Today I had a message from a friend, one who is expecting her first baby in a few weeks, asking how things are going with our adjustment to being a family of 5 and having a newborn at home again. I almost wrote back a quick, “It’s wonderful!” with a cute picture of our sweet sleeping baby. Then I didn’t. Not because it isn’t actually wonderful or because the picture is misleading, but because I was thinking back to when I was expecting our first baby, and what would have been an insightful and honest answer to that question if I had been asking it. During a time when I was never really thinking past the cute nursery and the delivery room scene we always see in the movies (a daydream which didn’t include the C-sections I ended up having in reality). As I am sure every mom could relate, I had absolutely no idea how different life was going to be. Different wonderful, most certainly, but different hard too – and that’s the part I didn’t know how to truthfully convey in my response to my friend.
When I remember bringing my first baby home, I can quickly recall how difficult breastfeeding was, much to my surprise. Thinking that the existence of every mammal on the planet required that they had figured out how to breastfeed so certainly I would be able to, I did not attend the breastfeeding basics class offered because it didn’t even occur to me that it would be anything except easy. When we took the childbirth prep class I even quietly scoffed to my husband when the nurse teaching the class commented that maternity leave is a necessity, not a luxury, because new moms spend at least 8 hours a day nursing their baby. “Yeah right,” I said. “How could a person actually spend 8 hours a day breastfeeding?!” Little did I know, this was probably a conservative estimate of the actual time spent when we first got home.
I also think about the exhaustion from the early days, of which I have recently become reacquainted. Everyone knows you will be tired when you have a new baby. What I don’t think can be conveyed is the true level of exhaustion that comes from not sleeping more than a few hours at a time for weeks on end. And how unfair it is that with all of the challenges to life with a newborn, you don’t even get to tackle it fully rested. Recently, Facebook reminded me of one of my posts where I wrote that for the first time I could remember in 5 years, I had slept all night long. Five years! Tyler was an extraordinarily bad sleeper so this probably doesn’t happen to everyone. But seriously, five consecutive years of not sleeping well. Until I had gotten used to getting to sleep all night again I had forgotten about that. I remember now.
I also remember how isolated I sometimes felt after Tyler was born. Being the only one awake during all hours of the night, so much so that it was hard to determine when night turned into day or when one day became the next. Or how getting the baby fed, loading him up, and running any errands before he woke up hungry again just seemed too challenging a lot of days, so often times I didn’t.
I had so many questions, and I worried so much. I doubted myself – sometimes questioning if I was cut out to be mom. And I would look at friends’ pictures on Facebook looking for some indication they felt the way I did. Scouring pictures for a clue that maybe my friends were sleep deprived too. Or had days where they felt overwhelmed. Looking for signs that maybe sometimes had a hard time getting their baby to latch on. Wondering if they ever cried for no reason, or felt like they were the only one not smoothly transitioning into motherhood. Or if having to figure out how to pay for daycare and diapers was making for some hard budget conversations with their spouse. But social media is not the place where you find those things – it’s great for seeing beautiful newborn photos, cute sibling pictures, and the sweet sleeping babies. It’s not where you see the people you know debating if they are experiencing the baby blues or if maybe it’s crossing into postpartum depression territory, or saying that “cluster feeding” has driven them to the edge of their sanity, or posting pictures of the baby that just won’t stop crying in the middle of the night despite all of the parents’ best efforts.
People also used to ask if Tyler was a “good baby.” And then wait expectantly for the answer I didn’t know how to formulate and give. Because of course he was – aren’t all babies good? But if they were wondering if he slept more than a few hours at a time at night, or if I had figured out how to feed him in a way that never resulted in one or both of us crying in frustration, the answer was a big fat no that I felt ashamed to give. And so I would smile and give a most enthusiastic yes. Because it seemed that’s what you’re supposed to say, like when an acquaintance asks you in passing how you are and you just say fine, no matter what, because that is what’s socially acceptable.
And now here I am in the middle of life with a newborn again and my friend asks how it’s going. I am remembering all of these things that time had kindly dulled the memory of, because I am once again living them. And quite truthfully, some days it is so hard. Even though it’s the third time doing it, I still have a hard time with breastfeeding. Almost daily I have contemplated stopping. Especially this week when I got mastitis not once, but twice. I am once again starting many days out with not enough sleep, but a deep fear that any coffee I would consider drinking would reach my newborn Jared and make him sleep less. I am once again lonely during the night when I am the only one awake at odd hours feeding my little boy. And now I have this new unexpected guilt. Are the older two still getting enough of my attention? Are they watching too much TV while I’m feeding the baby? Are they missing out on things because I am once again overwhelmed by the idea of loading all three of them up by myself for outings?
These are the things I didn’t know how to tell my friend. Partly because I don’t know how to express them, and partly because I don’t want to sound like a downer to my expectant mom friend. And realistically, if someone had tried to tell me all of this, would I have even listened? Or would I have been so caught up in my birth scene and nursery daydreams that I would’ve disregarded what they had to say?
And partly because despite all of this, all of these hard things, it really is wonderful. It’s the most incredible, complicated, challenging, and beautiful thing I have ever done, and I’m acutely aware that every single day is a gift. Being given these beautiful children certainly is the greatest blessing in my life. And I am thankful this time around to have the wisdom to know this time will fly by and so I better try to soak it up. That before I know it my baby will be walking, losing his first tooth, and starting kindergarten, just like my first two babies. I also know that no matter what I do or what the books say, that he will have his own little personality and his quirks don’t mean I am messing it all up. And instead of worrying about whether I’m doing everything right I should just enjoy watching him blossom into the person he is meant to be.
And because I know these things this time, sometimes I hold my baby longer instead of worrying about getting him into his crib right away. And I am going to remind myself how fast it will all have seemed to go when there are sometimes minutes that feel like hours (because there are) or when despite all of my best efforts I just can’t get the laundry folded today and it’s darn lucky that everyone even got lunch. I’m going to work hard to see the beauty in the chaos and remember that beauty for the days someday when my children have all grown up.
And most of all, I am going to appreciate these three children that God has gifted me with. I am going to love them, and hug them, and listen to them laugh every day. I am going to watch the rise and fall of their chest while they sleep, and try to memorize everything about them, including their sweet, chubby fingers sticking out from the blankets.
Every day I’m going to pray that God helps me be the mother they deserve. Even when I am exhausted. Even when I think breastfeeding isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Even when I can’t quite yet get us all out of the house as often as I’d like. Especially when I doubt myself. And I am going to work hard to soak up every second, because it really is incredible, beautiful, and the greatest thing I could ever hope to do with my life.
These are the things I want to tell my friend, but I know they are things she won’t believe until she’s right in the middle of it herself. And so, in lieu of knowing how to convey all of this, maybe when people ask how things are going, maybe I will just stick with, “It’s wonderful!”
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