Right now I’m sitting at our kitchen table, and a baby is sitting on my lap, strapped to my chest by a carrier. He’s warm and soft and solid all at once, and his wispy hair tickles my chin–distracting me–as I type.
We’ve been parents for over a month now, and I’m still trying to decide what I want to write about it. There are so many options–what labor and delivery were like (though I started writing that post, got to the part about losing my mucus plug, and realized maybe it was more personal than I wanted to get on such a public platform), how parenthood has affected our marriage, how our lives have changed. I’m not totally sure where to start, or what message I want to send.
I’ve started several blog posts this last month, and then left them off. I want to do this topic justice. Giving birth to a human, and similarly adjusting to parenthood, are profound changes in our lives. Maybe it’s their inherent profundity that makes it so difficult for me to write about them–it’s too big, too incredible, for me to synthesize into one blog post. I can see why people devote entire blogs to the topic (which for the record, I’m not planning to do, though I certainly will touch on it frequently, as it’s my current experience).
One thing that has been gathering in the back of my brain is society’s expectation of what parenthood is like, vs. what our experience has been so far. Back in the day, before the plethora of frank internet articles about the realities of having a newborn, I think it was common for people to be completely unprepared for how dramatically having a child changes your life.
Media and word of mouth tended to paint a rosy picture of life postpartum, full of scenes of domestic bliss. So when people actually brought their first child home, they were shocked by how demanding this new little family member was.
But that isn’t the case any more. In fact, society has swung the other way. While pregnant, I didn’t hear many positive stories about having an infant. “It’s like a bomb going off in your life,” I was told over and over again. “You’ll never cook again,” others said. Or “Breastfeeding was terrible. It felt like pliers being clamped to my nipples.”
Add on blogs like scarymommy.com (which is basically all about how much having kids sucks) and books like “How Not to Hate Your Husband After Kids,” and I was pretty much prepared to be miserable, hungry and on the verge of divorce for the next three years.
These stories are important. They can make people who are struggling feel less alone. They give women adjusting to the life-shifting role of mother room to be less than perfect, to feel less than excited about the changes in their lives. They give us all a bit of breathing room in a society plagued by the perfection shown on social media.
However, like with everything, it’s a balancing act. I heard so many negative messages about the infant period and breastfeeding that I was much more scared to bring our new baby home than I was to go through the ordeal of childbirth. I was so scared, in fact, that I ended up going onto an online forum and pleading with a bunch of strangers: “Please share your positive stories about having an infant.”
The stories I got were a mixture. People who’d had really hard experiences, where their child cried non-stop for weeks on end, or wouldn’t gain weight, or where they had postpartum depression. People who’d had easy, breezy first months with their new kids–babies who slept through the night at early ages, who claimed their houses were cleaner during those early months than they’d ever been, who adored every second of it. But most people’s experiences fell somewhere in the middle.
Because, like most things in life, the reality of having an infant–and more broadly, children–is more complicated than the blogs we read deriding it and the Instagram feeds devoted to idolizing it. The one thing all of the comments had in common? Every single one agreed: it was 100% worth it.
So here is my experience, both rosy and thorny, from my first weeks as a mom.
I spent my first two days with Linden overflowing. Sobbing with joy when he was laid on my chest for the first time, and I felt his slippery, warm body, felt his hand wrap around my finger. Swelling with emotions so powerful I didn’t know they existed when I watched Jordan hold him for the first time. Misting up when a news article about parents who lost a child–or a child who lost parents–popped up on my phone. Marveling at my body’s ability to nurse this little human it created.
I’ve never felt happier, or luckier, (or sorer), than I did those first couple of days in the hospital with him. I was exhausted–I’d labored for the prior twenty-four hours without sleep or real food–but my entire body overflowed with sheer joy. Jordan and I couldn’t stop staring at him. It seemed unreal that all that time–all those months of growing a belly and feeling kicks and craving bizarre things–I’d actually been growing a human.
A perfect, miniature human, who could open world-weary eyes (what is it with infants and their ancient eyes?) to look right back at me. Even after a month of wiping his butt, the magic of it still blows me away.
There were less than pleasant parts of my first days of motherhood–I’d been expecting to still have a belly after Linden vacated, but I hadn’t realized that without my abs in their proper place, I’d be able to feel my intestines as they migrated slowly back into place. It was the oddest, most vulnerable sensation to place my hand on my stomach and feel pure intestine. I felt exposed, fragile–like a turtle flipped upside down.
I’m also not a huge fan of blood, and I felt a lot of anxiety about that first bathroom trip after delivery, just because I didn’t want to see the famed rush of blood that other mothers had warned me about. I also didn’t like hearing that my slippers had to be hidden from view because of how gruesome they’d become during the process.
And I wasn’t a fan of the hospital food, though I do have to say that the turkey sandwich they fed me right after delivery tasted freaking amazing. Hunger is the greatest spice.
But these mild annoyances were eclipsed by falling in love with our son. We marveled over every little thing he did–each wet diaper. Each yawn. Each sleepy blink of his eyes. I looked forward to the nurses coming in, even at two in the morning, because they always paused to marvel with us. “He’s beautiful,” they’d say, and Jordan and I beamed, even though we both knew that they say that to everyone.
I was nervous to go home. At the hospital, I could press a button and I’d have a medical professional there in minutes, ready to assuage any concern I had–whether it was about the weird gurgly sound Linden made when he cried, or the fact that my uterus seemed to be migrating to the right.
