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Sometimes, motherhood feels never-ending. A child is born, chaos ensues, and it seems like life will never return to normal.
In You Are a F*cking Awesome Mom, award-winning journalist and Instagram star Leslie Anne Bruce acknowledges that, yes, motherhood is a total mind f*ck—but then she offers the self-empowerment lessons new mothers need to get through the psychic upheaval and emerge stronger than ever. After childbirth, a woman's body, her relationships, and her very sense of self are tested like never before. Bruce encourages readers to look past the sugarcoated truisms about the miracles of child-rearing in order to embrace the real joys of motherhood, spit-up stains and all.
Loaded with unfettered support from a mom who has been through it all, You Are a F*cking Awesome Mom offers a lifeline of encouragement, inspiration, and community for the new mama who got a baby, lost her mind, and desperately wants to find herself again.
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I want to tell you something you need to know right now: You’re a rock star.
Sure, that sounds like a lame saying you’d see on a coffee mug in the “girl boss” aisle at Target, but I mean it… you’re a badass mama. You’re responsible for creating human life. Think about that! That’s some superhuman stuff right there. You grew a baby and, most likely, that baby has ears. And who made those ears? You did… inside your body! Your baby has ears because of you. Know that, girl.
As mamas, we all have a tendency to get down on ourselves when we have bad days, and, chances are, you’ve had plenty of them. We beat ourselves up when we don’t feel like we’re “crushing motherhood.” So, whatever feelings of guilt or shame you have—whether it’s because you chose not to breastfeed or because you had to go back to work or simply because you’re not loving every second of mom life—LET IT GO!
You’re using whatever free time you have to read a book on motherhood to be the best mama you can be, so you’re already doing an incredible job. If you’re like me, then you ventured into motherhood with beautiful ideas of what it would look like, but soon after the newborn glow began to wear off, your daunting new reality started to sink in.
Things aren’t always going to go according to plan. There will be days when you feel like you just can’t handle it all, and maybe you can’t, but that doesn’t make you a bad mom… it makes you normal. Remind yourself that every day you wake up with the goal of doing your very best for your baby, your family, and yourself, and that is good enough! I spoke to an early childcare therapist about the idea of “good enough” parenting; she said that the goal isn’t to be the perfect parent but to be a “good enough” parent, which requires us to do our best at least 50 percent of the time. Anything beyond that is just icing on the cake. I, for one, really like those odds, and I sure wish someone had shared them with me before I became a mom. But what is our responsibility to other women as they become mothers?
A few months after Tallulah was born, my good friend Julie came to visit us. I had just emerged from the haze of the fourth trimester and was finally fit for company (both mentally and physically). We sat around the kitchen table while Tallulah napped, and Julie confided in me that she and her husband were planning to start their own family.
“I know you won’t sugarcoat it, Leslie,” she started, wide-eyed with excitement, but almost bracing herself. “Just tell me… how hard is it?”
I laughed. “Which part?”
“All of it…” she said, twirling her hand casually in the air. “How hard is it being a mom?”
If poor Julie would have visited just a few weeks earlier, I would have excused myself to the bathroom to begin frantically searching for leftover birth control pills to crush and sprinkle in her coffee.
Fortunately for her, I was currently of more sound mind.
I thought for a minute about how to answer her seemingly innocent question. How could I be honest with my friend without terrifying her? I knew I had the very undeserved power to shape her perspective on a monumental life event, and I wanted to proceed with caution.
Should I tell her how it feels to have your nipples sucked raw every two hours by a tiny human? Or should I focus on the overwhelming love I feel when my daughter wraps her small hands around my finger? Because it’s both. It’s a roller-coaster ride punctuated by bursts of complete joy, energy, and overwhelming gratitude as well as exhaustion, sadness, and irrational fits of mania.
It is the best of times and the worst of times.
My lovely friend looked at me from across the table, eager for me to lay down the #momlife gauntlet, as she believed only I could do. And I could. I was certain that my stories could have kept Julie chaste for the foreseeable future.
