Motherhood is a wonderful responsibility—but it can also be exhausting, confusing, infuriating and downright funny. "I always say moms have the toughest job in the world if you're doing it right," Oprah says. "Today, [women] are spilling the beans about a side of motherhood that hardly anybody ever talks about."
Oprah is saluting moms everywhere and letting them know they have support. "We hear from mothers all the time who say they feel alone. They feel overwhelmed; they feel sometimes inadequate. And you say you're afraid to admit the truth for fear of being judged," Oprah says. "So today we're creating a judgment-free zone, a sisterhood of motherhood where anything goes."
Heather Armstrong is a mother of a 5-year-old daughter and has another baby on the way. She's getting the conversation started by admitting the aspects of motherhood she says she could do without. "I really don't enjoy the early mornings or the plastic toys," she says. "I don't do arts and crafts, I don't do pipe cleaners, I don't do cotton balls or scissors."
She'd also be happy to never deal with bodily fluids again, she says. "I could do away with the liquids," she says. "The snot and the poo. I'm not fond of those things."
Bodily fluids are a point of contention for the mothers across the board. Vicki Glembocki, a mom of two, says she had a "pee incident" recently during a seven-hour drive with her kids. "I looked in the back, and the kids were sleeping, which was literally a miracle from God, but the problem was I had to pee," she says. "So I'm thinking, 'If I stop at a rest area, they're totally going to wake up, and I do not want them to wake up.' So I reach into the diaper bag, I pulled out a diaper and I peed into it."
Dee-Dee Jackson, a mother of five, has her own diaper confession. After running out of diapers in the middle of the night, she says she had to make her own. "What we had to do was use a maxi pad until the next morning," she says. "It worked so well, we took our time the next day to get diapers."
Heija Nunn has a diaper tip that has served her well with her three kids. "You have to seed the house and car with diapers," she says. "That way there's always one to unearth in an emergency. Don't put them in one spot—just scatter them."
The one universal truth about motherhood seems to be that no one ever tells you what to really expect. The moms on our panel say they had to learn the toughest lessons from experience.
Vicki says the most surprising thing about motherhood was that she didn't feel maternal right away. "I swore to God that the moment my daughter issued forth from my loins that ... my life would finally be complete and I would finally know my purpose. It was not like that," she says. "I couldn't get her to sleep. I couldn't get her to stop crying. I completely believed that I was the only woman in the history of time who did not have the maternal gene, and I thought I was completely alone." Four years later, Vicki says she's just now getting the hang of it.
Melinda Roberts, a mom of three, says she had to learn on her own that motherhood is like a 12-step program. "You've got to take it one day at a time sometimes," she says. "You feel like: 'If I can get out of bed and get breakfast on the table, I'll be happy. If I can get them to school, I'll be happy.'"
One major motherhood realization that Melinda says she had with her first child was that she could no longer control everything in her life. "You can no longer choose your activities, your down time, when you get to sleep," she says. "No matter what you do or where you go, you're always tethered to this other human being in this unbreakable, incredibly fragile way. Anything you do will affect this child potentially for the rest of their life."
Karen Walrond is a mom of a 5-year-old daughter and says she isn't the mother she expected to be. Before having kids, Karen was a lawyer who flew all over the world for work. But when she became a parent in her mid-30s, everything changed. "When you're single and you don't have kids you think [when you're a mom] you're up for eight hours and you're on and on, but then you get to go to bed and you blissfully sleep and you don't have to worry about the kid anymore," she says. "That's just not the case. It's 24/7. I can't tell you how many times I've woken up in the middle of the night to make sure I heard breathing."
Now that Karen has learned the ropes of motherhood, she's got some tricks she's willing to share. "I think the best way to discipline is for your kid to think that you're just a little bit crazy," she says. "You've got to make them think that this might be the moment that Mom finally loses it."
Karen says she came up with her new method when she once threatened to take away all of her daughter's toys. "Of course she didn't believe me, so she [misbehaved] again and I didn't even yell. ... I went in and cleaned out her room. There wasn't so much as a Lego left," she says. A day later, Karen put the toys back, but she says those 24 hours did the trick. "Now, all I have to do is get that sort of wild I'm-gonna-take-all-your-toys-away look in my eye, and she straightens up."
Longtime friends Trisha Ashworth and Amy Nobile set out on the motherhood journey together. They had perfect plans—Amy would stay at work after kids; Trisha would have three children, set exactly two years apart. But, like so many best-laid plans, things didn't work out like they thought. Motherhood, they say, was more overwhelming than they expected. "It was like a bomb hit us," Amy says. "I didn't feel I had permission to talk about how hard motherhood really was."
Eventually, Trisha and Amy say they reached their breaking point, and they set out to see if other mothers shared their struggles. After interviewing hundreds of women, they say they've heard all the dirty little secrets of motherhood. Their first book, I Was a Really Good Mom Before I Had Kids, was based on their findings.
One of the most interesting things Amy discovered is that mothers are dying to open up—but it takes time. When interviewing mothers for their book, Amy says it would take a good 22 minutes of chatting before moms would speak the truth. "We feel like we don't have permission to admit that it's really hard, so we're all walking around with these smiles on our faces, but really we feel alone," she says.
Trisha and Amy say they've heard just about everything from moms, but one admission really struck a chord. "One mom said, 'I love being a mom, I just hate doing it because it is an impossible job,'" Amy says. "We've raised the bar so high."
