I was there, and I was shocked. Hadn't I always said I wanted 8 kids and that Aaron talked me down to 4? Wasn't I the child counselor who couldn't get enough of the little dears? Didn't TLC's A Baby Story make me tear up every single stinkin' time?
So why was I such a mess when I actually had a baby?
No one can tell you what it's really like when you bring a new life into the world and are suddenly completely responsible for another human being's survival. If someone tried to
We recently had dinner with some old friends [who shall remain nameless]. I was so refreshed with how candidly they talked about their own difficulties transitioning into parenthood. They freely admitted that during the early weeks of their child's life they would lie in bed awake at night and cry, asking each other, "What have we done?" and "Why would anyone be stupid enough to do this twice?!"
Now you have to understand that their infant was sick for a time. I think that added stress can really color the early parental experience. I have never experienced anything more exhausting, terrifying, depressing, etc. as knowing something was wrong with my infant and not being able to fix it.
Parker was born tongue-tied. The frenulum (little membrane under his tongue attached to the bottom of his mouth) was so short he was unable to lift and extend his tongue. This hindered his ability to breastfeed. Though the doctors and lactation consultants insisted he would be fine, he kept losing weight. For weeks. He (and I) cried continuously, until he would pass out from exhaustion. Finally, when he was on the verge of receiving a "failure to thrive" diagnosis, we switched doctors, clipped his frenulum, and started him on formula. I'm not sure I will ever fully recover from the guilt I felt about starving that poor child.
I know that's a bit of an extreme case. I think even without all of that drama, I would have had a tough time adopting the role of mother. During pregnancy I read all the books. So the baby wouldn't sleep well to begin with, big deal. (I don't recall anyone warning me that this could last for six months). I knew I would need to change some diapers, etc. I was just looking forward to putting the baby in adorable outfits, going on walks, taking the baby to lunches with friends...I suppose I thought I would give birth to a baby doll as opposed to an actual infant.
The realities of motherhood soon set in:
Spending money was sparse. We went from being DINKS (double income, no kids) in the south to one check and three mouths to feed living on the west coast.
Our support system was gone. Far from being a day's drive to Louisville, we were now 3 time zones and zero direct flights away from all of our family.
Hearing Aaron say, "I'm going to have to work late tonight" had the ominous ring of a death knell. In days past I would have shrugged my shoulders and scheduled an impromptu dinner with my girlfriends. Now, if he were more than 15 minutes late, all hell might break loose (because momma was losing her everlovin' mind).
Even personal care was altered. Lengthy, luxurious baths were replaced with 2 minute showers. I still don't get to use the bathroom alone most days.
Routine outings (grocery shopping, doctor visits, etc.) were suddenly complicated hassles. Never again would I be able to preface a trip to the store with: "I'm just going run in and grab...." Forget it. You are taking that ginormous car seat in with you, like it or not. And good luck scheduling your outing. Between naps and feedings, you might just as well stay home.
Vacation? Ha! With a baby?! Let me tell you, that was one of the biggest eye-openers of all. Do you really think the baby will magically know you are all on vacation and choose to sleep in? Good luck planning those fun outings around baby's schedule. Someone is staying in the room. And then there's all the gear. After schlepping the pack-n-play, diapers, portable highchair, etc. you quickly realize you would have had a better time if you'd just stayed home.
Basically, it's the end of the world as you know it. (R.E.M., anyone?)
The thing is, it's the end of your old world, but it's just the beginning of your new life. As much as I loved Parker, I will freely admit it took me a long time to embrace my new life...to accept that it wasn't just mine anymore. Once a mommy, always a mommy. And what a gift!
But for those of you who may not be there yet...Perhaps you have a newborn. Perhaps you have a sick child. Perhaps you just returned from your first "vacation" with your one year old. May I give you permission to grieve your old life? The one where you never left the house with puke on your shirt, where you had intelligent, adult conversations all day long, where you did what you wanted when you wanted. Just take a moment to recall all of the freedoms and joys of that past life.
Now, let. it. go. Don't waste a moment dwelling on the past. You probably have on rose colored glasses anyway. Embrace every moment [well, almost every moment, not the poopy ones] of your new role. Everything is a phase, even the good stuff, so don't blink.