As much as I want to express that motherhood has been a net positive experience for me thus far, I also want to be honest. I don’t want to paint an exclusively rosy picture just because that is the overall takeaway I want you to have from this whole thing. Maybe this is because I know I only want one kid and I want to document the difficulty so that I don’t forget, or maybe it’s because I want to remember what I went up against and survived. Either way, the point is, I don’t want to forget to tell you how f**king hard having a baby was. I have better perspective now that I’m out of the tornado, and as I said, definite net positive…but I still remember the hard bits, the Mom Amnesia hasn’t set in yet. So, before my brain becomes too clouded with sweet, sweet baby vapors to remember, here it goes: brace yourself for brutal honesty.
I’d love to tell you that labor isn’t as hard as they say, but I’d be lying. I’d love to tell you that breastfeeding is always a beautiful experience, or that the first few months of sleep deprivation are manageable. But I can’t. I can’t tell you that I didn’t feel lonely, or inadequate; confused, or sad. I can’t tell you that I bounced right back into shape. None of that is true. Childbirth and the months following are the hardest thing you will ever do. Period. I don’t care if you run ultra marathons. I don’t care if you’ve broken limbs. I don’t care if you were super good at all nighters in college. Maybe if you’ve had some real crazy hardships in your life you’ll tell me I’m wrong, but for the average person, I promise, it’s harder than anything you’ve done before.
Moms don’t tell you this. Sure, they tell you it’s hard, and they casually mention their sleep deprivation, but they don’t really specifically delve into the magnitude of the difficulty. Until you’re a mom too. Then the stories are shared, the shoulders are leant, the sympathetic smiles appear along with the meals. Maybe it was just me. Maybe they just didn’t tell me, because I probably didn’t ask. I didn’t want to hear about the bad stuff. I was scared enough by my own imagination. But I don’t think it’s just that. I think it might also be because they have this wonderful little being to show for it all and the thought of disparaging any experience associated with that little nugget seems unthinkable. Even writing this now, my heart is pulling at my brain, urging it to tell you how wonderful it is. Because SHE is wonderful. SHE is perfect, SHE is everything. But IT was not easy, IT is not perfection, IT is not all magic.
Childbirth, the actual moment when your child is born, really is something incredible, I will say that. At least for me, I really did have that moment of overwhelming and immediate love when they laid my baby on my chest. However, apparently it’s not that way for everyone, and let me tell you, the rest of labor sucks. I had a NORMAL delivery, no major complications, and I’ve likened the pain involved to that of having a bone broken every few minutes for hours and hours, and that really… doesn’t even describe it. I can only imagine how hard it is for people that deal with complications while they are going through such pain. And then there is the pushing. People told me this would be the easy part. Well folks I disagree. I pushed for an hour and a half and it was exhausting. I felt like I was being asked to dive down and retrieve a treasure chest that was just a bit too far under water for me to get to, and a bit too heavy to carry even if I could. I thought I was going to pass out from lack of oxygen and it took the doctor literally yelling at me to motivate me to keep going. Think about getting the epidural ladies. I didn’t, because I thought I was a badass. Guess what? I’m not. Or I guess maybe I am, but does it really matter?
For hours afterwards I shook and shivered, and it hurt to stand up. Two days after giving birth it still exhausted me to walk down the hall at the hospital to the cafeteria. I repeat, it felt like I’d just finished climbing a mountain… after walking down the hall. I got out of breath taking a shower. A few weeks in, my nipples were on fire, it hurt to wear a shirt, and to use a towel to dry off. I was sleeping in 45 minute increments, and even when I was sleeping, I was waking. Because SIDS…what if the baby isn’t breathing? did she just make a noise? did she just stop making noises? why hasn’t she woken up yet? Does she need to eat? Is she too warm? Is she too cold? Did I just fall asleep and miss her crying? And then, when I wasn’t asleep or attached to a baby, I was attached to a machine trying desperately to increase my milk supply. I felt like I was never going to leave my chair. At least it was comfortable and I had HBO.
