Parenting, as many of us know, is chronically, relentlessly complex. Sure, there are those wonderful highs that don’t require any sort of hyperbole: first words, first steps, deep emotional connection, the child who says thank you and truly means it. And, then, there’s the other stuff that’s sometimes part of the package: the indescribable exhaustion during infancy, the school and dating crises, the teenager’s dramatic eye-rolling. Yes, parenting is complicated. And, here’s Dr. Erin Kunkel’s candid take on what it takes to sort it all out.  

Dr. Erin Kunkel is an obstetrician and gynecologist who practices in Providence and East Greenwich. She attended medical school at Brown University and returned to RI after four years away in Philadelphia for residency. She lives in North Kingstown with her husband and daughter.

I knew I wanted to write something about motherhood and I thought it would be perfect if I could get this submitted in time for Mother’s Day. Well, Mother’s Day came and went and with it a chunk of motivation to write this essay. Who would want to hear about a new mom’s thoughts about motherhood when it wasn’t Mother’s Day? Who would want to hear about the importance of grace and self-forgiveness, about the essential sense of belonging to a community of other women, about the need for improved support in the postpartum period. It took me about a month to realize that this line of thinking is exactly what keeps so much of the unspoken underbelly of motherhood in a neat box that we open on Mother’s Day and all get to say “Yeah being a Mom is tough so thanks for working so hard!” And then we close it and go on with our lives, never really talking about the long, dark days (and nights), the ambivalence that rocks you when you hold your new baby and don’t feel instant blissful heart opening joy, the moments when you need your partner to take the baby from you because you've reached your limit.

My daughter is almost a year old and this year has yes, been magical. Every day she transforms more into an endlessly curious and deeply sweet little girl who has opened my heart in ways I didn’t know were possible. But I loved going back to work, being around adults, and using my brain to solve problems that were more complex than how to get her to nap for longer than 17 minutes at a time (not to undermine the complexity of this problem because come on kid, just sleep). I love leaving her with family so that my husband and I can go out and talk about ourselves, reconnecting with our own goals and dreams beyond being parents. Mostly though, I love being with other women and mothers. Fortunately, I get to do this every day as an OB/GYN. When I see a postpartum mother now for her routine visit, I address the medical stuff and then just sit back and ask “How are you? You holding up? It’s hard isn’t it?” And mothers often say “Yes. It kind of sucks.” And I tell them, “Yes it does. And it’s wonderful too isn’t it which is so confusing. But you’re doing a great job.” 

I believe in the resilience of mothers. I believe in our ability to hold conflicting truths in our hearts and continue to mother with grace and compassion. I believe in the undeniable need for better support for new mothers from the medical community, our families, and the government. But mostly I believe in the power of other mothers. We need to lift each other up and simply see each other so that we know we're not alone. I celebrate you all every day.