Crying Over Spilled Milk


Photography by Emily Sacco for Grey & Scout

This month’s theme is Here’s to Us (The Crazy Ones)—but how about the crazed ones? By crazed I mean, of course, that I haven’t slept in in 10 months. I haven’t slept through the night in roughly the same. When I have three spare minutes, I impulsively wash whatever dish is nearby or tidy and wipe down surfaces.

Perhaps by now you have accurately guessed that I am a first-time mom with a new baby?

What gave me away?

Recently—and for only a brief moment—I thought things were improving. I felt accomplished. I felt like myself. I felt like maybe, just maybe, I was getting to the point where I might successfully handle all the things on my plate.

I took stock of my situation and analyzed the facts: I can change diapers fast and without incident, nurse in public without flashing anyone, and am even sometimes up for spontaneous weeknight activities with little to no warning. (I know. It’s crazy.) I’ve been meeting goals and deadlines at work; doing laundry on a weekly basis and folding it within a day or two (lest the wrinkles get so bad, they have to be put back in the dryer). I’ve been putting my baby down by 7:30 pm and not immediately falling asleep rocking him, and I’ve even checked a few items off my list well in advance for an upcoming trip.

Perhaps (thought I) I’m finding my groove, after all.

This self-congratulatory mood lasted approximately 10 minutes, at which point I realized that I’d neglected to freeze the breastmilk I’d pumped during that week that our caregivers didn’t use. Breastmilk can only stay in the fridge for a few days—five max—if it’s a cold fridge and it hasn’t been thawed or left out for any duration before that. It was day six for the most recently pumped milk; I poured more than 25 ounces of milk down the drain.

And then I cried. A lot.

When I thought of the time I paused at work to pump, the time it takes each night to wash the parts, to pour and store and label the milk, to prepare bottles and then wash those—I just cried harder. Pouring milk down the drain is like nails on a chalkboard to a new mom. It is terrible, awful, painful. What’s more, it’s embarrassing: a little forethought could have saved that milk. (And I know so many women who struggle to produce milk and would never be so careless!!)

Not only is pumped milk hard-earned, but it’s also the mechanism by which I buy my solitude. I can have a night out with girlfriends because there is extra milk in the fridge. I can run errands on a Saturday without worrying when my baby will wake up and need to eat, because I’ve already prepped for his hunger (and for my time away). Milk is about my baby’s nourishment first and foremost, but it’s also about my freedom and flexibility to be away from home for any extended period of time. It’s our ability to have date nights—which are critical if we want to connect about more than just what needs to be picked up on the latest Target run.

As I poured the milk, the self-pity floodgates opened. Any sense of improvement, accomplishment, or progress vanished. Foremost in my mind were all the areas I was still struggling to put back into my daily routine: I haven’t finished thank you notes from when my baby was born; I have a brimming inbox full of emails I haven’t responded to, and a brimming cell phone full of unopened texts; I haven’t worked out in [redacted amount of time]. I have people I want to see, things I want to do, yet—perhaps to feel I’ve done something concrete or productive with my evenings or weekends—I still impulsively fill my spare minutes with dishes, wipe downs, tidying, and other unimportant tasks. I can’t shake the impression that it seems to be taking me quite a long time to feel like “myself” again after becoming a mom for the first time.

To be clear, I don’t begrudge my circumstances. I’m the happiest I’ve ever been, even if overwhelmed at times…It’s the tension between basking in the present moment and feeling beholden to the demands of everyday life that I’m trying to navigate.

To be clear, I don’t begrudge my circumstances. I’m the happiest I’ve ever been, even if overwhelmed at times. If I could focus solely on watching my handsome boy take in new sights and sounds and experiences, I’d be the most content mama in the world. It’s the tension between basking in the present moment and feeling beholden to the demands of everyday life that I’m trying to navigate. And rather than feeling anxious, I am eager to figure out when (if ever?) I can expect to feel a little more ahead than behind on the stuff of everyday life.

Mamas out there—novices and pros—what are your tips for staying sane, juggling the demands, and learning to thrive? When did you feel like you hit your stride in motherhood?

BY Ellen Koneck - May 23, 2019

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May 23, 2019 12:09 pm

I nursed my son for the first 19 months of his life, and it wasn’t until after he had weaned that I realized how much stress it had added to my life. I’m so glad that I nursed him, and was able to nurse him as long as I did, but wow did things get easier once it was over. You will get there, I promise, and you will be proud of everything you went through. You’re strong and amazing and doing a great job.

May 23, 2019 2:17 pm

SAME. Everything you said. My son is 15 months. Thanks for putting it into words!

May 23, 2019 4:12 pm

My son’s 2 and I feel like I hit my stride at maybe 18 months. I started getting a little less foggy a little before that, maybe. There are so many great quotes, none of which I can conjure presently, about not really finding the “myself” you had before, but also trying to honor that you were a whole person before you made a whole person. It’s a nutty transition, to say the least. The best advice I got was to go to therapy. Talking to someone objective, whose sole purpose is to help you figure out what you need… Read more »

May 23, 2019 8:15 pm

I think I got comfortable with everything when my oldest was a toddler… it was finally getting easier to take her out without an entire diaper bag of supplies. Then we decided to do it all over again, lol.

Really, it DOES get better. It does. But it’s not instant. Be kind to yourself. It’s okay to not have it all together.

May 27, 2019 6:47 am

I have also cried while pouring breast milk down the drain. It is one of the worst feelings, especially because it takes so much time to pump, and you don’t have hardly any extra time as a mom. I gently suggest buying some formula and using it once in a while so you have the freedom to leave the house without having the pressure to pump so much. I exclusively breastfed for the first six months but now I’m using formula too. It doesn’t have to be all one or the other.

May 28, 2019 2:54 pm

Thank you so much for sharing. I was in a similar boat with my now fifteen month old and it’s healing to see someone articulate that experience so well and honestly. I haven’t quite felt I have hit my stride with this whole new parenting thing yet, but I can tell I’m getting closer. You are doing amazing from the sounds of it!

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