My pregnancy was a whirlwind of emotion. Between the unsolicited belly rubs, the torrent of personal questions, the uncomfortable physical symptoms, and the hormones, I think that most probably are. Friends and strangers alike asked a lot of things. Will you breastfeed? Will you return to work? Where will the baby sleep? What is the baby’s gender? What is the baby’s name? Are you sure you’re only 6 months pregnant? But the question I remember receiving the most was are you ready?
Of course I was not ready to have the baby. Our landlord raised our rent, forcing us to search for a new home. My job offered no paid maternity leave at all. My husband’s company was being sold. We had no savings account and no family within 10 hours. I had years of experience working in daycares, nannying, and more, so I knew how to care for a child, but the thought of being sole caretaker to a tiny, fragile infant was terrifying. I was not ready for that part. But ready to make the personal transition to motherhood? Totally. I was born for this, I would tell myself. Being a mom is one of my greatest dreams, I would say.
As it turned out, I was actually not prepared for any of it. I have battled depression for most of my life. All of my doctors and my son’s pediatrician were proactive in checking on postpartum depression. I was in therapy, too. I did not have PPD. In fact, the first few months were blissful. I was blessed with a child that slept through the night very early and rarely cried. When he did cry, he tended to let out a grunt of sorts, which made me laugh. He frowned a lot. I called him “grumpy grandpa.” It was magical. Until it wasn’t.
In all of my years babysitting, I had never been overwhelmed or upset by a crying baby. I would hold and snuggle them, distract and sing to them. Soon, the tears would subside. But the thing that no one could possibly prepare you for is the endless, helpless pit of despair that you will feel when you are sleepless, alone, starving, still healing, and absolutely nothing you do can calm your child. Your whole body is absolutely wrecked and all you want is to soothe your child and you cannot even get that right. You feel worthless.
“The thing that no one could possibly prepare you for is the endless, helpless pit of despair that you will feel when you are sleepless, alone, starving, still healing, and absolutely nothing you do can calm your child.”
I expected to get frustrated, to be spit up on, stay up late, lose sleep, but I did not expect to feel useless and utterly alone on some days. My son began teething early and had a terrible time. People would ask me if I had tried this remedy or that. Of course I had. I had tried everything. My nipples got bitten. My hair got pulled so bad that I had to cut it short. And of course, I also got spit up on, stayed up late, and didn’t sleep.
There are some unicorn moms out there who genuinely seem unbothered by these things. I don’t know if their children were just easier to handle as babies, or if these women are being dishonest, but eventually, I decided to give them the benefit of the doubt, and accept that they actually enjoyed the infant stage. And that meant accepting that I did not.
“It was truly liberating to admit that having a baby was not a dream come true.”
One day, I just came out with it. I was on the phone with my mother and I said, “I think I just don’t like the baby stage.” I was shocked to hear her reply, completely unfazed. She understood, and she even agreed with parts of what I said. This moment was pivotal for me. It was truly liberating to admit that having a baby was not a dream come true. It wasn’t that I didn’t love parts of having a baby; it just meant that the best was still yet to come.
Of course I would miss his tiny hand wrapped around my finger. Of course I would miss him falling asleep on my chest after nursing. But the pressure was off to soak up every moment as perfect. It was imperfect, and that was okay. When the eve of his first birthday rolled around, I was warned that I would be up all night crying, but not a single tear was shed. I smiled big, proud smiles that night as I reflected on our amazing, chaotic, terrible, wonderful year together. He had learned and grown so much. I didn’t miss his quiet vulnerability. And yes, he had already begun to throw tantrums and sass me in his tiny, one-year-old way. And yes, he made much bigger messes than before. But I had so much to look forward to. My pride and joy were not in his smallness, but in his individuality, and the older he grows, the more of that I get to see.
We all get stressed out for different reasons. Maybe backtalk really gets your blood boiling. Maybe you are goals-oriented, making potty training a nightmare. Maybe you’re like me, and just can’t stand not knowing what your child needs when they’re too small to tell you. There is power in realizing that we are all different, and what you love might drive another mother crazy. Stop pressuring yourself to love every moment, and bask in the glorious mess that is right now. And wipe that spit up off of your shirt.