Wednesday, May 6, 2009

an essay on mommyhood.

One of my best friends recently gave birth to her first baby. I fear that the new mommyhood and newborn stage are a little bit of a surprise to her. See, you hear all these well wishes and congratulations for this great new thing in your life. Your life will never be the same. You know that. Babies are so great. So you hear. You might hear horror stories and tales about labor and delivery. Women love to share these things, especially with those about to give birth. It's like comparing battle wounds or something. What you never hear about is the battle wounds of being a new mom, or of being a new mom again when you have your second or third or whatever newborn. Why is that? I think because we don't talk about it beforehand. Then when you're home with that newborn and it's not that idyllic life, you begin to wonder what happened.

You go into having your baby with the idea that finally you'll be able to get some sleep. At least you won't be waking up every couple of hours trying to get comfortable or going to the bathroom. You think that you'll finally get something done around the house because you can move again, or maybe because you think you'll get energy back again. After all, don't newborns sleep all the time? You might even have visions of sitting and rocking your baby peacefully. You probably plan to breastfeed because it is such a great bonding time for you and the baby and because it's really the best option.

Well, here's how I think it really goes down. Yes, newborns sleep. Generally a lot. Sometimes they don't though. Sometimes newborns only sleep when you're holding them. Oh, and just because your first baby was a great sleeper, or a scheduled baby, or a happy baby- don't you dare go thinking you've got this thing down and that future babies will be the same. My last was my most difficult. He was the one who wouldn't sleep unless you were holding him. Don't underestimate the power of sleep, or of being sleep-deprived. You don't know it until you've been there. You will want sleep so badly that it might bring you to tears. Maybe you used to wish for 6 or 7 hours of uninterrupted sleep. Those days are gone. You will find yourself just dying for 3 to 5 hours. Even if your baby goes a stretch that long between feedings, at night if you're really lucky, you won't sleep that long. There's the time it takes to decide he's actually asleep before laying him down. You can't go to bed right away either because you know that inevitably if you do then the baby will know and will wake up. So you have to wait until he is for sure, really asleep.

Oh, and that feeding thing. I've got news for you. Breastfeeding isn't the greatest thing in the world for everyone. Some women just don't enjoy it. Some just don't quite get the hang of it. Some babies are fussy at the end of the day even though they've eaten regularly only to be calmed down by a bottle. Some have that perfectly idyllic time of it. You just never know and you shouldn't feel guilty if it is less than perfect. Now, I'm not advocating one way or the other. I've done it all. You know what, my kids are all pretty smart. I even think the youngest ones, the ones who were bottle fed from their early days for medical reasons, might be smarter. They also haven't been as sick. Okay, so I was secretly relieved that they had to be bottle-fed. Do I enjoy the $200 spent on the specialty formula they have each month? No. But do I love the freedom of not having to be the one to feed them every time? Yes. I never loved nursing and I'm told my mother didn't either. I was happier when I was feeding my baby a bottle. A happier mom bonds better. So if it isn't working for you, keep trying. It takes time. It's messy.  It's awkward.  It might even be embarrassing.  Some people can't do it in front of others.  That's fine.  But if you keep trying and it's not going any differently, then don't feel bad. You can always pump and then feed a bottle. It won't last as long but it might make you both happier. Then, I have my own issues with pumping.  It's nice, sometimes even essential.  But I sure don't like feeling like a dairy cow.

Which brings me to another thing. Sex after baby. By the time that 6-week appointment rolls around, you might be so anxious. So much so that maybe you disregarded it. Unless you've got good girlfriends or read the books, it might be a surprise to you. If you are nursing, you might never want him near your boobs again. Even if you fed the baby right before hand, it is bound to get in the way. Plus, I swear kids know when you are about to have some 'me' time. It's like how children always find you hiding in the bathroom. It's like they have sex-dar. Welcome to the next 18 years of their life. If you thought that trying to do anything in that last trimester was difficult, well, I'm sorry but it might not be better just yet.

