Everywhere I looked, I saw them— perfect parents. At the hospital’s Baby and Me group where I ventured with my 6-week-old daughter. At the pediatrician’s office. At Babies “R” Us. Everywhere: Perfect, capable, happy, calm, not-even-slightly-tired-looking new moms and dads holding perfect, happy, calm, not-even-crying-for-one-second babies. And then there was me, freaking out, while my baby Blair was hating me.

Why else was Blair crying all the time? Why else couldn’t I soothe her? Why else did all the other parents out there seem to have everything together— to know what they were doing, to be “loving every minute of it” as all the books, magazines and grandmothers had promised life with a new baby would be. I didn’t feel particularly loving. I felt overwhelmed and inadequate. And scared. Maybe I wasn’t cut out for this. Maybe I was the one woman on the planet who didn’t have the maternal gene. And Blair knew it.

I sure couldn’t let anyone else know it. Being a mother was “the most important job in the world.” Everyone said it. Oprah said it. How could I reveal that I was screwing up at the most important job in the world? And so, I pretended.

“How are you doing?” friends would ask.

“I’m fine. We’re fine,” I’d lie, again and again, never mentioning that I hadn’t eaten anything other than Hot Pockets for three days or that I couldn’t bear to look at myself in the mirror because my body had turned into Jabba the Hut or that I threatened to leave my husband because he wasn’t “helping enough” (translation: He was still going to the gym every night after work. Um, helllllllooooo).

“It’s all good,” I’d say, like a new mom was supposed to. I was certain that if I kept my mouth shut, no one would call child services on me. “We’re just loving every minute of it.”

It took me nine months to figure it out; others were pretending. All those perfect parents? All those moms with makeup on, happily bouncing up and down with their little babies in their little Bjorns? Pretending. Maybe not as much as I was, or not as long (full disclosure: I’m still pretending). But, when I started to talk to other new moms about issues beyond the varying consistencies of baby poop (fascinating as that was), I discovered that we’re all, in one way or another, freaking out.

How could we not be? What bigger, heavier, more daunting life transition could there be than, yesterday? No baby. Today? Baby. And by baby, I mean a living being whose very survival depends on you. Yes, becoming a parent was natural. Yes, people have been doing it since the dawn of time. Did that make it easy? No way. But who would admit that when word on the street was that becoming a mom was all sunshine and puppies? No wonder new moms pretended. They thought they were the only ones feeling kicked in the butt by a seven-pound baby.

Are you a new mom? I’m going to let you in on the secret: You are not alone. If you’re loving it, if you’re hating it, if you’re wondering if your boobs will ever be the same again— no matter what— other moms have been there. Really. Even if they say they haven’t. Even if your mother swears your infant days were the best of her life.

How to survive

Find other new moms with kids the same age as yours.

Your neighbor with the 10-year-old twins who has “been there, done that” will not be helpful.

Ask for help.

Remember all those people who told you to call if you need anything? Call them. Ask them to bring you a casserole.

Leave your house.

Take a walk. Go to a coffee shop. Removing yourself from your couch for even 20 minutes can make you feel like your old self is alive and well, merely hiding under those dark circles.

Believe people when they say, “It gets better.”

Sure, you may also want to punch these people, especially when you’re covered in baby vomit after not sleeping or showering for 13 days. But, it does get better. The baby will stop crying and sleep through the night— and even smile. You will sleep again. You will fit into something other than sweatpants. You will think, “This child is the most amazing thing that’s ever happened to me.” You will.

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