Last week, my car transformed into a time machine. I thought I was only driving down from NJ to MD to visit my new niece. While that did happen (say hello to Auntie M!), I also found myself in a strange out-of-body time warp. It felt like I was watching me in my first days of motherhood, figuring out my new life, courtesy of The Ghost of Sleepless Nights Past.
My sister’s story is different than mine, naturally, and her’s is not my story to tell; however, mine is, and it is now more vivid in my mind than it’s been in months.
Before giving birth, I formulated a plan. I imagined that I would stay very busy with my baby, although I would be able to, surely, space out some housework over the course of the week. My plan was very specific: bathrooms one day, dusting another, then windows, followed by floors, with one day to do the ad hoc stuff. I’d be home off of work, and doing these chores during the week would allow me, baby & hubby to have some relaxing family time over the weekend (insert sarcastic laugh here). I could not figure out how to shower without disturbing my little one, let alone free toxic chemicals into the house that contained the air our precious baby was breathing. My plan failed, therefore I had failed, and I felt like an unfit parent.
I decided to nurse. If you never have and you are a mother, there’s no judgement here. Part of me wishes I would’ve had the courage to switch to 100% formula earlier on. I struggled with coaching my baby to latch properly, with knowing how long to nurse, with feeding in public, with trying to sooth my child without feeling like all I looked like was a cartoon bottle of milk. I exclusively nursed for about a week before having a meltdown and, very guiltily, decided to supplement a feeding with formula. Despite having been fed only formula as a baby and recognizing that my issues are certainly not a result of not drinking breast milk, I still felt like an unfit parent.
My biggest concern about being a new mom was the risk of falling asleep while nursing and smothering my baby. After I knew the warm feeling of holding my little one, it quickly became a tradition for me to wake up and mistake the bunched up, body-heated duvet as my baby, throwing around my arms in search of my baby in danger. That concern never amounted to anything. Someone so neurotic could not be destined to be a good parent.
I can count on my fingers the number of times I had held a baby before becoming a mama. It was not a natural stance for me, that’s for sure!! I was concerned that I would break a baby, so I would not move at all, then inevitably would get into this awkward elbow lock position and frantically hand the baby back to safer arms within a few minutes. Holding my little buddy was much more natural, relatively. What was tough is my arms were not in shape, and my C-section stitch would often remind me of its glaring presence, so it was not easy to give cuddles all the time. It broke my heart to see work friends come over and eagerly squeeze my child, looking ecstatic and well put together, with their smiles, their freshly showered hair and their crisp, ironed clothing. Would they be a more suitable parent to my child??
My husband and I were told that one day. roughly three months in, we would wake up, feel more refreshed, and have it all figured out. Just like that. We did not experience a magical lifting of the fog. Instead, each day brought a new accomplishment. We learned how to give our baby a bath. We figured out how to dress our baby. Then we scavenged time to get ourselves dressed, too! The cries became more discernible. My scar healed. I found a way to sooth my baby to sleep by myself without contributing to the tears. I learned how to stop celebrating freedom when my child slept and instead close my eyes to nap during the day. My baby eventually, about five months in, started to sleep 11 to 12 hours at night (thank you, solid food!). I felt more whole each day and became a more present, less exhausted / hormonal parent.
I do not want to imagine what this journey would’ve been like without the support we got. Coworkers brought loads of food over for about a week. My mother-in-law took the night shift for a couple of months. My family came up from MD as requested to let me nap and get on with a few things around the house. Now, I am more than happy to pay it forward to other moms. I keenly helped out my sister’s newly expanded family to the best of my abilities, knowing that no matter what, the brunt of the work would be on her and her hubby.
We also received a lot of helpful advice / wisdom before the delivery. Thanks again to those who provided it…you know who you are! Here are some highlights:
– Gina Ford’s books can be really helpful.
– When the baby has a poo-spolsion, go up a size in diapers, regardless of what the box says.
– Babies are new at this, too, and have no expectations. You’ll figure it out together.
– Take the epidural – you might need it regardless of your birth plan, anyway.
– Accept help.
– Laundry and dishes are the only urgent chores.
– Communicate with your partner, even if you’re sending emails or texts while the other is sleeping. It’s easy to become ships in the night.
– Any conversation that occurs between the hours of midnight and six in the morning doesn’t count.