We Tell It Like It Is

There are a lot of extremes in parenthood, full of incredible highs and depressing lows.  The swings between positive and negative make it hard - I think - for a person to give a totally impartial perspective.

It's easy to dwell on the negative - the lack of sleep, the screaming, the crying, the poop (oh my, the poop), and the exhausting, repetitive tasks of child-rearing.  Parents who only talk about the negative aspects of having kids can quickly convince those who are child-free that they should keep things that exact way forever.

Then there are the parents who focus only on the positives.  They make having a baby sound like FUN! and RAINBOWS! and PUPPIES! and OMG ONLY GOOD AMAZING WONDERFUL THINGS ALWAYS!  It's not that these parents have lost touch with reality, but they do wear rose colored glasses, and they try their hardest to not come off as sounding negative or to scare other potential-parents-to-be from having kids of their own.  After all, if there's one thing that new parents want, it's for their friends to have babies as soon as humanly possible. I appreciate the positive attitudes of these chipper parents, but man, they can be annoying too.  Nothing is perfect and wonderful all the time, no matter how cute your kid is.

In trying to share my story I've tried to find a balance between these two sides of things, acknowledging that for every frustrating moment there is a charming smile.  For every night of crying there is one of 10 hours of straight sleep.  There is an ebb and flow of happiness and frustration with babies, and while it can be utterly exhausting, in many ways it keeps things interesting.

The weekend after Thanksgiving we were talking to a group of friends.  Of this group of friends, we are the only ones with a child, so they were asking us a lot of questions about what life is like now. I find it hard to answer these sorts of questions on the spot, because so much of my response is colored by the events of that day - was he good? was he fussy? did he do something super cute?  - whereas DH, who normally tries to put a positive spin on things, switched characters for a moment and went straight for the negative including a statement that went something like "newborns are useless."  The horrified looks on the faces of some of these friends was priceless and honestly I can't blame them - DH made it sound like he hated our baby, (which I know is absolutely not the case, so I wasn't concerned, but I can see why these friends were.)  He was taking such a negative stance without presenting the other side - a side that definitely exists and creates a necessary balance.

So below is my attempt at telling both sides of the story, explaining the ups and downs, the highs and lows, and everything in between.  This is - of course - just one parent's perspective, but I do believe that many other parents can or will relate to what I'm saying here...


"How It Is" with a newborn

When your child is first born, there is nothing more amazing or exciting.  Hearing your baby cry for the first time will bring tears to your eyes.  You will be flooded with emotion, and it is the most amazing feeling ever.  You won't be able to believe that you have a baby, and that you made him (or her, but for the purpose of this post, him.)  You will spend hours upon hours upon hours for days on end just staring at your baby; this amazing little creature that is as cute a button and 100% perfect.

Then you get home.  You are still sore, drugged up, and tired.  You will be more tired than you ever knew possible. So tired that you're delirious and crazy things start happening to your body.  You'll skip every meal for the entire day and then eat at all hours of the night.  You'll feel twitchy and irritable.  You'll be so tired that you say things that you regret, have thoughts you wish you could take back.  You'll wonder what you were ever thinking when you decided you wanted to have a child.  Humans don't function well on little to no sleep, and add to that a tiny screaming child that relies on you for it's survival and the fact that you feel like you've been mauled by a bear from the waist down and you will officially lose all sense of control over your mind, body, and emotions.

You will sob from exhaustion; you will feel like screaming at the top of your lungs. You will feel like you are literally losing your mind. You will understand with blinding clarity why they make you watch those videos that repeat over and over "never shake a baby, put your baby in his crib and walk away."  You wonder for a moment if the hospital nearest you will take drop-offs. You'll feel like a horrible parent for thinking those thoughts and you would never admit out loud to thinking them.

If you're breastfeeding then all of this is magnified by at least two, because you will feel like you're the only one that can feed your baby, even though the societal expectation that a woman who just went through childbirth or cesarean surgery can handily and happily manage the demands of a newborn on her own is ridiculous. Your nipples will be chewed raw by your baby in those early day, your chest will probably be painfully swollen and since newborns eat all. the. time, you're going to literally feel like a milk machine.  If you're struggling then hopefully you've realized that it's not the end of the world to give your baby a bottle or two every day, and the relief that this gives you will be overwhelming.

But even through the cloud of sheer exhaustion you still check on your baby every 5 minutes when he's napping, even though you should be sleeping yourself, because - damn! - he's just so cute and peaceful when he's sleeping.  You kind of wish he would wake up so you could squeeze him. But of course when he does wake up 10 minutes later you panic and spend all of your mental energy trying to telepathically get him to go back to sleep so that you can just have a few more minutes to yourself.

During his quiet and alert moments (which are admittedly few and far between in those early weeks) he'll look up at you with his big dark eyes and you'll lose your breath for a moment when you remember that he is yours, and that you made him.  You will understand why they say the eyes are the window to the soul.  You will see yourself, your husband, and oh-so-much potential in those eyes, and you'll be sad when a blink or a sneeze ruins the little bonding moment you were just having with your child.

You will marvel at how quickly your little one grows, even though you know it seems so cliche to say so.  You will quickly realize that your baby is the cutest baby around, and no other baby compares.  You'll develop "the voice" that you talk to your child with, and you'll develop little quirks and secrets that only you and your baby share. You mentally acknowledge that if anyone else heard you saying half of things you say to your baby, they might try to have you institutionalized.

Things will slowly start to get easier, but the change will be so gradual that you won't notice it until you're suddenly startled by this weird feeling that you haven't had in a long time - relaxing.  Your baby will stop feeling so much like work as he gets older and is able to play.

You will squeal with delight the first time your baby moves his lips in such a way that you're absolutely sure that he just smiled at you.  The first time he reaches out to touch something that is hanging from his car seat handle you'll do a double take, watch him for five minutes hoping he does it again, and then when he doesn't you call your husband, your mom, and your sister to tell them all about the big event.  The first time he makes a cooing sound back at your baby babble, you'll probably pick him up and squeeze the breath right out of him.  When he laughs you squeal with delight.  And when he starts making movements that look like they might be the start of rolling or crawling, you cheer him on like he's your favorite team during the Super Bowl. After weeks of give, give, giving to your baby, you'll think that these "gifts" are the greatest things you could ever receive.

Your mom and aunts and older friends and anyone else who has kids who are about 4 years or older will gladly take your kid off your hands anytime you'd like, and while they're squeezing him they'll say things like, "Oh my, there's nothing like a baby."  You'll think they're even crazier than you were after 42 minutes of sleep in a 24 hour period.  But then, after an hour of other people holding your baby, you realize that you want a turn now, but you won't say that because after you've bitched and moaned so much about needing a break from your baby you don't want to look stupid for admitting that you already miss him and you just want a baby hug. 

Being a new parent in those early days is all about reminding yourself of the potential of your little bundle of joy.  They don't give a lot back in those early days.  It's all about what's to come.  Those first smiles, coos, words, the first time he holds his head up on his own, the first time he sits up in the Bumbo seat.  All of these little things.  Every day things get a little better.  And there will always be set backs, but you'll become more flexible, you'll learn to go with the flow.  You'll recognize that this is your new life, and you'll notice that you've stopped clinging to your past life with desperation like you were in those early weeks.

You'll forget how hard things were in those early days, and even if you do remember, you'll tell yourself that it was all worth it to get to the point that you're at now.  And after a few months or years of that, you'll be ready to turn around and do it all over again. 

Because you're a parent now, and you know that's just "how it is."


Suzi said...

Good read, but not advised for a mama who's little man is about to turn 1 tomorrow. :( Tear.

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