Being a mother is difficult.
Wonderfully, endlessly, perfectly difficult.
Far more difficult than I ever anticipated, even though I did my very best to insert myself in those tall shoes whenever I found a small opportunity.
Perhaps that’s my first problem?
Having to admit I was wrong. Having to admit I was incapable of understanding something I tried like hell to understand. Having to admit that when people said, “You can’t understand until you have your own”, (no matter how much my infertile soul wanted to shake the shit out of them), they were right. I couldn’t, didn’t, and wouldn’t understand until I had my own.
I understood how much I would love Henry. That was easy for me to picture. As much as it made the anti-pet people of the world wanna shake the shit out of me, I knew what it meant to love something to the depths of my pancreas, care for something with a lifetime of devotion, and experience pure joy at the sight of the contentment of my dachshunds. I knew if I could multiply the way I felt for them by infinity, that is how much I would love Henry.
And I was right.
I knew every decision of my life would be made from a different angle after I had a child. I knew my perspectives would shift to consider his end game before considering my own. I knew my alone time would cease to exist, spontaneous lunches with girlfriends would be a thing of the past, and waking up in the nook of George’s arm at 9:00 a.m. on a Sunday only to sleepily watch last night’s episode of “Breaking Bad” before facing the day of doing whatever the hell we wanted whenever the hell we wanted would most likely take a pregnant pause for… eighteen years or so.
All of this I expected.
But what “they” were right about, was that I could never- not in a million years of praying for a child- predict how the overnight changes to “who I’d always been” would make me feel.
Loving Henry and caring for Henry was the easy part. Waking up twelve times a night to fill his tiny belly with milk was simple, all things considered. What became difficult was the sudden realization that to a large degree, I was homebound. Temporarily, yes, but still, homebound. Henry was (and still is) a bit of a challenge. He doesn’t seem to be wired with much of a “go with the flow” gene. He has painful reflux, little patience, strong opinions, and a penchant for ear piercing screams.
It took a while- a loooong while- to find the coordination to load all the baby apparatuses to my body like an urban pack mule. And once I’d conquered that, toting along my already frustrated baby so that he could scream for three city blocks and then scream even louder while I grabbed just one, measly, speedy, rewarding, “gotta have it to provide me with a small taste of who I used to be, or I will crumble in defeat” Starbucks was quite possibly the most jolting experience of my entire life.
Come oooon, buddy! It’s three blocks! It’s five minutes! I did everything right! Gave you your reflux medicine, filled your belly, changed your diaper, read you a book, sang you a song, let you nap, made sure the weather was beautiful outside, positioned you delicately in the carrier so that the sounds of my hearbeat would sooth you while we walked, and took NO detours. Yet, that wasn’t good enough.
But even once my muscle memory pitched in to help me out with the pack mule logistics, it was still a hard pill to swallow knowing I had such little control over how my son would react to even the slightest stimuli.
My “I don’t give a shit” switch was slow to engage. I still turn red faced and sweaty when Henry switches from happy coos in the grocery store to the rage filled screams that could only come from a baby who is in the midst of losing an appendage. I give “less of a shit”, but still care- maybe not so much for the gawking New Yorkers who are void of an “empathy face”, but maybe more so for me? I used to like grocery shopping. Food is beautiful to me. In my former life, I’d browse pasta sauces and probe produce and smell seafood. Grocery shopping is now a tunnel visioned race to the finish line with the hopes the finish line isn’t blocked by the elderly woman requesting a price check on matzo ball soup.
While it was once simple to schedule dentist appointments and hair appointments and drinks with friends, it is now one of life’s greatest challenges. This may seem minor until you’ve got a cavity that makes your head want to explode and a torn tendon in your foot that makes it impossible to bounce the baby who seems solely reliant on said bounce to calm his moods.
I didn’t expect this to feel quite so crippling. Pun not intended.
For the most part, I’ve always been proud of my ability to hold it all together. My house is always “clean enough”. I can pull off a good meal. I can keep my legs shaved, my thank-you notes current, my dogs bathed, my husband nurtured, and my mental health stabilized. So having a baby just meant I’d add one more thing to the mix. It meant I’d have to work a little harder, but I was used to hard work. This hard work would be “easy” because I wanted it so badly.
So when I had Henry, I was unprepared for how I might disappoint myself. I felt confident I’d know how to make him happy. I had 36 weeks of learning him from inside of me, so in all actuality, I was pretty much an expert. I’d know the perfect way to rock and shush and hold him. My voice would sooth him. I’d read all the books, made uppity judgements of other parent’s pitfalls, and vowed to never make the mistakes of those idiots (Oh how I’ve eaten my judgmental words!).
Rather than being the calming, soothing, all-knowing mother I thought I’d be, I felt like a failure. Not all the time, but at least multiple times a day. Nothing could have socked me in the gut like the feeling of being totally incapable of making my son happy. I knew it was crazy. Babies cry. It’s how they communicate. I prepared for that. I didn’t prepare, however, for how helpless and worthless it would make me feel. I wanted to fix him so badly. And when I couldn’t fix what ailed him, I wanted to sob on top of his sobs and unintelligibly apologize.
