I have a confession to make. For most of the first month of my daughter's life, I didn't do night feedings. My mother-in-law is a true Saint, and believe me, her generosity is at the forefront of my grateful thoughts this Mother's Day-- and this one will be especially meaningful, not only because it's my first year as a mom, but because I finally get it...how difficult, wonderful and life changing it is. I truly understand what "selfless" looks and feels like.
It looks like my Mother-in-Law jumping into action when we needed help, no questions asked, and without an ounce of hesitation. It feels like an overwhelming wave of love when I look into my daughter's eyes through my own tired peepers and know I would do anything for her. This could prove to be trouble as she gets older because she's quite pretty, adorable and looking at her melts my heart. It's an indescribable feeling that you can't understand until you become a mom.
The anxiety-- that's another thing.
We arrived home from the hospital with the same dumbfounded apprehension most new parents do. What are we supposed to do with this human?
You can read every book there is on child-rearing, but there is no exact formula for YOUR kid. They are going to have their own agenda. Something I quickly learned the first night home with Sophie, when the alarms I had set on my phone to wake her up to feed her proved to not only be a ridiculous effort but an added stressor.
I thought I could control feedings-- how absurd, I now realize. But night one, it seemed totally logical based on a book I read.
The only book I have referred to since is one our Pediatrician wrote. It's to the point and contains no specific "technique" or "how-to." It has been a source of comfort and baby education for me, as opposed to personal judgment, which every other book has ignited in me.--You're not doing this right. But our pediatrician's book quickly switches my gears from self-deprecating to action-oriented.
It was the "not doing right" thinking that led to extreme anxiety right out of the gate. Realizing I was not in control, coupled with the hormone crash after a traumatic 56-hour labor (yes, you read that right), I never once gave thought to the reality that I would need help after having a baby. I was 100 percent certain I could do it all on my own.
The United States is one of the few countries where many women receive no postpartum help. This is crazy to me now. Because a month into motherhood, I am more aware than ever that I could NOT do this on my own. I would have ended up in a hospital for exhaustion I'm sure. Sleep deprivation is hard enough on parents, but when that sleep deprivation is the result of a chemical imbalance PLUS unavoidable nighttime feedings, it's a recipe for disaster.
I started therapy and antidepressants immediately because I didn't want to wait to see if my (apparently normal) anxieties would develop into full-blown postpartum depression or anxiety.
The past 2 nights my husband and I took overnight feedings and we've had a rough go of it. But thanks to meds and therapy, it isn't sleep anxiety now that is causing sleep deprivation. It is the normal realities of the fourth trimester-- the first 3 months of a baby's life when they need to be fed, changed and comforted frequently, day and night.
We're lucky that Sophie is pretty quiet and only cries for specific reasons-- discomfort (gas), hunger, in need of comfort. She doesn't even cry for pee or poop diapers so sometimes she sits in them for a while (whoops).
We haven't done things conventionally or "by the books." We put Sophie in her crib at night the second week and she's been sleeping in it ever since.
I also am not exclusively breastfeeding. I mostly breastfeed, but my daughter eats breastmilk and formula. Based on everything I've read and heard, this shouldn't work. My milk supply should have dried up, or my boobs should leak like crazy/hurt from engorgement-- neither of these has happened.
When my breasts are full, I feed or pump. At night, my daughter gets formula and breast for comfort if she needs it. I didn't read these things in a book, I've gone off her cues. And my milk supply is fine. If I'm out in public and breastfeeding isn't super easy (or I just want to feed her quickly-- yep) I pull out the formula and she gulps down what she needs and we go on about our day.
We probably wouldn't have been successful with this if we didn't start formula in the hospital. Despite what we were told about babies not being hungry right out of the womb, my daughter was and my colostrum-filled breasts were not satiating her. She got super frustrated, so we started her on formula. After 56 hours of labor and little sleep, I was more than ready for 2 nights of uninterrupted sleep in postpartum recovery, and formula feedings in the nursery made this possible.
Look, being a mom is hard work. I would love to say I'm doing it all, but I'm not Super Woman and I'm more than OK with that.
On my first Mother's Day, I am both grateful for the help I've received, and also, for my own self-awareness and acknowledgment to ACCEPT help when I need it. This is something that my foray into the world of health and wellness in the last few years really impressed on me.
It's hard to admit when we need help, and accepting it can be ten times harder. But if Mother's Day can be a reminder of how resilient and tough we are, let it also be a reminder that we need to be taken care of, too, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with it.
Years ago, no one talked openly about experiencing difficulties in the postpartum period. No one admitted to taking medication or going to therapy. You were expected to just know what to do with your baby, bond with it immediately and never let the world see you cry.
I'm on medication for anxiety, I go to therapy every week, and I have cried to my therapist, the nurses in the hospital, my husband, family and even to my daughter sometimes. It's OK, and more than that-- it's NORMAL.
Some days are better than others; easier--we think "oh man, we've turned a corner" and then she goes through some developmental leap and we have new things to get used to/ learn... Being a parent is all-kinds-of-wonderful. But it's frustrating, too. It's hard. There are no trophies or accolades. You do what you need to do to keep your child safe, alive and growing healthily, and most of it goes unnoticed. The most impactful years of a child's life are years they won't remember, and won't truly understand or appreciate until they become a parent themselves.
When that day comes, you want to run up to every mom you see and give her a hug and say "you are awesome. Never forget that."
We could all probably hear/say that more often, not just on a day that reminds us to.