There’s so much about parenting that’s constantly discussed and completely demystified in today’s society. Parents talk of sleepless nights, of the absolute exhaustion and of the incessant worrying that never leaves the heart once it has a child to love. They lament the loss of personal autonomy and leisure time. Many great and not-so-great aspects of parenting have become routine stereotypes in TV shows and movies. These only tell a fraction of the epic tale that is the journey of parenthood. And they only minimally unravel the mystery that is life with baby. I’ve only been a mom for a few short months and I’m constantly running into “what the heck” and “darn if I know what’s going on” situations.
Having a baby is an unrivaled adventure, complete with high points, low points and even blah points. People tend to exalt the high points, make light of the low ones and totally ignore the blah ones. They caution you to “take the time to enjoy” the early days, even though they know that the sheer exhaustion, the hormonal changes and the total and complete alteration of EVERYTHING make it nearly impossible to really “enjoy” the first few days and weeks in a conventional way. The term enjoy isn’t what I would use to define how I experienced in the early weeks of my daughter’s life. Those first days were like boot camp, and all there was to keep going was adrenaline, fear and lots and lots of love. By the way, that boot camp feeling? I’m not sure if it’s ever going to go away.
You’re often told to “sleep when the baby sleeps”. No one admits though that this piece of advice is not really advice, but perhaps a ideal goal or an idealized wish for you. It’s more like: “I only wish that you could sleep when the baby sleeps, but who are we kidding”. No one wants to fess up that when the baby sleeps, that’s when you’ll engage in a mad dash to get caught up with feeding, bathing and taking care of yourself, not to mention taking care of all the other chores around the house that’s been piling on and left undone for a long time. If not then, when? Now, you’re going to be told that it’s okay to let things go, but it’s impossible to just never eat or wash up again. Isn’t it? And if you stop worrying about the laundry, you’ll eventually run out of things to wear. So, forget napping and get stuff done when you can. You can always sleep when the kid goes off to college.
There’s a lot about sleep that’s not mentioned. Like, the fact that when the baby finally does sleep through the night, your amount of your sleep doesn’t increase by that much if you’re a breastfeeding mom. My baby sleeps through the night—eight, sometimes nine hours—but I get maybe five hours nightly. Granted, it is uninterrupted sleep, which I’m very thankful for. But it is only five hours of sleep. So, practically speaking, I remain sleep deprived, despite my sweet baby’s beautiful sleep habits. It looks like sleep goes bye bye for a few years.
When and if you feel you can open up and express that you’re having a tough time, or that things are hard, you’re told to hold on until some milestone comes along. For me, it was until the baby looks up and smiles at me intentionally. And the first time she saw me, really saw me, and smiled was an unforgettable moment. But, the reality of how hard a time I was having didn’t change once my little beauty beamed up at me. I kept struggling through the grueling process of getting used to motherhood. And if I expressed my feelings, I was told to stop complaining and just be grateful. It’s a simplistic point of view to judge a mother who’s having a rough time as simply a whiny person who is need of a change in attitude. Motherhood is challenging. It’s okay to say so. It’s not whining to be truthful and reach out to others for support and understanding. It’s called being honest and authentic.
People sometimes mention that the first year of the baby’s life is hardest on her parents’ marriage. This is often mentioned in passing. Let’s not dwell on it, shall we? But, whether there’s dwelling or not, and no matter how blissfully harmonious the marriage was pre baby, the relationship suffers shocks and multiple jolts as two people strive to make room, create a space and evolve into a tiny being’s parents. Think about it: you’ve been YOU all your life. And then comes another adult to share your life. The adjustment period may be hard, but you’re dealing with another adult who speaks and understands your language and the two of you make mutual adjustments in order to build a life together. Then comes baby. She’s tiny, beyond beautiful, defenseless, needy and totally incapable of communicating in any way familiar to you. Everything you’ve ever known about dealing with another human being is out the window. The situation is only confounded by the immense love you feel for her. The learning curve is so steep that it is nearly a straight vertical line raised to the heavens, instead of anything resembling a curve. No wonder these days are tough on most marriages. But, I think, the bond between two people who are meant to be together, want to stay together and are committed to working through the tough days together only grows stronger and more profound as days pass and life goes from a twosome to a threesome and beyond. Have patience, keep talking honestly and don’t give up on your ability to weather the storm.
These are just a few of the difficult things about life with baby.
Perhaps what’s most ineffective about how people talk about parenthood is their attempts at describing the high points. That’s because the high points aren’t high points at all. They’re quiet, tiny, fleeting moments that might otherwise go unnoticed, but for the fact that they’re shared with the tiniest love of your life. They’re the firsts, but not the big obvious firsts. They’re the magical firsts. The first time you hear her “talk” to her lovey, notices a tree, sees a butterfly for the first time or finally notices the family dog. The utter joy she experiences the first time she feels the ocean breeze tickle her pudgy cheecks. And, best of all, that moment when she looks at you with all the love in the world in her eyes—nothing will ever compare to these little beautifully unforgettable moments. There’s magic in these moments, pure and simple. They melt the heart, take away the exhaustion of a sleepless existence and rejuvenate a tired and battered body. They’re proof that you are really doing it. You are really raising a happy, healthy, beautiful baby and you’re doing a pretty good job. Let that fact sink in: you’re doing a pretty good job. The elation I feel in these quiet moments is soul shaking and earth shattering.
So much about parenting is a mystery. And so much of it, whether hard, magical, funny or exhausting can never be truly described acurately. So, I say stop listening to others. Stop looking for wisdom or sage advice. Just take a breath, dive into the deep end, struggle through the rough seas and find your bliss on the other side. Find the magic in the mundane, quiet, difficult and even the blah times. And always remember: you’re doing a pretty good job.
Oh, the baby steps you’ll take.