Are you depressed yet? Don't worry, it might just be PPD, or baby blues. It's a real thing. Don't underestimate it. Don't feel bad if you get it. Your body is way out of whack. They also don't tell you that your thyroid can get screwed up after having a baby. Because sleep-deprivation due to baby isn't enough. Add the effects of an underactive thyroid and you're really screwed. My poor husband. You do whatever you need to to cope. When my last one really couldn't make it without being held, I found myself losing it. I had 3 little ones I still needed to care for. Things to do. The swing only lasted so long. The bouncy seat, same. I couldn't really do the whole sling thing because I'm so short and my arms are so short that I'd be banging him into counter after counter. So, you know what I did to cope? I bought a Wii. It was an expensive, maybe not necessary purchase. But it sure helped to be able to have something 'fun' to do while sitting and holding the baby all day long. It was nice to have a 'change of scenery.' And I could play it with my kids too. If I beat a level on a game, well, at least I got something done that day. My time sitting and holding my last two was only aggravated by the fact that they had really bad reflux and needed to be kept upright for an hour after eating. When they are eating every 2-3 hours, there goes most of your day. Even though my last baby was my hardest, and most tiring, I never needed medication. I thought about it. I have had it in the past. But I found a way to cope, I talked about it, and I felt it coming on because I had been there so I was able to work on it before then. We were all fine. You know what else? He's my happiest kid now. You know when it changed? 3 months. When we finally found the right medication that helped his reflux and the right dosage and feeding combination. He was a different kid after that.

So all this can be pretty depressing. As if postpartum hormones weren't enough. Now you have to add to it extreme sleep-deprivation. Don't forget not feeling fulfilled. Don't plan on getting things done for the first 3-6 months or you are setting yourself up for disappointment. Even if they sleep during the day without you holding them like they are supposed to, then you'll be so exhausted you will be a zombie- preferably a sleeping one. So now you're probably down on yourself because you're not getting any sleep, not getting anything done, not having that idyllic newborn life, not exactly having fun with the hubby, and you might even miss being pregnant. Take heart. It's amazing how quickly we can forget things. My husband even says that being the mom to a newborn is one of the hardest times because it is so much exhausting work with little to no reward. Though that time may seem like it is dragging on. You may feel like you can stand to watch another tv show or sit in front of the computer again. That time will pass all too quickly and you will find yourself longing for those days of just sitting and holding a newborn again. Sleep on the couch with him snuggled on you. Take a shower with him in the bassinet or swing next to the shower. At least he's not asking you everything about you or complaining of who hit who. Those smiles will come. The sleep will come, eventually. Let your husband take over wherever possible. Don't forget, your body is still in recovery and you need your rest too. Get out of the house. Even if it takes all day, get ready for the day. You'll feel better. You may find yourself wondering why you did this. It's okay. The rewards come and are greater than you can imagine. To see that first smile. To hear that laugh. To hear them call you ma-ma. To watch as they figure something out or learn something new. To send them off to school and hear them tell you of all the new, exciting, and wonderful things they learned that day. It's all worth it. It's worth every sleepless moment. It's worth every ache and pain. It's worth every bit of it all. You don't know it until you've experienced it. Please remind me this when my 2-year old paints the tub in nail polish again. I'm still trying to get it off.

Oh, and here's another thing. We moms have been there. We are happy to help. We know how it is to just wish to get a shower. That's all you want in a day. So if you need to reach out so that you don't go crazy or don't feel crazy or don't feel alone- please do! Don't feel silly. The best advice I ever got on being a mom was to take care of myself and relax. My mother-in-law was so right when she told me that babies can sense your moods. Not just babies. It affects them. More than you might think. I had more than one doctor say something to the effect of that the best thing you can do for your baby (or child) is to take care of yourself. So if that means leaving the baby with someone and a bottle so that you can go out (by yourself or on a date), then do! Don't feel guilty. It's hard to give when you feel empty and drained. Don't feel guilty for sleeping at any opportunity. For those first few months, you probably should. And talk to your spouse. They probably have no clue what it is like for you. They might not ever. But they won't be any better and won't know any better unless you clue them in. Let them, or make them (whichever applies), help so that they can get a sense. Parenting is supposed to be a two-person job. It needs to start off that way. That's why it takes two people to make one. It takes two to raise them. I so do not envy those single parents. If you are one (or feel like one), then ask for members, friends, neighbors, family members- whoever!

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