I’m going to call an audible on a full issue this week since we have no school today or Monday, one kid’s teacher just left for maternity leave, and there is a school board meeting on Tuesday (I’m the secretary) where we will discuss our new task of finding a new principal for the school (!). Plus, I have a freelance assignment due about insurance. I feel like this:
Anyway, in honor of my son’s teacher becoming a mom for the first time, I wanted to ask about your first witch moment after you first became a parent. When did you first have a real conversation with another mom who was like, “Yes, I get it, let it all out, this is all accurate and normal”?
I think it happens, at the earliest, several weeks after the kid comes home when the novelty and adrenaline have faded away and days of sleep deprivation have turned to weeks, and you realize maternity leave is not like a love vacation, and maybe also you just realized you hate your partner, too. I think it usually happens without your baby or partner around, so you don’t have to do your angel new mom so happy and proud routine.
It’s the first time you feel understood in your new form. And then later on, you are that wise friend to someone else. The circle of life where one of you goes, “What in the actual fuck” and the other says, “I know!”
I remember when I was pregnant, having breakfast with my friend Erin and her fat happy toddler and wondering when that would be me, seeming so competent and grownup. After I had my son Erin and I went out to a very wine-y dinner and she was that witch to whom I could pour out how much I didn't like maternity leave and how I had lost sense of what would make me happy anymore and she let me in on a secret--that she felt the same way about raising that fat happy toddler, and that made me feel so much better.
Then a year later it was me with my friend Lauren, again over wine, laughing as she told me she had foolishly thought she'd have so much free time on maternity leave that she'd learn how to knit and speak French. We laughed so hard. Anyway these people make me whole and I hope most of you have had people around to welcome you on the other side of the looking glass.
I remember with my first I was texting with a mom who had had her baby just a few months before me. Even that few months difference she was in that spot to be like "yes, what your feeling is normal. Lay down & tell your husband to order you/cook you food on the regular".
And just a week or two ago a coworker who I've built a good connection with just had her second (I had my second a year ago). And so she's texted me like "I feel like I'm abandoning my first child. He keeps screaming for me and I can't get to him because of nursing/healing/etc." and I realized IM on the other side of that now where I'm like "your feelings are valid and this is the growing pains part of growing your family and you're doing a great job"
I was like woah, I didn't realize I'd ever get to a point where I could be on the other side helping someone else.
While I was pregnant I found a Facebook group for mamas due the same month. There were hundreds of women in there. There are now 37 mamas that do nothing but moan and complain and keep it real...it is such a wonderful place of solidarity. We celebrate our babies’ birthday month all month, celebrate finally getting diagnoses and being heard by our doctors, partners, and kids (that last one is rare still 😂). We plan fantastical and detailed road-trips to meet in the middle of all of us. We all at some point have adopted the idea it would be better to leave men behind and raise our kids on a compound together...
They are the vibe of women every mama deserves.
This is a heavy hitting week for this here newsletter... wowza! Gun violence at school and the dissolution of lies we've all been fed so we'll all just keep breeding?!? Where does one even begin?!
I know we like to keep things light, here at evil witches... and probably all of us are too caught in the trap of modern motherhood to eradicate the practice and make it into something that doesn't require copious amounts of wine and crying jags in pantries/walk-in freezers/sidewalks and and and... BUUUU-UUUT....
I'm going out on a long limb here... it doesn't have to be this way, maybe?!?
Early Motherhood plopped me in PTSD territory from my own Mother's initiation into motherhood under the real AND heavily encrusted patriarchy of 1980's west Texas. She had to look 'hot' while also mothering perfectly or suffer actual physical/emotional abuse from her alcoholic partner. She wasn't free to be a person struggling with that, my baby self wasn't free to be a baby. We were both understandably incapable of meeting the demands of an irascible (and suffering) patriarch... And this was NORMAL, because the same had been true for her mother and no doubt her mother's mother. And most likely that woman's mother's mother.
Yes... this is a generational trauma story, lovely witches.
Not talking about how hard it is hold quiet attention after birthing a new being and how unrealistic the expectations are, that a single female fulfill the 24 hour needs of this very vulnerable new being IS what keeps us locked AND trapped in perpetual domestic servitude. It also leaves many of us (and our children) vulnerable to unspeakable (and very real) traumas.
BUT if we talked openly, not just privately over dinner, about the realities as a culture, we'd never ever ever be able to live with ourselves for putting unprepared people and their children in the position to fail and think it is their fault... or shrug and say, I guess this is just how it is. OR If men had babies, imagine the kinda cush systems that would be unquestionably in place to support their first five years of initiation. The whole of society would be structured around this very important thing that THEY do.
SO...The problem with motherhood is and always will be SEXISM. We don't deserve a medal for surviving our rude initiations... we deserve a better world where humans don't have to suffer needlessly with this very important and very sacred time.
