Motherhood Unedited

 

Things no one ever tells you about being Mamma

Entering motherhood is this mix of mystery, wonder, excitement and fear. You’ve had this thing growing in you for nine months and [if you are anything like me] you are ready to just get that baby out. You know intellectually that it will be difficult, but you’ve read the books and blogs, you’ve talked to other moms, you have done hard things before so you can do this, too. This was my mantra before baby arrived – I have survived life so far, millions of women have done this before me, so I can do this too. I asked advice of my mom friends – and got the advice of plenty of strangers. Many people asked, “Are you ready?” Umm, no I am not ready! Who is ever ready for a complete life change and being responsible for someone else’s life? But I was as prepared as I could be, or so I thought. Once the baby came I realized that there was a lot to motherhood that no one shares with you before the baby arrives. Maybe they don’t want to be a downer or they don’t want to scare this fresh new mom who is just excited to meet her child, but either way I wish someone would have shared more of these truths with me. I am realistic and straightforward. I know not everyone feels the way I do, but were all really difficult parts of motherhood for me.  I hope that talking about these realities will help someone else know they aren’t the only one feeling this way. Here are three things that no one tells you about motherhood:

Motherhood is Lonely

No matter how many of your friends are simultaneously having children at the same time as you, mom groups you join, or how much time your spouse gets off from work, motherhood is ultimately the loneliest I have ever felt.  You are stuck at home a lot figuring out how to be a mom, how to breastfeed, trying desperately to get a nap in while the baby sleeps. When your spouse is home you dump the baby off on them so you can do something normal – like shower because you seriously don’t remember the last time soap touched your body – and you don’t get to connect with them the way you used to. If you are breastfeeding, even social events can mean being by yourself so you can find a quiet spot to try and get your baby to settle into their normal nursing position.  You are the one that hears the cries at night (or those fake cries when they don’t really wake up, just make noise, but you wake up and then listen for 30 minutes to make sure they aren’t REALLY awake, and then once you are done listening and determine that they are still asleep, baby actually wakes up to eat, joj mene [pronounced yoy menna, something my Croatian grandma says when frustrated]) and you are typically the one to get up at 3am to feed your baby while your spouse blissfully sleeps. If all your friends are having kids it is helpful to know you aren’t the only one that is going through the emotions and the feels that come with being a new mom.  Mom groups can help bring people together, too, but here’s the common thread through all these events and isolation – no matter how many wonderful people are around you, no matter how many people volunteer to help, no one can lift the weight of responsibility from a mom’s shoulders. You are suddenly responsible for a human life, and not just protecting it, but also sustaining it. I think the weight of responsibility makes new moms feel lonely – at least this is what I realized I was feeling. I felt isolated because I knew no one could do this job but me. Even when you get a break, your baby is in the back of your mind… when will he need to eat next? Will she just cry the whole time? Should I pump now, or wait because he might need to eat as soon as I get back?  It’s never ending responsibility and it will continue for forever. So it’s okay if you feel lonely, but don’t go it alone. Share your feelings with your spouse, make sure you are plugged into a mom’s group or have friends that you can share your feelings with. Ask for help when you need it. But just know that none of these things will take away the feeling (sometimes the burden) of being a mom and that huge responsibility.

Motherhood is Tedious

Change diaper. Nurse. Burp. Hold baby. Put down for a nap. Repeat.

I hate changing diapers, it is probably my least favorite mom thing to do. Turns out babies – especially newborns – need diaper changes ALL. THE. TIME. It didn’t take long for me to realize that most of being a mom the first 8 weeks is just the same thing over and over again – lots of sitting and nursing and then getting up to change a diaper. And if you are lucky, you also get to change your shirt because the baby spit up on it… and then change their clothes because they leaked out of their diaper.

