I've ever done. Beginning with pregnancy, misogyny reared its ugly head. I had very bad morning sickness and one particularly awful day, I asked my male department head if I could go home. He angrily informed me that if I left, I would no longer have a job. So I stayed and kept throwing up. Other men at work were much more respectful. They wouldn't allow me to pick up heavy items (30 lbs. plus) or climb the skimpy vertical ladders to get into the beds of the trucks hauling metal I had to collect and analyze. And when they discovered that my husband, a co-worker, was abusive to me, they kept him from hurting me at work - and one even volunteered to kill him! After an emergency C-section, I made the horrifying discovery that childbirth causes a month of heavy bleeding. Nobody had told me about it. I chose to breastfeed my babies but wasn't prepared for the messy aspects of it - leaks, pain, mastitis - and how painful it was to stop. Working full-time made me a little resentful of the happy babies who woke me up all through the night, needing to be fed, have a diaper change or just wanting to coo happily in my arms. How wonderful it would have been to have a long period of paid maternal leave! Growing up, my sons gave me so much joy that I quickly forgot about babyhood. Of course there were a few problems, especially when they were teenagers, but the happiness far outweighed those. I am glad I chose to be a mother.

  24. the newborn months are hard but they are not miserable.

  25. Not that long ago many people used to pity unmarried, childless women, so called ‘spinsters’. Who knows how many of them – in pre-birth control times – just did not want to be encumbered with children? When I met my husband, I told him I wanted 10 kids. He didn’t run, but we ended up with only two and regretted not being able to have more. I loved those early years – exhausting, challenging, at times chaotic but ultimately so rewarding. The dictum, ‘They grow up so quickly’ is so true, though it does not always seem so at the time. Our families were thousands of miles away, so we had to handle the day to day all on our own. It wasn’t always painless, as our sons are very head-strong. To be able to rear a human being and have a hand in who they are today is one of the most fulfilling things I have done in my life and I, for one, cannot imagine not having been able to experience this most wondrous part of being human. I couldn’t ask for two better sons. Fortunately, in today’s world, those who have no desire or are not equipped for mother or fatherhood now have a choice, as society no longer mandates parenthood - à chacun son gout. Rearing children is really hard work, but that’s what is required if our species is to survive – which is looking less and less feasible due to what we have done to our world.

  26. The only context in which motherhood is tolerable is in the joint family. In India, where I grew up, my mother's generation went nuclear in the 60s. Her teeth constantly gritted, she cooked, cleaned, worked outside the home, and raised her children. Things were very different in my grandparents' home, where 3 families, the grandparents, and an unmarried aunt raised 8 kids in a 3-bedroom house. There was always someone to pick up a crying kid, and everyone chipped in for household chores. Mothers got to stay in bed nursing for weeks while the new baby was washed and diapered and carried around by everyone else. To me, it seemed busy and noisy and easy-going and happy. I shouldn't romanticize this way of life -- tired and stressed as she was, my mother hated the lack of privacy and what she felt was a loss of autonomy. But without question, communal living, for those who enjoy company, takes the pain out of early motherhood.

  27. Thank you for publishing this. It’s a shame that many of the new moms that need to see this most, are scrolling through their self-esteem destroying Instagram newsfeeds instead of reading the NYT. One of my wife’s acquaintances from high school is one of these social media influencer wannabes, using her accounts as a way to promote her “entrepreneur” (Mary Kay mom) lifestyle. Her posts scream, “I have it all, and you can, too!”, with filtered photos of kids decked out in designer brand clothes eating healthy, delicious meals(!); what they leave out, is the nanny that prepared the food and helps watch the kids, or the wealth she inherited from her parents that pay for the kids’ clothes (not the menial paychecks from the Amway scam). Instagram, like its toxic older sibling Facebook, is a gilded cesspool of misinformation that the world would be a better place without.

  28. I may have this wrong, but I believe I have recently read that it costs roughly $250,000 to raise a child to the age of 18 in America today. This does not include a college education or the circumstances that find adult kids back home again and in need of support for some unknown period of time. This is one of the many reasons I chose a child-free life. No regrets there but I despair for the young and jobless who celebrate their unplanned pregnancies with glee.

  29. I have loved every single moment of motherhood. These ideas are very subjective and, for many of us, untrue.

  30. I was never happier than when I was a young mother, caring for my babies, toddlers, and little children. I loved everything about that time; watching them grow, and develop, the first time they crawled, the first time they stood up, the first time they laughed, their first steps, their first words, the first evidences of their proclivities and talents. I was very sad when they grew up. I hated the empty nest. I would go back to having little ones in a heartbeat. Yes, it was difficult when my son had colic, but he was otherwise so adorable...and he still is. If you can spend enough time with a child to be a positive influence in his or her life, it is a gift not only to the child, but to yourself. Children are precious, and good parents are invaluable.

  31. Huh? I loved taking care of my three children when they were babies and toddlers. My own mother said she was never happier than when she was a brand new mother. And my daughter felt the same way. My mother loved being a grandmother, too, and so do I. All three of us had/have careers, so it wasn't like we were some mindless brood mares. If the lead editor of NYT parenting really believes all early motherhood is ipso facto miserable, how can she possibly ensure the paper covers this topic in a way that reflects a broad spectrum of experience? I'm surprised that so many people agree with her. Is it because many modern parents can't seem to figure out how to get babies to sleep through the night in their own cribs until they are four or five, and the adults are all sleep deprived?

