the first six weeks
Six weeks into parenting: let me offer a simile.
It's like surfing out in the middle of this beautiful, expansive ocean. You're wearing your favorite swimsuit, but you look down and realize that it fits very differently than it used to; it doesn't look bad, per se, just . . . different. You clutch your expensive, one-of-a-kind surfboard and kick your legs over the side to scramble up to a low squat, where you wobble and shake trying to locate a balance for the mere act of standing up straight. Then you do stand up! You are strong, all "victory is mine" slash Rose and Jack standing at the bow of the Titanic. The sun shines brightly and you feel its warmth on your skin giving you a real nice tan and making you feel all sorts of Vitamin-D wonderful.
Then, within minutes, the clouds come out to play and shower hard droplets of rain all over you and there's a giant lightning bolt slicing the sky and you hope to God it doesn't strike you down. Everything is wet and cold and dark, and you sort of just fumble through the waves, riding each one out as it comes. Your fingers slip on the special board, the one you are supposed to take care of your whole life but you don't really know how to do that yet and you panic because, wait, you've never surfed before and now you are going to fall into the water and drown, for sure, any moment . . .
But the storm passes and the sun shines again and you think, I've got this.
Then you do it all over. Intentionally. Endlessly.
I'm not singular in acknowledging the difficulty of the shift from non-parent to parent. Many have written about it and many others will until the end of time. It's truly life-altering, and I don't say that in a way to exclude non-parents from understanding or relating. The difference with parenting is that there is no do-over; once the baby is here, you cannot walk away (outside of adoption) or opt out when you're tired of the job (if you want to be a relatively good parent, anyway.) With other life-altering events, to some degree, you can call it quits at a given point later on. Don't like your spouse, wardrobe, city? Get divorced, buy new, move. I'm being simplistic, but you understand what I mean. Becoming a parent, in contrast, is irreversible.
Before Ezra's birth, I received my prenatal yoga certification. The leader of the training asked us to write down a word we wanted to carry with us during our sessions, and I chose "surrender." I used to think that surrender meant giving up, that it was a loss of sorts—but now I understand it more literally. It means giving UP, like, upward. Releasing. Letting go. Handing off to something or someone greater than yourself.
The choice to surrender, for me, means that things—good and bad—are going to happen in life whether I like them or not, whether I can control them or not, whether I want them to or not. Essentially, surrender equals fortitude: the strength to accept life as it is instead of how I think it should be.
I put this picture up on Instagram the other week, mostly because I happened to catch one of E's smiles while we were playing on the bed. It made me so happy to see his little face next to mine. And it got a lot of likes, and a lot of comments, both of which gave me warm fuzzies. That photo still lights up my heart.
But it was also a moment. One singular moment.
I see a lot of these pretty moments on Instagram; mommy bloggers have transitioned to social media and many share a stream of perfectly posted children in hipster-chic outfits with unusual names and long captions. Some of their stories are authentic and genuine and heartfelt and raw; I like reading those. But others are the complete opposite and make me wonder, already, if I'm any good at this new game.
So for the mothers only a couple weeks or months in, here's some real talk, lest you think most days with a small baby are full of giggles and clean clothes and brushed hair and photo ops.
- Physically, I feel great.
- My body healed on its own, for which I'm grateful. Exercise isn't a top priority, but it's been nice to slowly add it back in via a few walks a week. I also recently dived back into practicing and teaching yoga, which brings me a lot of happiness. But honestly, I have the rest of my life to work out and it's been less than two months since delivery, so I spend a lot of time on the couch. Aka, the good! Ha.
- No post-partum depression.
- Just the regular blues that come from crazy hormone shifts, total lack of regular sleep and a major life change. I experience normal ups and downs, tears on my face, and frantic Googling of things I don't know (everything).
- E is a wonderful baby.
- I love him so much, but we got LUCKY. He is healthy, sleeps a decent amount for his age, naps fairly well, likes other people and typically only cries when he's hungry or needs a diaper change. (Buuuut this past week he has cried a TON for no reason, so there's that. Again, I know nothing.) He's started to coo and smile and it is EVERYTHING <3
- Breastfeeding has been shockingly successful.
- I fully expected that it wouldn't work for me and prepared for the worst, and instead, I've actually come to love it. It's pretty cool to see all of his little rubber-band arm and leg rolls and know that my boobs are nourishing him to make it happen. I feel kinda badass about it. (Not that mothers who don't/can't/choose not to breastfeed are less badass.)
- Community support rocks.
- We don't have family in the area, and local friends and coworkers gave us an insane amount of support after E was born. Dinners for weeks, gifts (including a homemade baby blanket from someone's wife who I had never previously met! Who does that?!), visits, offers to help, text messages and more. We are lucky to have such an incredible community of love around us.
- Being able to have a drink now and then is CLUTCH for sanity.