Being a manager of customer service representatives, I am used to being busy and thinking on my feet. I am used to problem solving and utilizing my skills and brain on a daily basis. Shifting to the mundane tasks of nursing and diaper changing was really difficult for me. I like routine, but I don’t like boredom. I like getting things done, crossing things off a list and I felt like I wasn’t accomplishing anything being a mom. I was just doing the same things over and over without actually moving forward. Eventually I was able to shift my thinking to make my “to do” list things that I could accomplish through the monotony of motherhood. I had things like: – nap, – snuggle baby, and – put clothes in dryer on my “to do” list. I literally made a list and then crossed things off. It gave me the sense of accomplishment through my daily responsibilities and made things that I used to see as time wasters meaningful to my day. It didn’t change the fact that these things were still tedious, but it was at least balanced with the feeling of accomplishment so I felt more positive and could stay motivated to keep going.

Motherhood is Exhausting

Okay, so people tell you this. They joke about not getting sleep and being tired, and it’s true – I have never been so tired as when we brought our first baby home. Those first 8 weeks were the worst, I was like a walking zombie. But the exhaustion of motherhood is more than just a few nights of little sleep. I am talking about complete physical, spiritual, and emotional exhaustion. Even if your little one sleeps, you are still pouring everything you have into this new human, or multiple little humans if if you have older children. More than just being sleepy – you have a child attached to you in one way or another all day long. You no longer get to be alone. Even if your child or children are napping you are on alert, waiting for one child to cry or need you in some way. I knew I would be tired and I figured I could deal with fatigue, but I didn’t realize what complete exhaustion was like. It extends into your other relationships. Even though I felt totally alone (See loneliness above) I was so tired that I couldn’t find the energy to connect with anyone. Also, I didn’t want to be touched – like at all. Bryan would be holding the baby and the dogs would want some attention and I just did NOT want to pet them. I had to remind myself to hug Bryan and hold his hand or sit next to him on the couch. I just didn’t want to be touched because I had another human attached to me all day long.

That is the best way I can explain the exhaustion of motherhood. I think that nothing else is quite like it. And on those days when you are feeling completely spent and useless because you are so exhausted, just know that it will pass. One night you will get 4 or 5 hours of sleep and you will feel like a new person! Or your new baby will FINALLY take a 2 hour nap ON HIS OWN and it will be amazing. Until those days come, it’s okay to feel completely exhausted.

I think the overarching theme of this post is that you can’t do it by yourself. I know single moms who have survived these early weeks and years of parenting and I am just so in awe of what they do. You need a tribe, you need support, you need community, you need help. So ask for it! Surround yourself with people who love and support you. If you live far away from family, find a community through church or another organization. Find a mom group so you have others that are dealing with the same things you are. Join a mom group on Facebook! It’s just another way to get connected.

Moms, what surprised you about parenthood? How did you survive those early days and weeks of motherhood?

When you [don’t] love your baby

This blog post has been a long time coming, but it’s one that I keep putting off.

It’s a hard topic to talk about, but a few interactions recently have made me realize how important it is to share about the reality after your baby shows up.

So here it is…

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Prior to Vincent arriving people would ask me if I felt prepared. My answer was almost always, “as prepared as I can be.”  I knew that motherhood would be like nothing I had experienced before, but I also knew that I was a strong person who had lived through difficult experiences so I knew that I could conquer life with a newborn.

No matter what people tell you or what you think you are prepared for, no verbal explanation can explain the first 6-8 weeks of motherhood.  The first 8 weeks were especially difficult for me. I don’t know that I was suffering from postpartum depression, I was actually vigilantly looking out for this because I have suffered from depression in the past. No, what I felt was complete distance from who I used to be with this new life that now depended on me for everything.  I was extremely sleep deprived, away from family, and had a husband in the midst of nursing school and clinicals.  Many days, it was all me all day with a newborn. And many nights I was getting about 30-45 minutes of sleep between feedings while my newborn slept on my chest because he hated being set down.  One day I went from being an independent and self-reliant individual to a mom, and that’s something that no words and no verbal explanation can prepare you for.

