Thursday, December 6, 2012

Great Expectations

A friend of mine had a baby last week.  I offered to bring her food and visit her in the hospital.  I obviously wanted to see her, but I'm not going to lie - I was ecstatic at the sight of seeing a newborn.

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.    


  1. love it, love it, love it. Beautifully written and captures my sentiments to a "T". No one talks about the birthing until after one goes through it. It's like this big secret and all elder women are in on case it may scare you. The only ones who do talk about it are those who had a beautiful, natural, drug-free, home birth that went perfectly with pushing for only 30 minutes and not one stitch with the subtle ommission of the shaking and vomiting. We should talk about it and make it less isolating and fearful. I swear I have PTS from my son's birth.

  2. hey, I remember the shaking and vomiting!! what an ordeal. like a great deal in life, motherhood is chock full of both highs AND lows. And @LawDegree: Yes, you CAN handle the responsibility of having two people so dependent upon you. You will teach them how not to be, and you will do a brilliant job. Because you know the biggest secret - take care of Mommy first.

  3. I have a five week old at home and have been struggling. I am thankful to have found this post.

    1. The first two months are really hard...the lack of sleep alone will drive a person crazy let alone u r to function and take care of a helpless little creature of ur making. Hang in there. Ask for help. I remember my baby nursed for like six hours straight during the first month and I thought I was going to lose it. Had to set him down and take a shower. He cried. I cried. My shower was like 3 mins. My husband gave him a bottle. I didn't want him to not have the best food in the world or get nipple confusion but serious six hours...we all made it. Take care of ur self and don't buy into the hype. I did for six hours and that was way too long. My sons 17 months and still nursing. On a rare occassion I needed to just let him cry a little while I drink a glass of 11 am. Or watch too much elmo while read Be kind to urself. U will get through it. Get outside. Go to the building museum chinatown dc. Or the wilson indoor saline pool for babies.

  4. My labour wasn't so bad, a lot of shaking, but that's it thanks to wonderful epidurals. The recovery without any pain meds sucked! Much less so for baby no. 2, but's not a picnic. It wasn't all puppies, clouds, and sunshine. It's a hard, sleep deprived, crying needed time where you are just wondering why someone let you out of the hospital with this baby! I think that those moments are definitely where it's at. Even when we are both ready to tear out our hair or one of us just wants to grab the keys and head out for a walk/drive one of the kids will do something so funny, adorable or just plain out of nowhere and we are all smiling and laughing...and sometimes that doesn't happen and we take that walk. Talking about it definitely helps!

  5. I do remember times when my mom was impatient, snappish, or yelled at me, but I am not scarred by this and nor will your kids be. I also remember my mom making us hot chocolate after sledding (in those glorious, pre-climate change days of winter snow), decorating the Christmas tree with us (also with hodgepodge ornaments that all have a story or meaning), teaching us how to weed flower beds, teaching us how to make cookies, playing board games, insisting that we all eat breakfast together before school, advocating for us at school....all the things that parents do to help their kids learn how to be functional, reasonably kind people. Don't worry about the TV or the yelling. Don't lose sleep over it. Your kids are going to be fine.

  6. Thank you for this. I just lost my best friend a few months ago to post partum depression and have been struggling every since with the realization that a new baby is not always a time of great joy for everyone. I would do anything to bring her back and support her. I wish more mothers would reach out to one another and share their struggles. Accepting her death, especially so close to the holiday season, has been one of the hardest things of my entire life. We've started going to church and I still can't get through an entire service without crying. It's been awful. I wish she had known she wasn't alone and that things do get better.


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