But the time came regardless of whether I was ready or not. We signed Linden’s birth certificate, and away we went–a brand new human strapped into the car seat we’d brought to the hospital empty.
The drive home–all five minutes of it–was terrifying. I winced every time a car changed lanes, and Jordan gripped the steering wheel with white-knuckled hands. “Is this parenthood?” I asked, as we both eyed a car in the turn lane nervously.
“I think so,” said Jordan. “It’s loving something so much that you spend the rest of your life scared.”
He’s right. One of the hardest parts of parenthood for me has been the anxiety I feel for my new child. I’m a champion worrier, and so far I’ve worried about the dogs eating Linden (though this one quickly faded after it became clear that the dogs would rather snooze on their beds than gobble him down), the cats smothering him in his sleep, the flu, people who don’t wash their hands and then hold him, him being suffocated in his bassinet, him being suffocated in his Ergo carrier, him being suffocated in his Boba wrap, car accidents, dropping him, SIDS, rare genetic disorders… The list goes on.
And I think this might be a commonality among parents, especially first time ones. I’ve heard stories about people who didn’t sleep at night for the first few weeks because they were too terrified their baby would stop breathing. And as much as I told myself I wouldn’t be one of those parents, it’s impossible not to be.
Our first couple of nights home with Linden, we took turns peeking into his bassinet. “He still alive?” I’d ask.
“Still alive,” Jordan confirmed, and we both breathed a sigh of relief.
It’s what happens when you love something–or someone–so much. You care so deeply about what happens to them that it grips you.
The trick is to not let it take over your life.
When I find worry overtaking my ability to enjoy the moment, I force myself to pause. Usually a few deep breaths are enough to reset me, or a ten minute meditation. I also have been careful to take care of myself–getting outside for walks, taking showers and baths, and eating and drinking regularly. On the days I don’t take care of myself, I can tell the difference in my mental state–I’m snappier with Jordan, and have trouble turning off my brain when I finally lay down to go to sleep. The worries plague me.
But most days, I am simply content. I am able to soak up the sheer bliss of holding a sleepy baby as he nurses at one a.m. I gaze at him sleeping in his bassinet, and ache with missing him, even though he’s only feet away.
He’s started smiling in the last couple of weeks, and there’s nothing more incredible than picking him up and watching his face transform–first opening his mouth wide, then crinkling his eyes, and finally lifting the corners of his mouth into a purposeful, tremulous smile.
It isn’t even so much the smile (which is just about the cutest thing ever), as it is the fact that it’s directed at you. Every time he does it, I feel this wild, whooping glee. I feel ready to move mountains for that little grin.
There are the moments when Jordan works away on his computer, music blasting, and I sway with Linden as he fusses, and my entire being fills with contentment. With the sense that these are memories I will savor for the rest of my life.
And it’s so fun to share it with Jordan. We spend hours watching him together–watching his expression morph from adorably pleasant, to red and straining as he poops, to open-mouthed, gaping happiness as he gazes back at us, to feisty as he tries to nurse Jordan’s arm and doesn’t get milk. We love every permutation of him.
We cheer together as he masters new skills–rolling over, lifting and holding his head up. Tracking us with his eyes. We read him bedtime stories together, bathe him together, and gleefully call each other to the changing table to share his most impressive poops. It makes me love Jordan even more.
We’ve also made an effort to focus on each other once in awhile–touching base regularly about how each of us is doing, sneaking away to make out in the kitchen, and having aunts and grandparents watch Linden while we step out of the house together to go on mini-dates–to grab groceries or pick up take out.
That isn’t to say that our relationship has been perfect as we transition into parenthood. I definitely get frustrated at times–especially after Jordan has spent the day at the office, and I’ve been alone juggling diaper changes and nursing and dirty dishes and feeding myself and going to the bathroom at regular intervals (it sounds easier than it is).
Especially after Linden has pooped through his diaper, and as I’m changing it, he poops and pees on the changing table, so that it forms a slurry and runs down his back, and suddenly I’m doing the bizarre juggling act of trying to both clean him off and keep him out of the poop river at the same time.
It’s hard not to be grumpy with your cheerfully whistling spouse when he bursts through the door just after you’ve finished wrangling that kind of fiasco.
But honestly, mostly it’s just joy. Taking care of a newborn might be repetitive, and mundane, and boring. But I’ve never felt more in the moment. More in my own skin. More grateful for my body and what it has given me.
It’s hard for me to think about the future. About going back to work, and coming home to find that he’s grown even in the hours I was gone. About him becoming a toddler, and then a kid, and finally an adult. I want to suck every single second in, to slow down time.
Not everyone will have an experience like this. We’ve been lucky–I haven’t had postpartum depression, Linden figured out breastfeeding quickly, and inherited his dad’s ability to sleep anywhere. We had a constantly revolving door of grandparents and aunts who helped us stay afloat of daily life while we were absorbed in our baby, and Jordan’s advisor was kind enough to let him work from home.
But it’s okay for it to be hard, too. To not enjoy every moment of it. It isn’t an easy thing, being responsible for an entire human being.
Even with an easygoing baby, it isn’t always easy. There are days when I smell like sour milk, because I haven’t had a chance to shower, and I haven’t peed in hours, and Linden is fussy and just wants to eat constantly, until my boobs are scratched from his little claws flailing at them.
But, I can now attest that all of those commenters on my question were right: even on the hardest days, it is 100% worth it.