In my heart, I knew that my friend was gonna be totally screwed. She was a fierce, well-traveled, and incredibly independent woman who had built a hugely successful career as an executive at an athletic wear company.
Though I was certain that my loving, kind, and compassionate friend would be the most amazing mother, I also knew that making the transition from “Boss Lady” to “New Mama” was going to rock her world in unimaginable ways. So, should I tell her she was about to embark on the hardest journey of her life, which nothing could prepare her for, that also included a complete and total identity crisis? That she would spend some days wondering why she ever thought having a baby was a good idea, and then see her child’s sweet face only to immediately feel a nausea-inducing sense of guilt for ever wishing to get back her life before motherhood?
“Jules,” I finally said. “You’re not asking the right question.”
“What do you mean?”
“When you’re running a marathon, do you focus on the race or the feeling at the finish line?” I paused, being someone who has never run a marathon. “Don’t ask about the journey, ask about the reward.” (Which is literally the opposite sentiment of every single motivational poster or meme, but… whatever.)
“Okay,” she replied. “So, what am I asking you?”
“Is it worth it,” I said.
She rolled her eyes before deciding to play along: “Well…”
“Yes,” I said, without hesitation. “Every fucking minute of every fucking day. She’s worth all of it and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.”
So, to all you new—and new-ish—mamas out there, I’m not going to tell you the best way to take care of your child, because only you know what’s best. I may offer some tips or suggestions, but this isn’t a baby book. This is a mama book. This is a book for any woman who is still trying to wrap her head around this incredible, insane, all-consuming transition while desperately clinging to any lasting shreds of grace. This is for any new mama or even semi-new mama who feels like she got railroaded by baby and may be struggling with figuring out her new place in life. Most importantly, this book is for any woman who wants to be the best person she can be not only for her baby but also for herself.
When I decided to write this book, I was just coming out of the first year of life with my daughter, Tallulah. My struggle was so real that I wanted to scream it from the rooftops so other moms wouldn’t feel as isolated or devalued when their own experience wasn’t all puppies and rainbows. I even created Unpacified, a website and media platform dedicated to helping mamas navigate this transition. It turns out that pitching and selling a book can be a lengthy process, during which time I got myself knocked up again. Although this story is largely about my journey with my daughter, I wrote much of what you’re about to read while nine months pregnant and during the very early days with my son, Roman. So, if some of what you’re about to read feels super fresh, it’s because it was… it really was. Having your first baby will knock you on your ass, but don’t underestimate the juggle of going from one to two.
I’m not going to pretend that stumbling into motherhood is this wholly magical journey or tell you that every single struggle gets wrapped up in a pretty red bow. There are going to be beautiful, picture-perfect, freeze-this-moment-in-time days, but there are also going to be days when you want to crawl out of your skin. And that’s okay. I need you to remember that you are entitled to your feelings… whatever they are. You’re an intelligent, strong woman who is capable of experiencing two conflicting emotions. Motherhood isn’t this one-dimensional thing. It’s layered as fuck.
But I am going to keep reminding you that you’re a warrior. You have gone to battle for your baby, and you deserve respect, adoration, and compassion. You’re that child’s hero, and even heroes have hard days.
Most of all, I want you to know this: You’re not alone.
“It’s the hardest, most rewarding thing I’ve ever done.”
After my daughter was born, I was often confronted with the question: “How’s new mom life treating you?” For years, I had heard women utter some version of the same “hard but rewarding” sentiment, as if to underscore that the joy far outweighs the challenges. It’s a phrase that gives weight and credit to the mothers who came before while also reminding people that nothing could possibly hold a candle to the exuberance of motherhood.
You can imagine the look on people’s faces when I would respond: “Umm, it’s not that much fun.”
If you’re reading this, chances are you’ve figured out that life with a baby is a total mind bender. Of course, it’s this blessed journey you’re wildly grateful for, but it also feels like you got blindsided by a freight train. Right?
Honestly, you kinda did. The mayhem of motherhood is an experience like none other.