(drops mic she didn't realize she had been feverishly gripping in an inequality rage blackout)
It was my mom, somewhat surprisingly. My husband had to be away for an entire month when I had a four-month old (my one and only kid), so my mom came to stay for part of that time. (I was luckily still on leave). I was living abroad, so this was a big deal. I was struggling with a lot, but particularly with nursing. My well intentioned but crunchy and overbearing boss had given me several attachment parenting books that I kept referencing, and they were so focused on the NEED to breastfeed. After I had a sobbing episode and referenced what a failure I was, my mom, who never breastfed us, was like "These books are dumb and are making you miserable. I'm throwing them away." Her advice was supported by the lovely Dutch public health system baby clinic doctor who told me several times that most parenting books are trash and I shouldn't bother, milestones, etc. cause so much pressure, that we were going to be just fine.
I had a not super close professional acquaintance who offered to help talk me through maternity leave planning, and who was the first to say that you can be two (or more) things at once. I can be a mom and still want to go to a work conference when my kid was 2 months old. I can be a mom and hate staying home with my kid. I can be a mom and someone who put him in his own room VERY early on. No shame.
I feel like my mom is an OG witch, so I didn't come in with a lot of soft focus earth mother expectations. Especially since I had any number of coworkers who flat out struggled with having kids. (Type A lawyers do not often react well to chaos and unpredictability.) I was expecting maternity leave and the baby to be hard and motherhood to be a constant slog. It was not. The first 5 days were hard, because being induced sucked and my milk wasn't quite ready. But weeks 2-17 of my maternity leave were probably the best/calmest days of my life and even after I went back to work, the kid was chill. I was that annoying mother with a kid who slept and ate and was happy and never blew out diapers. Then the wheels came off around 18 months and the last 3 years has been a constant struggle of not feeling good enough and dealing with the "is my kid a dick or just neurodivergent" question.
Now I try to tell pregnant people and new parents that "every kid is different, every parent is different and some part(s) of it will suck-- you just don't know what part in advance. You might be my friend who got shingles on her boobs while nursing, or you might be my friend who threw up for 9 months, or your perfect angel might turn into a monster on his second birthday."
It was when the kindest, most patient mom I knew practically slammed the door in the kids face leaving him with me for some time to herself. She knew he’d chase her and she knew she had to GO and she did what needed to be done. And I was like...if girlfriend can do that, I’m ok. We’re ok.
Honorary witchy as this dude is considered one of the girls. About week 3, when my husband went back to work and I was alone with my oldest for the first time. They were being especially fussy when the thought, "what did I do to myself?" popped into my head. I left a voicemail for my BFF, who called me back all concerned. When I told him what I thought, he giggled and told me that he had no memory of the first year of his son's life (he was doing his residency then) and that buyers remorse was common. I got over it the guilt and panic quickly after that conversation.
I've had smaller witchy conversations with my two closest friends who had had their first babies somewhen between 18 an 12 months before me pretty much from the start.
But what really felt most significant for me was, almost two years into my parenting journey, telling a new-ish friend about my decision to have only one child. There was no shock, no defensiveness, no attempt to convince me of the opposite, no intrusive questions – just respect and compassion. She's for sure one of the witches in my life now!
When my first was born nursing was horrific and i was truly in shock with how much my nipples hurt. I joined a nursing group and went and just started sobbing when introduced. But then everyone else felt the same way and some of us started a text chain and it saved me. To be able to bitch about exhaustion and pain just helped so much. Now my kids are self sufficient and even now, i only want to surround myself with people who don’t act like everything is great and wonderful.
So I was never super excited about motherhood (yay, years of therapy to undo teachers in high school who told me "don't just go get pregnant"). I think my first witch was actually a friend of a (child-free) friend who emailed me a list of stuff she found useful, both advice and products (nipple cream!) that I would have just had no idea about. Don't honestly remember her name? Which is maybe kinda awful but was such a lifeline at the time (mid way through pregnancy and freaked the fuck out about WHAT HAD WE DONE). I'm not at all a baby person but while it was hard it wasn't as awful as I'd imagined and I'm so glad to be done with a baby. Someday, I won't even have to wipe anyone's ass but my own...
I didn’t really have anyone in the early days who would listen to me complain without feeling judged. Over the last few years my friend Carin (also a witch! Hi if you’re reading) has become my ride or die.
When I was on maternity leave with my first child, a friend volunteered to come bring me lunch and meet the baby. I was about three weeks postpartum and it was all sleep deprivation, cracked nipples, and realizing that I had just blown up my whole life while also falling wildly in love with my baby.
That friend brought lunch and it was a spinach and strawberry salad with a non-fat dressing because "I'm sure you'll want to start working on the baby weight now!".
I've never eaten a salad with such bitterness. As soon as she left, I called a friend, burst into tears about how hungry I was, how tired, how damp (why was I always damp? Sweat? Leaking milk? Both?), how I had just realized my husband was the most annoying person on the planet and now I was stuck with him forever ... and this bitch brought me salad?!