It was a task to remember to do the most basic things like eat and drink. Take a nap, they would say, sleep when she sleeps they said. And I tried, but whenever I took a nap, I would just wake up in a fog, mad at the world for not letting me rest longer and grumpy at everyone for telling me to take a nap. Better to stay awake? Probably not. Cause then I felt like I wanted to cry. Oh, and literally everything made me want to cry, way worse than when I was pregnant. Savor this time they said… and in the moment I thought…why? Can’t we fast forward to a baby that can tell me what’s wrong and can sleep without probability of certain death?
My experience was exacerbated by a poor milk supply and a sleepy eater. They told me my baby wasn’t growing. Talk about the worst feeling in the world, realizing that the reason your baby is crying is because you aren’t feeding her enough. I was this little persons whole world, and I wasn’t doing a good enough job, and the solution seemed so impossible it made me want to give up. But I couldn’t give up. Because for the first time in my life, someone else besides me was 100% relying on me not giving up. This precious tiny human being needed me more than anything else in the entire world. But don’t stress they said, because stress makes your milk supply decrease…and make sure you drink these extra six cups of tea a day and take your vitamins and get plenty of rest – get plenty of rest?? how is that a suggestion for increasing milk supply? When is a new mom supposed to get plenty of rest?
My normal self would have been logical, she would have understood she had a plan, and executed. This wasn’t my normal self, but I tried hard. I put on my strongest face. My philosophy from the beginning was to try to take things as they come, not freak out, be ok with not being ok… so I put on a smile and made some jokes about feeling like a dairy farm. But damn if I wasn’t on the verge of collapse on the inside. Thank goodness for my husband, thank goodness for my parents, thank goodness for my friends and family encouraging me at every turn. And also thank goodness for oxytocin and the fact that babies are cute. I now can see the parallel between those things and survival of the human race.
For the first few months, I was genuinely confused as to how there are people who have voluntarily done this more than once. Like how are there so many kids with siblings? For that matter, how do I even exist? I’m a younger sibling after all. Much props mom. Clearly it was all worth it for this girl looking me in the face, but to do it again? No thank you.
Things got easier, as everyone said they would. Noelle started growing, I managed a plane trip across the continent, we started to get more than a few hours of sleep at a time. The nice moments started to outweigh the ‘omigodican’t’ moments. I started to think that maybe I was getting the hang of this baby thing after all. But still, the idea that there are women who have 2, 3, 4 babies pretty much exploded my brain. You did this how many times? On purpose??
But then one night, maybe 4 or 5 months in, I’m sitting in the rocking chair in the dark. It’s 3 in the morning, and only the faint light from the little owl nightlight in the corner illuminates the room. I’m holding my little one in my lap, nursing her. And she’s so peaceful and heavy in my arms as she’s falling asleep. Her little hand is lying on my chest so gently, and it was one of those quiet, perfect moments. And I thought “oh. oh I see. I see why people want to do this again.”
I suddenly realized that I was only going to have so many of these moments. In a few short months I would be longing for these mid-night cuddles… for someone to need me and trust me so completely. I knew I would be missing those tiny hands resting peacefully on my body. In that moment, all the comments people made about savoring every minute sunk in. As I gazed at her little face in the dim light, I realized she was not the tiny baby she once was, and for the first time it made me sad. Already she was changing so fast, the little fuzz on her tiny ear wasn’t there anymore. For the first time, instead of waiting anxiously for her to reach the next milestone, I wanted to throw it in reverse. I wanted the tiny baby that nearly broke me back. Or I guess what I really wanted was to be able to capture that moment, and all those moments when she was so tiny and helpless, in a little snow globe or something, where I could revisit them later via some kind of weird time machine/shrinking machine. I knew right then that the next months and years were going to fly by… and I was going to want to hold on to each of these stages with all the strength I had.
I did it. I made this little one thrive. I created a human being, and we survived. And you know what? The pain of labor is worth it…breastfeeding can be beautiful… it’s amazing what you can do on so little sleep… I’m certainly not inadequate, and I am getting back in shape slowly. I’m not so sad, or lonely… and only sometimes confused. Maybe that amnesia is setting in after all…