When I became a mom in October 2014, as a thirty-two-year-old woman with a successful, decade-long career, it completely flipped my world upside down. Prior to my daughter’s birth, I read all the standard-fare baby books recommended by friends and family; I wanted to be as ready as possible for her arrival, so I armed myself with any gadget or tidbit of knowledge that promised to make life with a newborn a bit easier.
Like most moms-to-be, I was peppered with warnings about how “exhausted” and “hormonal” I’d be while juggling the responsibilities and realities of this new role, but I wasn’t overly concerned. Women have managed to get through childbirth and infancy since the beginning of humankind; I was certain I could handle it. I mean, teen moms were figuring it out, so, how hard could it be?
Apparently… really fucking hard.
Here’s the thing: women today are more unprepared for motherhood than at any other point in history (save for, like, the Stone Age). That may seem like a bold statement, but I stand by it.
Sure, you’ve seen some of your friends and family become mothers, and they probably assured you that motherhood has awakened their soul. Maybe they even told you that motherhood has filled their heart beyond measure and that from the moment their child was born a supernatural maternal instinct began pulsating through their veins.
I’m sorry to tell you this, but people lie. Not all people, but enough people.
Look, I know you probably have that best friend from high school who always kept it real, who told you how pathetic it looked when you kept calling that guy (guilty!), but when she had a baby, she failed to mention just how hard it could be.
Lying by omission is still lying. To be fair, she was most likely trying to protect you or saying what she could to keep her own head above water, because, honestly, motherhood is gonna come at you like a thief in the night. You never had a chance, because you never saw it comin’.
As modern women, we are simply ill-equipped to transition from independent boss lady to mommy-mommy-mommy. It sounds counterintuitive because we are more educated, more successful, and more motivated than any generation past, but that’s precisely the point.
Becoming a mother is a natural life event, but it doesn’t always come naturally. Actually, it can feel really unnatural, especially in the beginning. For many new moms, it’s an upheaval of the status quo. In becoming mothers, we’re asked to give up a lot: our bodies, our identities, our priorities, our sanity, and, for some of us, our jobs. Motherhood isn’t easy, but at some point we started treating it like it is, because we just stopped preparing ourselves for it.
Maybe that’s the cost of being the “girl power” generation? Don’t get me wrong, I believe wholeheartedly in raising strong girls to be whoever and whatever they want, because for most of history that wasn’t the case. More and more, girls today are taught to aspire beyond motherhood to create meaningful, fulfilling, and powerful existences not predetermined by our gender.
Take me, for example. As a little girl, I wanted to pursue an oh-so-sexy career as a paleontologist. I carried around a Strawberry Shortcake suitcase filled with dinosaur books. I never really played “house” with my friends or pushed baby dolls around in a stroller. I don’t even think I had many baby dolls, but that was mostly because I had an older brother who found joy in destroying my toys. He once melted the face off my Ken doll with a lighter; it was a real low point.
Even in school, young people are no longer taught “the domestic arts,” which I think could serve all kids well, boys and girls. Think about it: When’s the last time you heard of anyone taking a home ec class? I sure as hell never took one. While writing this, I googled how to bake chicken (seriously, though, multitasking is my life).
Outside of school, my own mother (a stay-at-home mom for eighteen years) encouraged my studies, my sports, and even my eccentric dreams of paleontology. She wanted more for me than she felt she had as a young woman, and I don’t think that’s uncommon. For many twenty- and thirtysomethings today, our mothers were a generation stuck somewhere between June Cleaver and Katy Perry, so they wanted to arm us with what they believed we needed most: fierce ambition and unwavering confidence.
My mom never schooled me on what to do in case of severe diaper rash or the art of removing breast milk stains. (She wouldn’t have been able to help in this department anyway, because she never breastfed. To hear her tell it, “it seemed sort of barbaric.” You’ll learn more about her later. She’s actually the best—and the worst.) The bottom line is that she didn’t want to assume I’d be a mother or didn’t want me to believe that it was my life’s sole purpose, and I’m grateful to her for that. But in her attempt to raise a “hear me roar” kind of girl, I missed out on some of those important lessons that could have served me well when my daughter was born.
