I love you, really I do. I know you try to be a good partner and you are a wonderful father. I know you don’t have it easy. I know that I’m not the best partner to you, especially in the weeks, months, and sometimes years after having children. I know you don’t ask for much. I know you put up with a lot. But I have to tell you something, and I really need you to hear me: When you say “I understand” to me, it makes me want to lose it.
I know that by saying, “I understand,” you’re attempting to be empathetic. However, in reality, you’re minimising the struggle and hardship and exhaustion I have as a mother. Struggle and hardship and exhaustion that you do not “understand” because you have never been through it yourself.
Do you understand what it feels like to be pregnant? To have your hormones going crazy and your emotions riding a never-ending rollercoaster? Do you understand what it feels like to want to throw up all day long for 20 weeks straight? What it feels like to walk around with a bowling ball in your belly that kicks you in the ribs and gives you heartburn and back pain and insomnia? Do you understand what it is like to have total strangers, co-workers, and family members ask you personal and private information, give you unsolicited advice, comment on your body, and want to touch your stomach? What it feels like to give up your favourite wine, sushi, high heels, and pair of jeans? Do you know what it feels like to have your boobs become an entirely different person’s boobs? Someone with really really really big boobs?
Do you understand what it feels like to give birth? To feel the most intense pain, the most intense joy, and the most intense exhaustion of your life, all at the same time? To tear, or have a c-section, or post-delivery haemorrhoids, or to poo for the first time after giving birth?
Do you understand what it feels like to be touched, literally, all of the time? To either have a baby attached to your breast or a toddler wrapped around a leg or someone who wants to be picked up or hugged or carried? Do you understand what it feels like to not be allowed to have your body to yourself for years?
Do you understand what it is like to have nipples that crack, bleed, and are bitten? To feed a human from your breast for days, months, or years? To be engorged? To have a clogged duct? To get an infection? To not be able to let the water from the shower touch your boobs because it hurts SO BAD? To have to hook your breasts to a machine that pumps milk in order to be away from the baby for a feeding or to go back to work?
Do you understand what it is like to wake up all night long to nurse a baby because he has colic, is teething, is sick, or is having a growth spurt? Do you understand what it is like to have to go to bed at 8 p.m. just so you can get a few consecutive hours of sleep at night? Do you understand what it feels like to be sleep deprived for months or years?
Do you understand what postnatal depression feels like? What it is like to feel like your kids are better off without you as a parent or to feel so hopeless that you wished you would get hit by a bus as you crossed the street? Do you understand what it is like to have well-meaning family members remind you to “be happy” because you have a baby? Do you understand postnatal anxiety? How hard it is to feel like the littlest thing is the most overwhelming thing in the world and you can’t understand or explain why?
Do you understand how hard it is to get dressed each day when you have to factor in a postnatal body, comfort, and easy access for nursing a baby? What it is like to look at yourself naked in the mirror and see nothing familiar in the body you see? What it is like to feel pressure to get back in your skinny jeans or to look good again? Do you know what it is like to have a partner who comments about how good someone looks already and “didn’t they just have a baby three months ago” while you look like you’re still 5 months pregnant 5 months after giving birth?
Do you understand what it is like to have to choose between getting an hour or two of “me time” or going to the supermarket with no kids tagging along? What it feels like to have to notice and do ALL THE THINGS? Do you understand what it is like to be the one who worries? Who keeps track? Who schedules? Who packs? Who plans? Who takes care of everything?
Don’t get me wrong, I happily do these things 90 percent of the time. But sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I have a hard time. Sometimes I need to vent. Sometimes I need a break. And when you tell me that you “understand” I want to lose it because I know you don’t, and you never will. Instead, tell me that you have no idea how hard it must be to be the mum, how exhausted I must be, or what a rockstar I am. Tell me that you don’t know how I do what I do each day, that you don’t understand what it must be like but that you do appreciate it. That is how you make me feel seen. Not by understanding but by acknowledging that you couldn’t possibly understand.