When I imagined becoming a mother, I have to admit that I daydreamed about a calm little cherub gazing up at me from a perfectly fastened baby sling. I thought of myself as a down-to-earth, natural mom soothing my baby with a gentle touch on his cheek. Oh…and don’t forget the part of the daydream where I had magically lost all of the baby weight 8 weeks after giving birth. I wouldn’t say that I was naive; I allowed my mind to explore challenges. As they say, though, “ignorance is bliss” and there are some things that I could not have wrapped my head around until I actually experienced them.

Days after coming home with my handsome little Benjamin, the challenges of new motherhood started to present themselves.  Dazed and exhausted from giving birth, I realized that between feedings, pumping, and an instinctual need to watch my baby at all times to ensure his safety, there would be no time to ever catch up on lost sleep. Being a new mother is all about adapting and learning on the job, but “the trouble with Learning to parent on the job is that your child is the teacher.” (Robert Brault). One of my very first lessons was that it is possible and necessary to function on 2-3 hours of sleep.   The only way I can explain the feeling of taking care of a newborn with that level of sleep deprivation to a non-Mom is to present this equation: your worst hangover+a screaming baby+no promise of sleep in the near future+hormones akin to über-PMS. Um, yeah.  Just take a minute to let that settle in.  And no one really warns you about this moment…when you realize that the most exciting moment in your life is morphing with the hardest moment in your life.  I mean, I had some women in my life smile knowingly and say “enjoy your sleep now…”, but any good friend or family member would have taken me by the shoulders before this baby arrived and shook me (softly of course..cuz I’m still pregnant here) and laid this equation out for me.  I’m not someone who likes to fly blind, so the events that unfolded after we brought the baby home were a shock to my system.

Okay, now although Benjamin is a handsome, sweet little boy, he was high maintenance from the beginning.  And when I say high maintenance, I mean that if I wasn’t bouncing and sweating, he wasn’t happy.  Ben had some combination of colic, acid reflux, milk sensitivity and baby anger management issues.  I am not exaggerating when I say that he cried all day for the first 10 weeks of his life.  And being a new mom and eager to soothe, I tried everything.  I nursed, I fed him formula, I rocked, I bounced, I sang, I burped, I made faces, I put him in the swing, I laid him down (on his back, side, and belly), I gave him a bath, I drove him in the car, and I cried with him.  Nothing really worked that well.  It was rough.  Like I really don’t know if I can do this anymore rough. Like take this baby I have to get out of this house rough. Like did we make a mistake thinking we could handle this rough.  We tried a number of things with the instruction of our pediatrician like Zantac, Prilosec, and other formulas until we hit an easier stride around 13 weeks, but those 13 weeks took me to the edge.

When you’re in a position where you’ve been to the edge, seen the view, but have been lucky enough to not go over it, I think the only thing you can do is talk about in order to clarify it more for yourself and to, perhaps, make it easier for other people to talk about the same difficult things.  The first three months of being a new mom was the hardest thing I have ever done.  There were days that I felt incapable, insecure, isolated, and hopeless.  And that doesn’t take away from how excited I was to be a mom, but it did make it hard to talk about.  I felt embarrassed and ashamed to be feeling so low during a time that was supposed to be amazing.  When I spoke to friends and family and they asked “so, how is being a mom”, they most certainly did not want to hear: “awful, terrible, not sure today could have gone worse”, but that is honestly how I felt most days in the beginning.  And although things have gotten easier, I am most certainly not through it. I don’t want to wrap this up with a pretty lititle bow and say that I still don’t have hard days or feel some of those things, but there is room now to feel the good things more deeply and often.

So maybe motherhood has not totally matched up with the tranquil daydream I had pre-baby, but there have been several occasions on which I have successfully soothed my baby with a touch on his cheek, though he usually requires a whole hell of a lot more.  And that perfectly fastened baby sling…it’s pretty damn hard to get on, but it is definitely one of his favorite things.  The reality of new motherhood has its rough edges, but his smile seems to be a magical remedy for all of the bumps I’ve collected from those edges along the way.

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