I’ve asked myself the same question, almost daily, since I had my first baby—a sweet, precious baby girl named Kate—in March. Actually, it started before I’d even had her. The first time this question popped into my head, I was at a Junior League meeting, 20 weeks pregnant. I saw an expectant friend, due just a couple days before me. We were standing in a small group, and she asked if I knew the gender yet. “Yeah, it’s a girl!” I said. All the requisite oohs and aahs followed, along with the standard question: “Is that what you wanted?”
“Nope,” I said distractedly, as I dug for a pen in my purse. “I had really wanted a boy.” I didn’t think anything of my response until I looked up and was confronted by three expressions of equal horror. Uh-oh, I thought for the first (but certainly not the last) time: Am I a bad mom?
Was that not something moms-to-be said? Was I supposed to respond with the standard “I just wanted healthy!” response? (Naturally, of course, all I truly cared about was that she was healthy—but c’mon, don’t we all have a gender preference deep down?)
The weeks flew by, and before I knew it, my tiny 5-pound, 3-ounce baby made her debut into this world and into our hearts. I’ll spare you the gory details, but let’s just say that breastfeeding did not work out well for me. (Blame it on my flat nipples—whoops, there’s one gory detail.) In order to feed Kate breast milk, I was forced into the exclusive pumping camp. For those lucky enough to never have attended that camp, let me explain that it means (at least for me) eight 30-minute pumping sessions a day (even at 3 a.m., after you’ve fed your baby, put her to sleep and stared longingly at your own bed). For six weeks, I was miserable, cranky, exhausted and sore. I had really wanted to breastfeed my baby, so I persevered. But after my 378th emotional breakdown, I threw in the towel and mixed up the formula. And I instantly became a happier mama, which I think made for a happier baby.
When Kate was 8 weeks old, I went on a playdate with girls I didn’t know yet. (Oh, the things we mothers will do to meet more moms.) I sat down, introduced Kate and myself and was asked immediately how feeding was going. “Oh great,” I said happily. “She’s on formula, and it’s working out wonderfully.” Instead of being greeted with a similarly pleased response that my baby was eating well (which I so naively thought was the only thing that mattered), I was hit with a blank stare and one simple word: “Oh.” Am I a bad mom?
Should I feel ashamed that breastfeeding didn’t work out? Should I have defended my decision to switch to formula with apologies and explanations of flat nipples?
Needless to say, I didn’t join that playdate group again. Why venture out of the house for judgment when I could make myself feel horrible all on my own, thanks to the powers of social media? I kept myself awake during late-night feeding sessions by scrolling through my Instagram and Facebook feeds. I’d look at picture after picture of babies around Kate’s age, dressed in adorable, perfectly coordinated outfits. And then I’d look down at my baby, who we (literally) dressed in a white T-shirt and diaper and wrapped in the hospital-issued blanket every single day of her life. Am I a bad mom?
Should I be taking more time to dress my baby girl in adorable little outfits with matching bows? Should she be posing on a teal chevron rug that matches her teal polka-dot romper?
My Facebook friends didn’t just post perfectly posed pictures of their babies; they also linked to blog post after blog post about being a new mom. There were recurring themes in many of the blog titles I saw linked on my Facebook wall: why I love my postbaby body; 10 reasons I worship my stretch marks; why I’m in no hurry to lose the baby weight … you get the drift. I never read those blog posts because I really didn’t need to know why a person I’d never met wanted to keep her extra 15 baby pounds. All I knew was that when I stared at myself in the mirror, at this body that was so foreign to me, I didn’t love the extra weight around my midsection. I wanted it gone. I luckily didn’t get any stretch marks (thanks, Mom, for those genes!), but I can guarantee I wouldn’t have worshipped them if I did. Am I a bad mom?
Should I have embraced my new curves? Should I not care that my stomach rolls over my jeans when I’m not even bending over? I know my body performed a miracle; can’t I love and appreciate that fact and also want some freaking abs again?
Constantly doubting my new identity as a mom took an emotional toll on me, and one night as I rocked my baby girl to sleep, I felt tears streaming down my cheeks. I felt like every other mom was just … better. That I wasn’t doing everything I should be doing. That I was a bad mom. Then I looked down at my sweet baby girl, sleeping soundly on my chest. And for the first time in her three months of life, I saw things clearly.
I’d wanted a boy—but I love my baby girl more than I knew I could love another person. I wanted to burn my breast pump and never look back—but I feed Kate formula with all the nutrients she needs, and I never let her go hungry. I thought it was pointless to dress up a baby who slept approximately 19 hours a day—but I keep my baby warm, dry and happy. I wanted a flat stomach and my old hips back (like, now, please)—but I carried and birthed a miracle, and I never forget that (even when I’m working out).
There is no one way to be a mom. Love your stretch marks or wish they’d disappear—whatever works for you. I, for one, am going to keep snuggling my baby, giving her more kisses a day than I can count and doing what’s best for my family. That’s what makes me a good mom. And guess what? You’re a good mom, too. Even if you’ll never admit that you secretly wanted a girl.
After more than eight years working in various communications roles at a Fortune 500 company, Kristy Bolton gave birth to her daughter and left corporate America. As a stay-at-home mom living just outside of Dallas, she spends her days meeting for playdates, reading Goodnight Moon over and over and over again, freelance writing and editing, and trying not to compare herself to other moms on social media.