Like many first time mothers my oldest child, J, consumed me. I had grand plans of not letting a child change our lives or marriage. I was going to return to work after having a perfect, beautiful, spiritual water birth, we would sleep train the baby at approximately three days old, I would enjoy time with my extended family during my maternity leave, my husband and I would be going out for weekly dates and consuming multiple bottles of wine (well, he would drink whiskey) by the time he was two weeks old at most. Oh, and of course I was going to breast feed because, duh, I wasn’t a child abuser. Ah, the blissful ignorance of the expectant mother. To their credit my friends who already had children let me enjoy this time. They patiently listened to my plans and even nodded in approval. Now that I’m on the other side of parenthood I’m absolutely sure they were laughing to themselves and biding their time.
Well, I am sad to report that my plans for parenthood were derailed before my sweet boy even made it into this world. Complications during labor led to every intervention short of a C-section, but 36 hours later my beautiful boy had arrived. At this point my husband and I had been up for almost 48 hours straight, save a few minutes of sleep stolen between contractions. We were exhausted, and if we thought the hard part had passed we were most definitely wrong. I’ve spent countless hours reliving and analyzing those first hours of J’s life, trying to piece together how they shaped our initial parenting style which was ruled by anxiety on my part and unquestioning support on my husband’s.
After such an exhausting entrance into the world, J was too tired to nurse properly. Well intentioned nurses cautioned of the dangers of low blood sugar for infants who don’t receive enough milk in the first hours of life. Panicked, emotional and exhausted I agreed to let him have some formula in the hospital. His nursing problems didn’t end there, he continued to have a difficult time latching and staying awake long enough to get the proper amount of milk. At just shy of two weeks old, our pediatrician cautioned if we didn’t reverse this pattern he would be deemed “failure to thrive.”
I was devastated, hours were spent crying. Sure that I had failed my son already. Sure that if I had conceded to medical interventions sooner, he wouldn’t have been so exhausted and would have learned to nurse better. Sure that if I hadn’t have given him formula he would have nursed better. Sure that I had done SOMETHING TERRIBLY WRONG.
I’m happy to report that though lots and lots of pumping and even more patience J started gaining weight, learned to nurse, and became a vivacious charismatic little boy. On a less happy note, the anxiety I felt during those first weeks still hasn’t completely left me. I was a maniac, making sure every one of J’s needs was attended to. He was fussing at naptime? OK- I’ll sleep with you. He was crying? He must need to nurse. He didn’t want to be set down? OK- I’ll wear you. You look bored? Let’s do 600 sensory activities I found on Pinterest to help develop you fine motor skills.
My husband tried over and over again to reason with me. He saw that this parenting style (which works wonderfully for some families) was burning me out. I brushed his arguments and points aside, accused him of being uninformed and negligent, and in general wasn’t the greatest wife. It took ten months before I conceded to (some) of his points. I began to let go a little. I let J sleep in his own bed and (gasp!) even his own room. I let him cry sometimes, even.
All the while, in the back of my head I still felt an immense sense of failure. I failed my son by letting him cry. By putting him down to cook dinner. It wasn’t until recently I fully internalized that I had not failed him. By letting him cry sometimes I was teaching him how to meet the need he was feeling. If you’re tired, you can go to sleep. If you’re bored, you can play with one of your two hundred toys (Thanks, Nani…) It’s been a hard lesson to learn, and at times I still fight back that overwhelming guilt, but parenthood has started to become far less overwhelming and far more enjoyable.
The second time around with our joyous boy A, things have been so much more relaxed. He came into this world with much less fanfare than his brother. No complications with the delivery, no exhaustingly long labor. Things didn’t go perfectly according to the plan, but that was ok and before we knew it our little A was here. There were still nursing problems, but I knew they would pass. There are currently issues with sleep, but I know they will pass too. There has been a peacefulness to my parenting that was not there before.
I have to say that the transition from a family of three to four has been much calmer than I expected. In general I would say things are even more relaxed than when it was just the three of us. A has brought a new perspective to my parenting, and forced me to give up the all-consuming path I was heading down. It’s not always as clear to me as it is sitting here writing this post, but in general I feel like letting a few things slide is OK. J doesn’t want to wear a diaper? OK. A is still in PJs at noon? OK. They’re both crying and the dog’s barking, and I’m drinking a cup of coffee? OK- I should probably drink this quickly and start putting out fires. I’m trying not to let fear rule my parenting anymore, and you know what? No one has died, I don’t feel like my husband is an idiot, and most days I can even put on some clothes that aren’t comprised of a moisture wicking material and intended to get sweaty in.
As I talk to my friends who are on their own journeys through motherhood (whether they are just beginning them, getting ready to send their babies off to college or watching their babies have babies) I laugh at their stories and commiserate with their struggles and it occurs to me that no matter what parenting choices we make, what the ages of our children, what our race or religious beliefs, we are all on a wonderful journey together. As we cross paths with one another we can offer so many different things- support, wisdom, guidance. My goal with this blog is to offer a place to laugh, cry and commiserate, but mostly to laugh. Motherhood wasn’t at all what I expected, and there have been many bumps along the way, but I’m finally learning that’s ok. Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s about dancing in the rain. And that is what makes a good mother; it’s not a particular parenting style or a set of choices. It’s celebrating our children even as they infuriate and challenge us and teaching them that life won’t always be perfect, but it will always be WONDERFUL. And in the end isn’t that so much better anyway?
Won’t you join me on this wonderful, chaotic journey called motherhood? What were your first days like or what are you expecting them to be like? How did having more children affect your views on motherhood?