- Sleep deprivation.
- It's as bad as everyone says. There's no way to prepare. My dad says that being a parent means sucking it up and doing what needs to be done; this seems to be true. I sleep when the baby sleeps and I take naps whenever possible, even for 20-minute stretches. I never feel completely rested and some days I feel like a crazy person. I forget what I'm saying while I'm saying it, rely on coffee, and leave my phone in the weirdest places. The people who have children that don't sleep through the night for months and months? Oh. My. GOD. Fingers crossed that isn't my kid. I cannot.
- Very minimal alone time.
- As an introvert, this is hard for me; I need quiet, alone time to recharge. Right now, it feels like I'm feeding Ezra ALL THE TIME and therefore am never truly alone. This is true. That's what happens when you breastfeed. So alone time only occurs when I'm either forgoing a nap (see above, not optimal) or because my spouse/friend/family member is taking care of E (not always convenient). I try to prioritize at least a tiny bit of time every day so I don't go berserk, and getting an hour a day is my goal. (Lofty. I know.) There are days when a quick bath with the door shut or taking the dog for a walk around the apartment complex to pee or running an errand is that one pocket of alone time. Does that sound depressing? It is. So far my coping mechanism is simply accepting the fact that my life is different now and alone time must be strategized and carved out. I try to prioritize self-care in this way whenever possible and not hate on myself when it isn't.
- Constant negotiation with your partner.
- You guys. I read SO many articles about how the newborn phase can negatively affect one's marriage or relationship. My husband and I talked intentionally about not viewing each other as the enemy and being nice to each other. (Seriously, those were our two mantras going into parenting.) And it's sooooo so so so hard. There are days when it takes all my emotional strength to not snap at the person I love, and I guarantee he has his moments toward me. We're always trying to figure out whose turn it is for a diaper change, letting the dog out, keeping the house clean, folding laundry, making dinner, eating said dinner, etc.—often while the baby is crying and while one or both of us is sleep-deprived. My husband works while I'm at home with E all day, and both situations are exhausting in their own ways. We're continually trying to make sure we're both getting what we need without acting like victims or know-it-alls or assholes. Some days we fail. I'm grateful for a partner who is truly amazing as a co-parent and father, but yeah, it's incredibly hard in terms of transitioning from non-parents to parents as a couple.
- Monotony of maternity leave.
- Maternity leave sounds great in theory: no work, at home, tv and couch time, all with your sweet babe. But babies don't really do anything besides shit and cry and sleep and eat for the first several weeks, which makes it feel like Groundhog Day. It's super monotonous and incredibly boring some days and also tiring as hell with the added non-bonus of feeling like you accomplished zero. I might be completely alone in that sentiment, as lots of mothers absolutely love their leave and never want to go back to work. Also, obviously, I'm thankful to be ABLE to go on leave. But pre-baby, everyone made it sound so magical—"you're getting to know your baby!"—and instead I was mostly like, "Okay . . . so . . . this is it?" If that's how you felt, you're not alone. Please note that now that E has started making eye contact and smiling and cooing, I'm probably going to love the second half of my time off! Still, the first half was weird and blah at times.
- The endless neediness.
- I will always be needed by E: physically, emotionally, mentally, psychologically, practically. It's part of the job description. This terrifies me, the depth of being needed that much and that often for the REST OF MY LIFE, I think mostly because I want to be able to forever meet his needs and I worry about letting him down. Being a mom is a daily, jarring realization that causes stress for me. (Also gratitude. But lots of stress.)
- The lack of agency to do what I want, when I want.
- Before you can call me selfish—yeah, I am. I love my son with my whole heart. I also resent the loss of freedom that parenthood brings. Those two things can co-exist, and the latter doesn't make me a bad mom. I realize this lack of agency is part of the package deal and he's certainly worth it. But it's a hard pill to swallow, that my life is not just about me anymore. Women shouldn't have to pretend that such a thing isn't difficult.
And yet . . .
E loves baths, high-pitched voices, faces close to his, singing, feeling Stanley's fur, tummy time, my boobs, sunshine, being worn in a baby carrier, diaper changes and being naked. He isn't a fan of waking up from naps, being hungry, the carseat, the hours of 7-10 p.m., getting his nose wiped or suctioned out or when people sneeze loudly.
His snuggly, squishy body curled up on my chest? The little quivers of a smile at the corners of his mouth? His tiny hands wrapped around my fingers as I hold his pacifier in his mouth? His wiggly toes pressing against my soft belly? The smell of the top of his head at 3 a.m. while we nurse in the dim light? The way he stretches after sleeping, head arched back, whole body trusting that someone will hold him and keep him safe and give him room to spread out fully? Yes to all of that. I surrender to all the good. All of it—including the bad and the ugly—is fleeting and meant to be cherished.
Cheers to the first six weeks. We made it.