Many of us grew up believing that motherhood wasn’t the only thing we’d do with our lives. That’s not to say we didn’t have an aunt, a mother-in-law, or a grandmother who routinely asked passive-aggressive questions about our childbearing decisions or who made off-color comments about our age, but, for the most part, it was generally accepted that we could be multifaceted. Motherhood was just one of many life buckets to fill, not the only one.
The bummer is that in creating this “new normal” for women—which is important—we’ve forfeited much of that generational passing down of knowledge. And that’s a real loss, because no matter how evolved we become in society, we’re still the only sex with the ability to push human life out of our lower torso.
All this raises the question: How the hell are women today supposed to know what to do when a baby does come along? We expect ourselves to tackle motherhood with the same self-sufficient gusto we exhibit in our pre-baby lives and, therefore, when shit hits the fan (or, in my case, the bookshelf, rug, rocker… basically anywhere in a three-foot radius of the changing table), we don’t think to ask for help. We have long embraced the “I can do it all” mentality and anticipate motherhood being just another trophy in our armoire of impressive, fought-for accomplishments. Those are some pretty ambitious expectations for any woman to have of herself, let alone a new mom.
For many women with strong personal and professional identities, becoming a mother causes a complete restructuring of their life. Those early days are a total whirlwind cloaked in sleep deprivation, tear stains, and constant second-guessing. Minutes somehow feel like hours, but days often come and go so quickly we have no idea whether it’s Tuesday or Friday. Time itself becomes entirely subjective, and defined edges cease to exist.
Having a child is an incredibly fulfilling life experience, but that’s not a conclusion many come to overnight. Truth? Caring for a baby can be a struggle, especially in the beginning. I’ve always loved my daughter, certainly, but I didn’t actually enjoy her until she got a bit older. It’s hard to enjoy something you feel like you’re failing at. Saying that may make me sound like an asshole to some people, but it also is honest… and when it comes to motherhood, I don’t think my putting on a pretense helps anyone.
Every moment of my new existence was about Tallulah: she demanded all of my attention, all of my energy, and even my body was a vehicle for her well-being. It’s not just that my needs took a backseat to my daughter’s; they weren’t even allowed in the car. No longer was I an individual; I was a mother. And somewhere in the dark recesses of my brain, I became resentful. I was someone before I became a mom, but as days became weeks, and weeks became months, I couldn’t always remember who that was.
I found myself reminiscing about life before baby: impromptu movie nights, weekend hikes with my husband, reading a book that wasn’t about sleep schedules, having a second glass of wine without having to strip to test the blood-alcohol level in my breast milk. I even fantasized about work! What I would have given to spend a few hours away from the mind-numbing routine of feed, clean, change, rock, repeat. And in the dark fog of the long nights, I found myself wishing for something a new mom could never possibly admit out loud: my old life back.
To make matters worse, from where I stood, it truly seemed like I was the only new mama struggling. Every time I scrolled through social media, I stumbled upon countless photos of moms who seemed to be relishing new motherhood. Each image was a version of the same: a beautiful mama, her hair pulled into a chunky boho braid that revealed flawless skin, resting in a fluffy bed of pillows and gazing down at her sleeping newborn.
Platforms like Facebook and Instagram yielded to this new parenting superbreed: the unicorn mom, the picture-perfect women who appear to be thriving in their new roles and whose photos always seem to say: “Don’t mind me, folks. I’m just over here owning motherhood. What? Like it’s supposed to be hard?” And for whatever reason, these women have unjustly become the measure by which all new mamas grade themselves—and one another. It’s propagated a social media culture hell-bent on holding women to unrealistic standards. This is where shit can go from difficult to dangerous.
I spent my days covered in spit-up and sweat stains, not hazy, dreamy, blush-toned filters. My child went through a super adorable baby acne phase, and my unwashed topknot didn’t nail that “messy glamour” look. Bearing witness to the seemingly authentic experiences of other new mothers left me feeling devalued, anxious, and unsuccessful.