The friend I called was the wise friend and she was at my house 20 minutes later with a box of friend chicken and a pint of Ben and Jerrys. She fed me, declared my baby handsome, and confirmed that the first six weeks really are hell. I really needed that.
This is gonna sound weird but I think I was my own first witch from before I even had my first baby. I wanted one very much and had gone through fertility treatment to get one, but somehow I knew in my bones that it was going to suck extremely hard, all the time. It helped that most of my breeder friends had babies before me, I was 35 when I had my first. The fact that both my child and I were incapable of breast feeding really hammered that home, and now I'm militant about reassuring new moms who run into this problem or are worried they might.
I adopted a two-year old. And I have to say, the best part of the adoption process was having to take classes about parenting, brain development and trauma, parenting traumatized kids, etc. It really level-set the situation immediately: I was bringing home a kid that was just not going to be okay immediately, and that it would be hard, and there were a lot of ways it would be hard. And then I got home and my best friend, who had two, was a lifeline as I was like, is this what toddlers are like? How? What did I sign myself up for????
I got lucky and the hospital where I delivered my first had the most amazing weekly moms group for mothers with babies 0-6 months. We could laugh, ask questions, let our babies and ourselves cry, share our fears and dreams - it was the most safe, supportive, and fulfilling hour and a half of my week. I was so sad when we "graduated."
My friend Zan called me on day 4 or 5 post-partum, the day many gestating people have a milk-coming-in hormone firehose to the brain, and said, "So do you feel as bad as if you had murdered someone?" And I did. I needed to hear it.
For me, my first "witch" was an existing friend who had her first child four years earlier, and parented in a similar style that I did. She was (and still is!) someone I felt I could speak openly to about my frustrations, the feminist nuances of parenting, and talk to about my less common parenting choices (eg, co-sleeping) without judgement.
In terms of people I met *after* having a kid, the only person who really comes to mind is a friend I made ~18 months in through professional circles, who I immediately clicked with and felt like I could be my full self with in a way I don't feel in most parenting social situations. We don't hang out all the time, but she was - and again, continues to be - someone who it is easy to talk about parenting with in a real rather than surface-level way.
Mine was our family practitioner. She called me a few days after our first was born to see how I was doing. I told her about our struggles getting him to sleep at all, let alone in his own bassinet. She listened and then said "Do what you need to do so you all sleep. Don't worry about what the books say. You're thoughtful and careful and you'll make the right choice. Call any time you need to talk. Here's my cell number."
She's been a lifeline for the past 20 years. Her kids are 10 years older than mine & she's given me solid, loving, smart -woman advice since Day One. And I've used that cell number free of charge more than once.
I was lucky enough to join a new moms' group that provided me the witches I needed, and to have a few really good friends with kids a few months older than mine.
But I think a lot about my mom, who was lucky enough to meet HER first witch when my brother (her oldest kid) was two weeks old. The woman with the newborn down the street was also a THIRD-TIME mom, so she got a role model with not a single you-know-what left to give. They're still friends, and those babies are cresting 40.
Idk if she’s in this community, but isn’t Twitter mom friend Anna Maltby is that friend for me. We’ve never met IRL, but her texts and tweets have been a lifesaver for me. She’s talked me off the ledge about supplemental feeding, sleep tracking AND daycare! Literally would not be able to function without her candor and insight.
Mine was a distant author, Judith Warner. Her book, “Perfect Madness,” explains that moms with histories of perfectionism and eating disorders might, you know, drag those bags of shit into parenting. And then she uses a dump truck of data to show that “moms with histories” is most American moms and definitely me. The book was full of thoughts that seem like common sense now but felt utterly subversive then. Fuck fancy birthday parties! Screw travel sports! The PTA may be guided by internalized misogyny! And no one cares what color cardigan you’re wearing!
I have two. At 39 weeks pregnant, miserable and nervous, I went to a comedy show. A friend of my husband's saw me and said, "Right now, my kids are home, by themselves, baking me brownies. It will be alright." The second was the gift of my best friend from college and I having babies literally within an hour of each other, and the series of email threads where we comisserated, freaked out, consoled each other, and navigated all of everything. I remember one email that I sent her that basically word-vomited all of my PPD (I was already in therapy and on meds, but sleep deprivation was A THING and a PROBLEM) at her and she text-talked me back to the road of reasonableness.
I also want to give a shout-out to my boss who, after I had my first child, used a compassionate donation of leave option at our work and donated some of her sick leave to me so I could have an extra four weeks of paid leave. That is maybe the kindest thing a boss has ever done for me.
My childhood best friend has been not only an incredible friend for most of my life, but also the most wonderfully witchy advisor throughout my parenting adventure (she had her daughter several years before mine was born). Some pearls of wisdom she has offered me over the years:
• You will be a mombie 🧟♀️ for the first few months.
• Regarding diapers - RUFFLES OUT! (This is how you avoid leaks)
• Your kid is not you, no matter how much they might act like you at times, they are their own person and treat them as such.
• Using your phone to distract your baby during a particularly challenging diaper change does not count as screen time.