It’s half past six o’clock in the morning. I’m sitting here in my recliner by the fire, sipping my coffee and watching my one month old son enjoying his favorite swing (thank you, Graco). But even amidst this peaceful moment where things seem to be calm and I could even fool myself into thinking that I’m beginning to “get” this whole life with a newborn thing, I’m at battle with myself. One side says, “Shouldn’t I be just holding him? Marveling in his precious beauty?” The other side says, “Heck no, he’s happy. Drink your coffee.”
I’d like to share my experiences as a new mom. As much as I’m learning the ways of this new little life in our home, I’m learning so much about myself. And maybe, just maybe, it will encourage or prepare another new mom. Because the one piece of comfort that wraps around me like a warm blanket is knowing that I’m not alone and that I’m not crazy. So I hope my transparency warms you.
“Difficulties mastered are opportunities won.” (Winston Churchill)
That’s been my life these past four weeks: constantly worrying whether I’m being a good enough mom, whether I’m doing the right things, and why I don’t seem to feel the way about my newborn that all the other new moms do, wondering whether or not my son loves me. I already know what all of you veteran moms out there are going to say. You’re going to tell me that these thoughts and feelings are normal, and just to keep doing the best I can. But that’s the problem with a perfectionist. I don’t want to do the best I can. I want to do the best. And these continual thoughts of self-doubt have been earth-shattering to my confident, head-strong core.
And while I don’t feel as though my friends adequately warned me about the realities of how incredibly hard life with a newborn was going to be, they weren’t joking about these postpartum hormones. Every sweet moment makes me cry. Every challenging moment makes me cry. Every thought of self-doubt makes me cry. Those and about everything else. And I despise crying. It doesn’t make me feel better. It makes me tired. I remember laughing a little (on the inside), when my friends would talk about postpartum hormones. In my arrogance, I would think, “Yeah, I hear you, but I’m stronger than that.” Well let me tell you, no amount of strength can stand against these unpredictable molecules. They have a mind entirely of their own.
While the “baby blues” are the least severe form of postpartum depression, they are a very real thing, making you feel confused about struggling with sadness after the joyous event of adding a new baby to the family. These hormonal changes may produce chemical changes in the brain that result in depression. Also, the amount of adjustment that comes after the birth of a baby, along with sleep disturbance, disruption of “routine”, and emotions from the childbirth experience itself can all contribute to how a new mom feels. And let’s just say: this new mom struggled with all these.
“Being a mother is discovering strengths you didn’t know you had and dealing with fears you didn’t know existed.”
I can honestly say that lack of sleep has not been as challenging as I feared. Yes, I’m tired. No, I don’t get as much sleep as I would like. Yes, I hate those graveyard-shift feeding sessions. But can I share the one most UN-helpful piece of advice I’ve received countless times? “Sleep when the baby sleeps.” Stop telling new moms that. First of all, I don’t know anyone that can take eight naps in a day. Second, I’ve got things to do. Third, there are so many more useful things that you could tell me about how to survive life with a newborn beyond that.
More important than my sleep is my little man’s sleep, and solving the mystery of why he can sleep so well some days only to avoid it like the plague the next. Why? Why does one thing work one day, and then fail the next? I can do everything exactly the same and receive entirely different results. This aspect of learning your newborn is infuriating. There. I said it.
I literally cannot fathom doing all this on my own. My husband and I have grown closer in ways that I never imagined. I had actually hoped for this one, but it is exceeding my expectations. Not only is my spouse my constant mental-stabilizer, talking me off the daily metaphorical cliff, but he’s been an incredible help with our baby. Somehow he manages a highly demanding wife, baby, and work, simultaneously and seemingly effortlessly. If I weren’t so busy being thankful I would be upset that he’s able to do so much while I can barely seem to manage myself and my baby.
Beyond that, my poor best friend receives new messages every day about my highs and lows, doing her best to support and encourage me when I know it probably seems like I’m a mental case. Our church family has been a huge blessing also, checking in on us and bringing us meals. And the rest of our family and friends have been so supportive, giving encouragement and sending love, even from 1,300 miles away.
Last week I was diagnosed with a common infection that breastfeeding moms get, except mine happened to contain a rare form of bacteria that most antibiotics are immune to. So I spent over three days in the hospital. By myself. While my husband spent over three days at home with our newborn. By himself. It was like a sick sort of hell. And my mother-in-law was due to come in town, which would have been exceedingly helpful, except there was a snow storm which cancelled all flights that weekend. I’ve never felt so hopeless, faithless, and alone in all of my life. I’ve spent a week and a half battling a whole new level of pain and discomfort, and while I’m on the mend, I’m not through with it yet.
Through all of this I have become re-acquainted with my ocean deep need for Jesus. It’s not like I forgot that I needed Him. But I forgot how MUCH I need Him. If nothing else, I have to believe God has allowed me to struggle the ways that I have so that I realize this one, vital thing. I cannot parent in my own strength. I just can’t. Whatever illusions my flesh may have about this fact are being shattered, one piece at a time.
At the end of the day, I adore my new little son. His sweet little face, his smell, the way he looks at me (when I’m doing something right, because I can’t stand those sad faces). His cries still break my heart, and I’m learning to not interpret them as a personal attack on my ability to parent. But we’re getting there. We’re both learning, adjusting, growing. All in all, the challenge is exciting because we will make it through. We’ll get past these challenging first few months, only to experience new challenges. But in the meantime, we’re taking life one day at a time.