There are days I feel I’m getting it right, and as he ages, those days reign supreme, but it’s still a gut check. It’s still a never ending test of patience and self doubt. It’s an endless question of “Should I let him sleep six minutes longer? Will letting him sleep six minutes longer mean he won’t sleep tonight? Should I have forced him to eat more? Is forcing him to eat more what made him spit up? Now that he’s spit up, is he hungry again? Should I have let him fuss a little longer before feeding him in the middle of the night? If I’d let him fuss longer, will he have obesity issues when he’s twenty? Should I have spoken Spanish (or Spanglish, because who am I kidding?) more often yesterday? Should I feel bad for using the television to help us endure five minutes of tummy time? Will those five minutes of television damage his eyesight or cause an attention deficit disorder? Is the five minutes of television more damaging than NOT doing five minutes of tummy time? Does he need more toys? Does he have too many toys? Is it too hot, cold, loud, stuffy, dark, light, crowded, desolate, boring, overstimulating in here? Is he spoiled? How do I unspoil him? But why can’t I spoil him? Did I teach him enough today? Did I make him use his muscles enough today? Did I make him use them too much and that’s why he won’t stop crying? Did I hold him enough, kiss him enough, play with him enough, make him independent enough?
See? Never ending.
And then, came the changes in my marriage. Before Henry, George and I were champions of taking care of one another. And then we added a player to the roster. That player, came with a set of needs that momentarily sucked the life out of both of us. It became “every man for himself” around here and when George yawned, rather than sympathizing, I rolled my eyes. “Puh-leeeeaaaase, you think you’re tired!?!?!” And when I’d roll my eyes, I could see the “Give me a break, you didn’t even get out of your pajamas today!” judgment written all over his face. Both of us too tired and overwhelmed to properly communicate, I wanted him to read my mind. I wanted him to know to hand me the baby wipes without me having to put forth the energy of saying the words. I wanted him to understand why I did the things I did without having to explain myself, yet felt an overwhelming to explain myself so he understood that every move I made with Henry was laced with purpose and the intent of what was best for his “tomorrow”. He wanted me to stop being bitchy. I wanted him to take care of me because I was drained from caring for Henry. He would put his arm around me, and rather than feel love, I felt “one more thing hanging on me”. I prayed Henry would be on his best behavior when George would get home from work, yet wanted him to catch a glimpse of the struggle I’d dealt with all day and secretly hoped he’d cry. He wanted to check his work emails, I wanted to throw his computer out the window. I felt the pressure of no longer providing a paycheck. George felt the pressure of being the sole breadwinner. I felt disconnected from every part of who I used to be. George felt more connected than ever to his job, as it was our only source of income.
I shared this, all of this, with my best friends. It was the first time in my married life I ever had anything to bitch about, yet the first time in my married life I had everything I ever wanted. We wanted a baby so badly, so why was it so hard? The baby was the only thing missing before. Henry came into our world and completed it in ways I could have only dreamt of. With a sheer disdain for cliches, truly, my cup runneth over. And yet, I had the audacity to COMPLAIN?!?!
I never imagined how busy I would be in a day. When people used to say being a mom was the hardest job on Earth, I agreed, but now I can safely say I only agreed because it felt politically correct. Idiot. I’ve always worked hard. I’ve always put in lots of hours. I’ve always been good at what I’ve done. So now, my home is my office. I can say, unequivocally, my old job ain’t got diddly on this one. Nobody is going to fire me from this one, but man oh man, is my new boss a ball buster. Moms who work outside of their home and hold it all together, you are UNBELIEVABLE. Moms who work from home, you are UNBELIEVABLE. I did not give this life the respect it deserved.
In the last month, things have settled. Henry doesn’t cry as often. He even thinks I’m pretty funny sometimes. I have mastered a few shush/shimmy/pat/hum/bounce/rock combinations that work to calm him from time to time. I finally stopped silently wanting to flick George in the forehead for not reading my mind. I did something novel and decided to have an actual conversation with him versus stew in my own bitterness. Guess what? When you communicate, you solve problems, yo. Who knew? I’m starting to feel pride in my ability to tackle daily errands with Henry. The feelings of “losing who I used to be” are starting to fill with feelings of being proud of “who I am now”.
I felt so out of control for a while, but now, I’m able to find perspective. And I don’t feel so strange. I feel like we’ve all been there. Transition is hard. Motherhood is hard. The transition to motherhood, while my most favorite transition of my whole life, is hard.
And no matter, even on the hardest day, I never lose sight of the fact that this could have very well never happened for me. We could have tried to get pregnant for years and years and years without success, and I will take the hardest day of motherhood over the easiest day of infertility any day of the week.
One of my favorite quotes is from Joan Didion. She said, “I write to know what I think”. Guuurrrl. It’s no wonder I’ve felt a little lost. In my quest to be good at this mom stuff, I stopped taking my fingers to therapy. There is no excuse. This- writing this, feeling this and purging this and telling this story is church. Always has been. In order to be at my best, I have to do this. I have to forego the mildew on the shower tiles and tracking the source of the bizarre smell in the kitchen. I have to.