I write this as my nearly 3 week old son naps. If you ask me “how” he naps, I will tell you “great” and then “not great” depending on the day, time, position of the sun through our living room windows. It took me not that long to actually respond with “fine” as any other response can come with unwarranted advice on how to get a 3 week old to sleep. (The only answer to this question is “wait.”)
I did not prepare for this part of my life like I have with other major transitions. In other realms of life changes, I felt like I could read, prep, ask questions, and for the most part, understand what was ahead. In certain sleepless nights of pregnancy, I attempted to do the same with parenthood and was met with an insane amount of conflicting advice on everything. Does breastfeeding really lead to a higher IQ? (NO.) Do epidurals give children autism? And, as many many many pointed out, will having a child completely rid your life of all measurable joy?
Well, most weren’t that blunt about it. But I was cautioned, over and over, about how hard times lie ahead. Get ready. Sleep now. Prepare for Hurricane Baby. You’re in for it. And over and over again, I asked, “Tell me what ‘hard’ means?”
I obsessed about losing sanity and myself and my marriage. When no one tells you what’s actually hard, you fill in the blanks. I tempered this anxiety with being adamant about “getting there and figuring it out.” And that we did. Besides a dizzying amount of hospital visitors and an incredible amount of pain once the epidural wore off, the first few days were better than expected. Penn slept a ton and ate great right from the first bottle. I was excited, thinking, “We got a great sleeper and eater!” And of course, I was cautioned with, “Wait till he turns _____.”
We were discharged and I had my first mom meltdown the night after. Staring at the wall, completely exhausted by the last three days and probably malnourished from dodging incredibly terrible hospital food, I had the moment where I missed my old life. “Will it ever be the same?” I asked my husband. “Will we be okay?” I sobbed. I couldn’t walk without feeling every ounce of the torn muscle I endured, the pain medication did nothing, I still had no interest in food, and there wasn’t a thing I could do about it except plow right through.
And I did. I learned about naps and the art of doing one thing for yourself a day (even if it’s flossing!). Sometimes it’s all you need to get your brain to reboot. I held my son and cried happy tears, something I do a LOT still. He stopped sleeping so great, sometimes 14 minutes, sometimes 3 hours in the middle of the day, sometimes only on my chest and no where else, even if it’s 4 a.m. and I have been up since 1. I take time to cry out of sheer frustration of “aren’t I supposed to know what to do?” and then finally get him down, sleep myself for an hour or so, have coffee, and feel on top of the world. It is up and down constantly, I feel great and then I am so tired I am crying, I had a great night so let’s go for a walk, to “that was a challenging evening, little one, let’s sleep right through the morning.”
That’s the hard, right there, but I wouldn’t categorize this entire period as “hard.” There are incredibly tough moments that test my ability to not take my son’s actions personally. If I can’t get him to sleep after a night feeding, I’m doing something wrong. I should KNOW how to do this. Why can’t I figure it out? I learn daily that my ego makes this difficult. Letting go has been the best thing I can do. (Also, naps.) There will be times I can employ strategy. Now, I’m forced to let him be a newborn and do newborn-y things without attempting to fix him because (shout it from the rooftops) there is nothing wrong. Even if it means he doesn’t sleep well, sometimes he eats a lot and sometimes he eats a tiny bit. Sometimes he cries inconsolably and sometimes he calms right down. No amount of baby blogs or well-intentioned advice from everywhere is going to change the fact that everything changes with this little guy constantly and it’s my job as his mom to roll with it. He’s growing. He’s thriving. He’s gaining weight. He’s fine. I wish sometimes people would tell me that more. He’s fine. This is normal.
This period is transformative. Growing pains are painful. They also lead to incredible things. Smiles. Staring at this human for way too long: in complete shock and love. Firsts: family walks, trips to the farm, birthdays, seasons, holidays. Just as Penn is learning to be an outside baby, I’m learning how to be his mom. There is no road map for that, just a very general direction of “feed, love, don’t drop” and we’re filling in the rest by getting to know each other. That has been the best advice of my mom life from my cousin: “Feed your kid. Love your kid. Don’t drop your kid.”