Most of all I didn’t feel like I loved my son. I remember when Bryan brought me Vincent in the hospital and I literally had to tell myself out loud “this is your baby, this is Vincent!” But I wasn’t excited, I wasn’t overwhelmed with any sort of feeling really, I felt next to nothing.  I went through the motions, started nursing, tried to sleep (which in the hospital is a joke).  We took Vincent home and I continued to do the things that moms are supposed to do, but it all felt detached. It didn’t feel genuine, it was an obligation, a responsibility that I was now stuck with and no one else could really help with. Bryan did everything he could – he would be up late studying and hold the baby so I could sleep. He forced me to take naps and made sure I was eating while he was around.  But it’s not the same as being a mom.

The most difficult and most unexpected transition was the loss of independence. Suddenly, you have to think and plan every hour of every day to make sure that you are able to provide for your child.  Since Vincent hated being set down, this meant that I literally had a baby attached to me almost all the time.  Being a very independent individual, this was shocking and revolting to me.  Whenever people would come over I would immediately hand over Vincent because I just didn’t want to hold him anymore. I remember telling myself that I had to take pictures of Vincent because SOMEDAY I would want to look back and see how little he was (and that definitely DID happen! Now I wish we had more pictures of those early days).

All of this made me think that I didn’t love Vincent. I would physically make myself tell him that I loved him every day, because I knew that deep down I probably did love him even though I didn’t FEEL like it.

What I learned is that newborn love is a different kind of love.  I was used to relationships with reciprocity.  Babies don’t do this.  You pour out into your little one and you get crying, sucking, and poop in return.  Don’t get me wrong, there were some precious moments, but mostly it was just trying to make it through another day. What I realized was that I DID love my baby because I was doing everything I needed to do in order to care for him. I was nursing him, holding him so that he would sleep, cuddling him, cleaning him, and learning how to be his mom.  This is how you love a newborn – you survive, you learn, and you do what you can every day.

Our feelings lie. Especially sleep deprived hormone driven feelings.  Feelings come and go, like the ocean tides. They well up and overflow and then they dry out. Actions don’t lie. Actions show who and what we really are.  So if you are having a hard time and your actions are to seek help, tell your doctor, ask for assistance – this is you loving your baby.  If you feel like you don’t love your baby, but you nurse him every time he is hungry and then walk him around for 45 minutes at 3am because he is fussy, this is you loving your baby.  If you are a natural and you just have the mom thing down, your actions are still what demonstrate this love.  Babies feel loved by being taken care of, protected, cuddled, swaddled, and being nestled against mom or dad. They experience love in safety and comfort, not words or expressions.  I know that Vincent felt loved because we did everything he needed in those early days and on those really hard early days, I knew that I just had to act like I loved Vincent no matter what my feelings were telling me.

I recently heard of another mom who was experiencing the same feelings that I was during this early period.  My friend was concerned and shared her story with me. I asked if I could write her a letter.  I later had the pleasure of meeting this new young mom and she thanked me for the letter and encouraging words.  So here is a letter to all new moms and especially moms that don’t feel like they love their babies.

Dear Mama,

I am so proud of you. You brought new life into this world and now you are literally sacrificing your own life, sleep, and sanity.  It is not easy, but somehow you are doing it.  I remember those early days and I remember how difficult the first few weeks are.

I remember that I didn’t feel like I loved my baby and maybe that’s how you feel, too. But I want you to know that YOU DO LOVE OUR BABY.  You are doing everything you can for your child, and this is love. You are working hard to feed and nurture, hug and cuddle, figure out sleep and adjust to this new life. It’s a hard adjustment and it takes time. YOU CAN DO IT!  Take things one day at a time, each day gets better.

I promise that things get better. Nursing gets easier, sleep gets easier, you figure out how to balance your own needs with your baby’s.  But it takes time. I know that days feel like weeks and it seems like it will never end, but I promise you will both survive.

I am so proud of you and the effort you are putting into your little one. Remember, ask for help and tell people what you need. Pass that baby off every chance you get – catch a nap, take a shower, take a break. It is important to take care of yourself so that you can care for your child.  But every time you change a diaper or sit down to nurse, I want you to know that those actions clearly show you LOVE YOUR BABY.  Despite what your feelings tell you.

Good job mama – You Rock!