Only one thing was certain: when it came to mom life, I was totally blowing it. I was failing my daughter; she deserved better. The moment she arrived I fell madly in love with her (which isn’t actually very common; I attribute my experience to the morphine), which made my feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt that much worse. I wanted the best for my baby. The more difficult my struggle became, the more defeated I felt.
I mean… how did those “teen moms” do it? Even though these girls shouldn’t necessarily be the barometer of sound parenting, I’d venture to guess that their lack of worldly experience actually works to their benefit in this particular arena. Of her own experience as a young mother my mom said, “Having a baby isn’t all that life-changing when you don’t have much of a life to give up.”
It appeared that my success was my downfall. I was so established and rooted in who I was as a human that motherhood upended everything I had ever known about myself. This new world was nothing like the one I spent all that time building for myself, and it appeared to be a very lonely, unfamiliar place. I was like a castaway trying to survive—without the emotional shoulder of a Wilson volleyball.
It’s clear to me now—with the benefit of hindsight and a full night’s sleep—that what I desperately needed was support. I needed to feel the compassion and honesty of other women, not the judgment or burden of impossible expectations. I needed to know that my struggle was not singular. I needed the safety of a community there to guide me through this time. And, mostly, I needed my own mom. But like many of my generational peers, I had moved away from home when I set off to pursue my career. Even though I was just ninety minutes north of my parents’ house, I didn’t have that “she’s just around the corner” comfort many new moms crave.
Think about it: members of today’s nuclear family are more likely to be farther geographical distances from their kin—or comparable community—than at any other point in history, which in turn leaves many first-time mothers without the inherent support we need during our transition.
In many ancient cultures, people would band together to help new mothers recover from pregnancy and delivery and to comfort women as they adjusted to their new life. It’s why people say, “It takes a village.” It’s a cliché, but clichés exist for a reason. Even through the mid-twentieth century, extended families remained neighbors, sometimes living within blocks of one another, like my mother’s family on the South Side of Chicago, where four sisters lived on the same street, along with their own mom.
Traditionally, new mothers relied on the other women in their tribe to encourage them, comfort them, and help them. The absence of such communities has, in part, contributed to the rise in popularity of antepartum and postpartum service providers—like doulas, pregnancy coaches, and night nurses—particularly in urban areas, where more women tend to be farther removed from their families.
Sufficiently terrified? I swear there’s a payout, but before going further, let me say this again: I love my daughter to the ends of the earth. My baby girl is the best thing I’ve ever done. When she was small, I’d often cry to my husband (after a glass or three of wine) about how I’ve never done anything that has made me worthy enough to deserve her, and I truly believe it. The next morning, she’d shit in my hand and our cosmic balance was restored. (For the record, yes, this actually happened. Every single anecdote in this book is 100 percent real, no matter how far-fetched.)
At the end of the day, my apparent mental collapse wasn’t really because of my sweet baby. She was an innocent little human going through some major adjustments of her own as she got familiar with the world around her and her own small body. This craziness was about me and my struggle becoming a mom.
Recognizing that was the first step in managing it all.
As I write, my daughter is four years old and has grown into this amazing little girl I absolutely adore (save for the occasional toddler meltdowns that most recently included a pair of salad tongs thrown at my head and a roar to “get out” of my own home). Since coming through my daughter’s infancy, I’ve spent countless hours with friends, family, and even the sister of my favorite Starbucks barista, talking to them about this transition. I can actually see the relief in their eyes when I say something they never hear: “It sucks sometimes, right?”
We’re made to believe that feeling overwhelmed or ill-prepared isn’t allowed. As if it would somehow reflect poorly on us if we were to admit that having a child is more demanding than we ever thought possible; therefore, no one talks about it. We bottle it up—our anxieties, our fears, and our feelings of self-doubt—and hide behind a forced smile. We save our breakdowns for the moments when we’re alone. We’re convinced that other new moms aren’t struggling as much as we are, and that must mean we are terrible mothers.