The common thread throughout Amy and Trisha's interviews—whether they were talking to mothers of one or of five—was that mothers demand too much of themselves. "The expectations we have on ourselves is completely unrealistic. This generation of women was raised to believe that we should and could do it all," Trisha says. "And that list [of expectations] is so huge that we think if we can't live up to that, then we're not good moms."
Mothers need to know that if they can't do it all—or if they don't want to—that doesn't make them failures, Amy says. "We need honesty," she says. "We need to support each other more."
The true stories of real moms are the inspiration behind In The Motherhood, the new ABC sitcom starring actress Cheryl Hines. And she's doesn't just play a mom on TV—Cheryl has a 5-year-old daughter at home, so she can relate to this sisterhood of mothers. "It's interesting because, for whatever reason, we really don't talk about the down and dirty," she says. "Like when you drop your kid off at school and you try to keep it together for those 10 minutes when you see other people, and then you cry on the way home."
Cheryl's had her own share of confession-worthy mom moments—the latest of which took place at a pet store.
"My daughter decided she had to have this pug puppy," she says. "She goes up to the cage and she's screaming at the top of her lungs, crying, 'I love you, pug!' I just backed up into a corner and acted like I didn't know her."
One of Cheryl's most recent mom accomplishments was throwing her daughter Catherine's reptile-themed 5th birthday party.
Cheryl's the first to admit that she doesn't do the work alone—her daughter also has a nanny—and she says no mother can do it all herself. "I have help," she says. "My sister has two kids, and she has babysitters but not full time. She teaches at a university, and when her twins were little, she would bring them to class and let the children hold them while she taught. You do what you've got to do."
Amy says that many mothers have help in some form, but not all are completely honest about it. "They say, 'I have 10 hours of nanny help,' when it's really 25."
The biggest adjustment Cheryl says she had to make when her daughter was born was to accept the loss of her old self. "Suddenly, you're responsible for this little baby 24/7. You [used to be able to say]: 'Oh, I'm on my way home. I'm going to stop at my friend's house and say hi.' You don't do that anymore, you can't, and it's sad," she says. "One of my friends was going through a bad breakup right when Catherine was born, and I physically, emotionally could not be there for her because I had a baby."
Most mothers are prepared for sacrifice when they get pregnant, but Cheryl says you don't always realize how much that sacrifice includes. "Things like when your best friend needs you, you don't realize that's going to be part of the sacrifice," she says.
Amy says mothers need to accept that they cannot reclaim the person they were before they had kids. "You have to reinvent yourself," she says.
It's also important to remember that taking time for yourself doesn't make you a bad parent. "Most of us feel guilty, like you have to be on the floor with them 24/7 and give them all your attention or you're not a good mom," Trisha says. "Redefine it for yourself that way, like, 'It's okay that I'm on the computer and my kids are playing by themselves.' Make peace with that."
Before Heather had her daughter, she kept a blog that she says had about 30 readers. The week she gave birth, she says she noticed a spike in her traffic and a new audience of moms looking to connect. She chronicled her experiences breastfeeding and her bout with postpartum depression. She says her blog became her lifeline. "So many women reached out to me to let me know that they had gone through the same crises and come out the other side," Heather says. "It was the hope that they gave me that pulled me through."
Heather's blog, Dooce.com, became so popular that she's been called the "mother of all bloggers." The site brings in a reported $40,000 a month in advertising and has become the family business. "I think people are really hungry for that honesty," Heather says.
One popular topic on Heather's blog is sex and how it changes when you are a mom. "It took seven months [before I had sex after giving birth]. No one had told me that it was going to take that long after what the baby did to me," Heather says. "Any guy who wants to have unprotected sex? Seven months without it. Just think about that for a minute. Let that number circulate in your head for a little bit."
Karen says the definition of intimacy has changed for her marriage since her child was born. "Intimacy in our house nowadays is my husband and I touching ankles below my daughter's sleeping form between us," she says. "It's really hard to get that loving feeling when you've got a 40-pound kid between you."
As hard as it can be to find time or energy for sex, Amy says it's an effort worth making. "We have to make sex a true investment in the marriage," she says. "A good marriage is the backbone of a healthy family."
Date nights and moments of intimacy send important messages to both your husband and your children about your priorities, Amy says. "One husband said [to me]: 'I used to be first, and now I'm pulling up the rear. I'm behind the pet rabbit,'" she says. "Our kids are watching us. So when you go out on that date, you have to sit your kids down and say, 'This is important for our family.'"
In a studio full of moms, one audience member says her biggest complaint regarding motherhood is the unspoken competition between working moms and stay-at-home moms. "It is a war. It's a kind war, but still a war," she says. "I'm a working mom, so it's important that my family comes first and that I still do everything that a stay-at-home mom does, plus have a career. That means every single one of my vacation days are used for [my kids]—mommy day at school, a playdate or mommy and me things. ... We don't want it to seem as if we love our career more, so we try to do it all and get two hours of sleep."
Dee-Dee is currently a stay-at-home mom, but she was a working mother once too. "The competition is there because we create it for ourselves," she says. "There's really no reason to compete, because [stay-at-home moms] are just as busy as the working mom. The working mom is just as busy as we are. We just tend to sometimes put the focus on the wrong things. We're all busy 24/7. I consider myself an at-home working mother."
Amy says these wars arise out of our own uncertainties as mothers. "We're insecure about the choices we're making—that's why we're judging each other," she says. "We need to give ourselves a collective break."