  32. My mother's life ended when she got married; it became an endless grind of having babies (five of them), nursing them, cleaning them, dressing them, laundry and cooking, breaking up fights, and literally putting out fires, as when the attic caught fire. The days of music lessons, voice practice, recitals, sitting down to dinners that her mother cooked, tripping off to college classes, preparing for a career in the arts, were over when she married my father, an auto mechanic, who went off to work in the morning and left it all to her. When I was grown she told me that once, when she was in the basement shoveling coal into the furnace on a bitter cold Iowa morning, she had thought she would commit suicide, but then she realized that she still had the laundry to do and her oldest children wouldn't have anything to wear to school. In her forties she got a job. From CEO of a struggling household, she went to work as a file clerk in an insurance company. It was all she was considered qualified to do.

  33. I married and had children young. I have no regrets, they were the best years of my life, I look back on with so much happiness. And I'm glad I did because I couldn't have known that my later health would not have supported it and that I'd lose my husband too soon. I think it really comes down to a matter of temperament and personal desires. Some of us love being mothers and others not so much. Some are ready early, some aren't. It's an individual choice.

  34. Add a set of newborn twins to that picture in the article and that is my mom. My twin siblings were born a year and a few days after me. My mom was 24 and was a stay-at-home-mom. I imagine myself at 24 and I don't know how she managed--with three infants! This was in the day before disposable diapers, disposable anything. Dishwasher? No. Washer or dryer? Nope. My dad went to the laundromat before work to do mostly diapers and brought them home neatly folded. Lucky for us my mom loved to cook and she was a great cook too. We did not have a lot of money and my parents often ate oatmeal so we three siblings could eat meat and eggs. My mom told me this not because she was complaining about it but because I asked her about our early childhood and how they made ends meet. I learned from relatives that my mom always had us clean, neatly dressed, and our house was spotless. Mom would have read this article and asked, 'what's all the fuss?' Was early motherhood frustrating for her? Sure. Was it a challenge? Yes. Were there days when she felt like pulling her hair out? Absolutely, and I have pictures of a few of those days. My mom died in her 50s almost 18 years ago and I still miss her very much. And I am so very grateful that in all her time as a mother, she never once hinted that we were a source of misery in her life. I'm also happy that she continued to eat oatmeal. I loved her oatmeal and she would often make a big pot of it for me as an adult. It remains a special food for me.

  35. In my large extended family circle the only happy woman I knew was the one aunt who had no children, but enjoyed being around her many nieces and nephews - on her terms.

  36. In the 1970's, when I was 15 and 16, I was a summer girl. A small town girl sent to spend the summer helping a stay at home mom in one of the wealthy suburbs of a midwest city. I worked for a woman who left a career to have 4 children under the age of 5. She was a good Catholic woman who watched her husband drive off to work leaving her alone to cope with 3 small children and a newborn. I will never forget the look on her face has he pulled out of the driveway.The experience was so disillusioning that never had children myself. To this day, I politely decline when offered a newborn to hold. Two of my friends are the eldest of 10 children. Having spent their own childhoods raising their siblings, they never had children of their own. Experiences such are ours have proven to be very effective birth control. Having seen the reality of raising small children up close has inoculated us from all romantic notions and fairy tales regarding motherhood.

  37. Distinguishing between an ever-present “real,” with its constraints, which all too often is a human barrier to being in touch with empowering internal and external Human Resources, and opportunities, which enable creating a fulfilling “I AM” Identity, experienced states of wellbeing and types, levels and qualities of health, and stakeholder created,anchored, and rarely achievable “ideal,” which all too easily serve to control and dehumanize, is an ongoing challenge for ALL of US.

  38. Good lord. Not another Times article about how difficult it is to be a new mother. I’m one of the women - of which there are many - who loved it. Happiest days of my life. One thing I don’t do is spend one second of my life on social media. Don’t know and don’t care how others go about being a mom. The experience was mine and mine alone and I loved it. And many women do for goodness sake.

  39. I don’t think this article is trying to take away from your experience. Some women have really challenging times in new motherhood and struggle greatly with the guilt associated, and social media has nothing to do with it. They would be helped to not feel shamed by those who don’t have the same experience, man or woman.

  40. @frankie I refer you to the comment above: "If you had easy kids (especially if you only had one), you tend to be slightly proud and opinionated about the whole thing, and often say things that make it harder for those who are struggling." I can tell from experience that it is very difficult to have a child who cries constantly and is almost impossible to console. You worry that you are letting your child down and worry about what will become of a person with such a temperament in this world. If you had an easy time, that's great, but try to imagine the opposite with compassion.

  41. This exactly! I absolutely loved the newborn stage and I'm frustrated at the sheer number of articles that make it look like everyone is miserable at that stage. I'm also annoyed at the implications that anyone who looks happy with a newborn is faking it. I actually felt like I should hold back on sharing my happiness with others for this reason. I totally sympathize with those who don't feel that way, but can we at least acknowledge that it can be an exhilarating, satisfying experience?