Monday, October 14, 2013
I know some pretty amazing parents and many of them had shared insights into how overwhelming and truly life changing the transition is. So when faced with that question I defaulted to the current state of readiness of the nursery, the two classes we took to "prepare" and laughed off the broader implications.
When my water broke at 12:23 a.m. at just barely 36 weeks and two days my brain instantly shifted to the reasons she couldn't be coming yet. After all, I hadn't done the load of laundry with the last "essentials" for my hospital bag - which for the record I only used one of those essentials at the hospital. I still had four weeks of work left including a major event to pull off in four days. It couldn't possibly be time.
And yet a trip to the hospital, some quick tests to confirm my water had indeed broken and an ultrasound to prove our daughter was still incredibly breech and a C-section was called for and at 5:03 a.m. My husband and I became parents -- dazed parents, but parents nonetheless.
And during those first few days things continued to unfold that weren't exactly how I had envisioned. Small complications from the C-section made the first day foggy for me and that combined with her early arrival complicated the already complex process of starting breastfeeding. We were incredibly fortunate that the only signs of her early arrival were challenges eating and jaundice. But nothing could prepare me for the way my heart broke in a million pieces when my two-day-old daughter had to lay in a bassinet under the lights, crying inconsolably because she didn't understand and I as her mother couldn't even pick her up to comfort her except to try to nurse, which quickly turned into an exercise in frustration for both of us. Advocating for myself and my daughter helped me get the medical team to agree to skin-to-skin after each nursing session, which did help some.
Her arrival came more than three years after we seriously began planning for it, though truth be told part of me had been preparing since the days of my first Cabbage Patch Kid doll. And yet very little of her arrival and first days and weeks with us has gone according to how I expected. I'd heard stories of being so overwhelmed you realize at the end of the day you never showered or how much breastfeeding can take out of you. I'd heard how instantly you love this little being more than words can describe. But I had no way of truly getting ready for it. How can you?
Motherhood is without a doubt the hardest thing I've ever done. I'm constantly questioning if I'm doing enough. Is taking a nap so I preserve some sanity better than pumping again to improve my milk supply? Is it bad that one of the highlights of my day is talking to a friend to escape from feeling like only a milk supply for a few minutes? How is it possible to love her whole hand clenching my finger so much? Is it wrong that I'm in tears because 15 minutes after I've showered and put on clean clothes I again have breast milk on my new outfit? When did I turn into a person who cheers poopy diapers and does a happy dance at an extra 90 minutes of sleep on a rainy morning? How is it possible to loathe breast pump parts and the need to wash them so many times a day this much? Is it normal to feel such an overwhelming rush of love and protective instinct when I lay with her on my chest and feel the gentle rise and fall of her breath? Does being excited about a run to Target by myself make me a bad Mom? Is it weird to be daydreaming about wearing high heels again after months of them in the closet during pregnancy? Am I a freak for reading news articles to our daughter instead of baby books because I need a little of my old life mixed in too and hey can a newborn really tell the difference between Politico and Goodnight Moon? Am I the only one to instantly flip from happily cuddling with her to crying for no apparent reason? How is it possible that when I look into her eyes as I hold her after all her needs are met that all the noise fades and I feel peaceful?
I can't help wondering if there isn't some better way we as women could help each other prepare for motherhood. Then again I suppose the prospect of delivery can be scary enough we don't want to completely freak each other out. I appreciate more than words can say my friends and family who have cheered me on, reassured me, and offered support during this transitional time. Those that have shared what they remember about how topsy-turvy life gets when your world all shifts have made me feel much less isolated. It is tough to go from a full work schedule to home alone with a newborn who can't tell you what she needs and relies solely on you when you aren't even sure you are doing the right things for this little being you love so dearly. Maybe the answer is just being there to prop each other up in the moments where you feel like nothing you do is good enough for this amazing little person you created. It may be pathetic to admit it, but it's amazing how much a little external validation helps right now.
So in the future when a friend has a baby I plan to implement some things that have helped me. I'll give a sympathetic hug. Send a reassuring text that she is not crazy or the first to think that. Offer an unsolicited comment that she is doing a good job. Offer to chat when she wants a chance to feel like her entire world hasn't changed. And most importantly I'll be sure that she knows apparently most or all women feel like this -- most just don't talk about it because by the time new moms can leave the house and see others life has leveled out.
Today our daughter is four weeks old. We only just passed her official due date and yet I can barely remember life without her in it. We may not have been ready but we are certainly making it work. In the end, despite my moments of questioning myself, she is healthy, happy and making us smile each day as our hearts somehow grow with more love for her.
How did you adjust in the fog of the first few weeks of parenthood?
Jennifer Erickson is a Sr. Communications Specialist for Texas Health Resources and New Mom to a baby girl.