Mamas, rest assured that no matter the day you had, someone has walked that path before and someone will soon follow. I can say with certainty that some other mom has forgotten to buckle her newborn into the car seat before jumping on the freeway and that some other mom has had to call the pediatrician because she threw up in her baby’s mouth. I know for a fact that some other mom has gone to pick up Chinese food, only to return to a screaming infant that she accidentally left alone, and that some other mom inadvertently used breast milk to make her husband’s smoothie (my husband questions just how “inadvertent” this mistake really was). I know that some other mom has piled up newborn diapers on the driver’s seat of her car in order to relieve herself, just to avoid having to go back into the mall with a fussy infant.
And I know without a doubt that some other mom has poured herself a glass of wine, well before noon, and retreated to the garage to weep loudly while listening to Taylor Swift (only to be interrupted by a neighbor who decided to investigate the source of “those alarming sobs”), and once you find a way to manage this incredible transition, you’ll discover that being a mom is, yes, the hardest, most rewarding thing you’ll ever do.
Having a baby is a soul-defining experience that will forever change a woman’s life. So, I have to wonder, when did we ever start believing that something so monumental could ever be so easily managed?
While walking the crazy motherhood tightrope, I believe it is fundamental that we, as women, understand what a shit show new motherhood can be. But I am here to assure you that things will get easier, that you will absolutely get through it, and that you are not alone. There is great comfort in knowing that you can have a hard time—a really hard time—and still be a fucking awesome mom.
And… you are.
"For those of us who were shocked to discover that modern motherhood is a den of insanity, Leslie Bruce is a lifeline."
—Jill Smokler, New York Times bestselling author and creator of Scary Mommy
"Finally, a mom who doesn't claim motherhood is all unicorns pooping glittery rainbows. Moms needthis book."
—Karen Alpert, New York Times bestselling author of I Heart My Little A-Holes
"I can't think of anyone better suited than Leslie to write a book on the first months of parenting. She is refreshingly honest, non-judgmental and always hilarious. And as a first time parent, I can tell you that sometimes you really need to laugh . . . so that you don't cry."
—Lauren Conrad, designer, New York Times bestselling author, and mama
- "[An] uplifting read about embracing the chaos of motherhood and being true to yourself while raising your brood."—Us Weekly
"Leslie Bruce's central thesis is one that many women in today's 'have it all' world will feel like a punch to the gut. Fortunately, Bruce also happens to be f*cking hilarious, which makes her book not only an important read, but also a phenomenally fun one."
—Jordan Reid, author of The Big Fat Activity Book for Pregnant People
"Honesty-what a fabulous and rare thing that is today. You'll find it in abundance in Leslie Bruce's raw, real, laugh-out-loud account of what becoming a mother is really all about. This book is the stuff you don't see on Instagram. This is a must-read for any new mother."
—Raegan Moya-Jones, author of What It Takes and founder of aden + anais
"Both laugh-out-loud hilarious and surprisingly heartfelt, Leslie Bruce is the no-BS, tell-it-like-it-is online BFF every mom needs while navigating those treacherous early parenting years. Whether it's chronicling what mothers think (but dare not say) or sharing warts-and-all #momfail peeks at the reality of life with a toddler on her addictive Instagram feed, Leslie Bruce's razor-sharp wit and sorely needed honesty are always bright spots in my day."
—Nadine Courtney, author of All American-Muslim Girl
"Leslie is truthful, funny, and transparent without being over-the-top. Her stories are raw without being negative. We can adore our babies and motherhood, and still have bad days. Leslie encourages women to be open and I find it very empowering!"
—Hannah Taylor, co-founder of The Little Market
"Leslie Anne Bruce is the mom friend I never knew I needed. With a rare combination of generous spirit and cutting humor, she strips away the clichés of motherhood and teaches us how to survive the raw, real thing."
—Lydia Fitzpatrick, author of Lights All Night Long
- On Sale
- Sep 10, 2019
- Page Count
- 256 pages
- Seal Press