The most cliché thing about this blog so far is how I haven’t written because I’m too damn busy with my kid. Gone are the days of going out to a coffee shop to pound out a post over an iced coffee, or staying up late to get a couple written ahead of time. As I mentioned over at Buffalo Moms (a fantastic site, please explore,) when the opportunity for “me time” presents itself, I inevitably choose: NAP.
So what I wanted to chat about is all the stuff no one mentions- the dark side of early parenthood. If you happen to be on the receiving side of my Instagram or Facebook feeds, you know I am obsessed with my daughter. I post way too many pictures of her because everything she does delights me to no end. Please don’t question my love when I tell you, the early days of motherhood are about 30% pure bliss, and 70% “the trenches of hell.” I stole that from my hairstylist. She is my hero and also a new mom genius. Anyways- it’s true. If you are one of my sweet mom-to-be friends, maybe read this later. If you are someone who gets squeamish hearing about breastfeeding or bodily functions, feel free to look away. Now I piqued your interest, right?
The first days home are what everyone told you about, except worse. To start, it is a rite of passage for you and your spouse to take turns staying up with the baby (even when the baby is sleeping,) because you are both terrified of her being alone. You will watch her constantly. You will not sleep. You will decide to “watch all of ‘Friends’ again”, but then just stare at it blankly in between checking baby’s breathing patterns. You will camp out in your living room indefinitely. When thinking about this arrangement before she was born, I mistakenly thought it sounded kind of fun and charming. I was so, so stupid back then.
The first nights are also haunted by your potential inability to properly feed your child. I remember the first time I breastfed Lily in the hospital, at 5:00AM, exactly 24 hours after I arrived. It was surreal. I knew I wanted to, I knew she was hungry, and I knew I had no idea what I was doing- and yes, I took a class beforehand. I called the scary night nurse because I not only didn’t know what to do, I was deliriously tired. I called her back in again when it was time to burp her. No clue. I went on to discover my beautiful baby was “a biter.” I was introduced to supplemental formula and contraptions that included a small tube drip system that 3 people basically had to finagle into my baby’s small mouth to get her to learn to suck correctly. And nipple shields, for the biting (which Lily would not tolerate.) Never heard of nipple shields? I hadn’t, either. The first night at home, I experienced my first weeping breakdown after attempting to feed her with the supplemental tube contraption + nipple shield + not enough colostrum + baby biting + not sleeping the 4 days prior. How did I ever think the first days wouldn’t be that bad?
I am among the lucky ones and have an incredible support system surrounding me. I credit that support with virtually saving my life in the first days and weeks. I was also lucky to have my husband around before he had to head back to work. About 2 weeks in, I hit a wall where I realized, if I didn’t get at least 4 hours of consecutive sleep some time within a 24-hour period, I would continue to downward spiral into a combustion of tears and despair. It was an important realization. I felt like I was turning into Chris Farley, but without the cocaine or fun times. (Too soon?) Everyone knows the effects of not sleeping are bad, but actually living it is so much harder than you’d imagine.
Here are some other horrific things people are too polite to talk about:
- Many women endure severe trauma to their bodies (and thus, minds) during labor. I was BEYOND THANKFUL to have had a relatively tolerable delivery. I mean, don’t get me wrong- a human emerged from my private areas and it hurt really, really badly- but my recovery was definitely easier than some. I actually thought I had escaped just about every terrible scary body issue that one might have post-delivery, but for some reason, all of my issues decided to manifest 3 weeks after giving birth. I won’t get into the TMI of what they were, but let’s just say one of them was nearly as painful as the birth itself. Ugh.
- Your hormones will make you psycho. Completely psycho. Everyone will hate you or worry about your sanity.
- You will spend ALL of your time feeding the baby or doing things related to feeding the baby. Either breastfeeding (or, I assume making formula bottles,) pumping, cleaning the feeding paraphernalia, trying to drink enough water to be able to feed the baby, or crying because you just finished feeding the baby but it’s time to feed the baby again and you never had a chance to use the bathroom.
- Even if your baby is a chewer and everything about her suggests she’d love to soothe herself with a pacifier, she may not take a pacifier. She may scream when you try to give it to her, but then go ahead and take a bite out of you at her next feeding.
- Cluster feeding. That’s when your baby eats CONSTANTLY. And you have to do it, or there will be hell to pay.
- The breastfeeding preachers and fanatics will wax on about how you don’t want to confuse your baby by giving her a pacifier (sigh) or a bottle too early in the breastfeeding process, because it may confuse her or cause what they refer to as, “nipple confusion.” What no one talks about is how after you follow those rules and you start preparing baby to be away from you by giving her a bottle (so, for example you can use the bathroom again,) she may refuse the bottle. It seems endearing at first because shit, no one is better than mom, but then you realize you have to go back to work at some point, and you begin to read stories about babies who starve themselves all day and feed all night to get by. Seriously, the horror.
- Although you love your spouse (hell, that’s how we got here in the first place,) you won’t really see him much because of “the shifts”, and when you do see each other, you will only be discussing baby matters. A few weeks of that takes its toll. Husband and I never thought we would become those people, but here we are. I miss him.
- The grass seems greener on the other side: your previous life, returning to work, a trip to the grocery store… anything other than being confined to your home and new sleepless existence. You will feel these feelings and then also guilt for having them, but I think it’s normal.
The good news about many of these hardships is that over time they begin to resolve themselves, or you just get through them. I am comforted by hearing from other moms who have experienced the untold trenches of hell and are open to discussing them, but I also understand those who want to remain shrouded in idealism. You’re screwed, either way. 🙂