When I saw her I could tell she wasn't having the most fantastic time. She had been two weeks overdue. She got induced, got an epidural that didn't fully work, pushed for almost three hours, and then ended up with a c-section. She spiked a fever right before delivery, so both she and her baby had to stay longer in the hospital to finish a course of IV antibiotic.
I could see it in her face that she was struggling internally - wanting to be happy that her baby was with her, that she had a healthy, beautiful baby - but feeling overwhelmed, overtired, and disappointed that the birth didn't go as she had envisioned, that she was still in pain, and that she wasn't brimming with joy.
I wanted to embrace her, tell her that it was okay, that she doesn't have to feel overjoyed, that she will feel better, that it will pass. But I resisted the opportunity to lecture, and instead just listened, and tried to tell her gently that I completely understood. That despite popular sentiment, this really isn't the best time of your life. That I related to how she was feeling. That I struggled too.
Kids bring great expectations that rarely come to fruition.
That's not to say they aren't amazing, aren't incredible, aren't the thing you love most in the world. They are. But I think that women do each other a great disservice by not talking about the realities of these little bundles of joy.
Lets start with the beginning. Childbirth sucks. This seems to be universally accepted. But once the baby comes out, there seems to be the expectation that the mother should be brimming with delight and gratitude. Let me be clear, I am sure that some women genuinely feel like this (including one of my dear friends, you know who you are!), but I think most do not. Of course, they feel the sentiment, but more than anything I think they feel overwhelmed, tired, and scared. Sometimes the baby isn't as cute as you anticipated (nobody prepared me for the fact that Casey wouldn't have hard cartilage in his ears for the first three weeks of his life!). Sometimes breastfeeding doesn't work and you want to pull your hair out. Sometimes you have overwhelming guilt that you are thinking of yourself, your pain, your other child - when really you should be enjoying this, the most glorious time of your life.
When you bring that baby home, maybe you envision a pink or blue stork outside. You picture laughter and sunshine and birds singing as you carry your baby into your house for the first time. Mine was not that experience. With Braden, he screamed the whole car ride home. I sat next to him sure that we had harnessed him in incorrectly. When we arrived home, family was there to greet us, and someone was videotaping. Everyone looked so excited - so joyous, exactly how I felt I should feel. But I didn't. I was tired beyond belief, in tremendous pain, and worried that Braden was not getting enough breast milk. I stood by the car, held back tears, and promptly ran, alone, into my bedroom and cried. I cried, in large part, out of guilt - why wasn't I happy? What was wrong with me? And this was not my PPD pregnancy, by the way.
The answer is there was nothing wrong with me. I had just pushed a baby out of me. My life had completely changed. I was responsible for another human being. It's a stressful time. And I wish I was a bit more prepared for that.
This idea of LOVING every aspect of motherhood only continues. Since deciding to stay at home, I've had a lot of people tell me how lucky I am. They will say things like, "You must love getting so much time with your kids."
Listen, I do. And I am lucky. But lets be real. Parenthood is HARD - whether your a working parent or a stay at home parent. So while I do appreciate getting so much time with my kids, some days I want to pull my hair out. Some days I put on the TV way longer than I should. Sometimes I yell a bit too loud and go to sleep wondering if they will remember it when they are older. Sometimes I question if I can successfully handle the responsibility of having two people so dependent on me.
I don't always love it.
But, I do always love them. And what I've realized about parenthood is that while there are no perfect days, there are perfect moments - moments that come in the midst of stress and anxiety and boredom - where I can pause, take it in, and feel that gratitude and wonder and delight. It takes different forms - Casey chasing the dog around the house, or Braden giving me the tightest hug, or the two boys laughing at each other. These moments ARE truly amazing - they fulfill even my greatest expectations. And its these moments that sustain us through the inevitable hard times of parenthood, of which there will be many.
It's a wild ride, that's for sure. We women shouldn't be ashamed to acknowledge that.