I am now on the other side of all the questions and anxiety I had when I was pregnant and utterly clueless. I’ve inevitably come across pregnant women eager to get a nugget of advice from me. “How is it?” they ask. I feel their anxiety. What I’ve learned is that motherhood is so different for everyone. In fact, I’m not sure there’s anything universal about being a mom except for the fact that you have a human to take care of. We all struggle with different things, just like anything else. I’m careful to offer advice from my view. No one is going to be a mom to my son, so my experience is going to be unique to our family.
But what I will say, which may or may not be helpful, is that:
Some babies cry a lot. Some babies cry not a lot. Some start out not crying and start to cry more. Others are the opposite. You will be a mom to any of these scenarios. We follow the 5 S’s (swaddle, shush, side/stomach lying, swing, suck) and it works 98% of the time, for now. Your kid could love them all or hate them all! Who knows! I’ve never met your kid. Try them all, see what sticks, watch your mom friends and grandmas and what they do with babies and try all of it. Every kid loves and hates different things!
Some babies poop a lot, others poop not a lot. Some babies spit up a lot and some don’t at all. Some babies are healthy, others have health issues. You will be a mom to any of these scenarios.
Some babies sleep great! Other babies do not sleep great. Some babies start out sleeping great, others learn to sleep great. You will be a mom to any of these scenarios. Penn sleeps great during the day and parties at night. We’re hoping he figures out that we are not a family of vampires and that this is not okay.
So what is the hard? It varies. Yes, you may be frustrated when all you want is to brush your teeth but it’s time to feed. You may struggle with not being able to meet your friends at a wine bar all the time. You could feel alienated and lonely and a failure. You could struggle with the lack of sleep. Or maybe none of these things will be hard. But you will have a kid. He’ll be all yours. You may have that moment of meeting her and feel nothing but bliss or feel nothing at all. It’s normal. I’s all completely fine! It’s your story, unique to you and your kid. And as hard as it is to “not know,” it’s part of it. None if it is written down yet. The best thing to do is be patient with yourself and know that whenever it gets hard, whatever hard is for you, it’ll get better. And, you know, hard again. And then better! And unlike hard things you’ve done in the past, this one comes with a child that can knock you out with smiles and snuggles.
Those well-meaning people that told me over and over that my life is over, it’s gonna get real rough, say goodbye to my life, I don’t entirely think they’re right or wrong. I think it’s a matter of perspective. I wasn’t planning on going back to the life I had before my son was born. What is the point of that? In every life change, you walk through a new door and it all feels different: good-different and also terrifyingly different. But what’s the point in walking through a new door if everything stays the same on the other side? I do know that going to Target is a little more complicated these days, going to a house party is slightly exhausting, and sleeping through the night is a distant memory from the beginning of my 2nd trimester. I know that my brain is split between myself and my son’s well being, which feels really familiar and also can be a little dizzying. Reading the Sunday paper can take a few days and crosswords aren’t as easy as before. I know that he is changing so fast, meaning some of the hard infant stuff will change and get better, just as the toddler stuff will challenge us in new ways. I know that what I’m learning from being a mom makes me a better human, exponentially, even if I need a nap to process the frustration. I know that watching my husband be a dad has only strengthened our relationship and I love him in brand new ways that I didn’t see coming. I know that I wanted to be a mom so badly and was told maybe I couldn’t be and for almost two years we tried and tried to have this child and now that he’s here and healthy and thriving? Yes. My life is so different. And I am thankful every day that it is. The sleepless nights, the frustration, the lack of wine bars, I’ll take it all over and over again because I get to be a mom to a really great kid. And not everyone gets to do that and maybe we never will again.
It is a hard thing to love something this much, to open your life to loving and caring for another person, to meet another version of yourself and the person you love and still walk around, attempting to bathe, feed, water yourself. We decided to have a child and for us, that means loving him so much it’s physically hard to breathe sometimes.
But yeah, the no sleep thing really sucks.