Wednesday, August 31, 2016

When Motherhood Changes and You Do Too

Three years ago I was lying in bed at 5:45am staring at the ceiling and wondering how long I could let the baby cry and still be considered a good mother. I already knew what the day held and I didn't want to do it. It was the same routine on repeat, like the movie Groundhog Day but way less funny with way more bodily fluids.

The baby lived on my chest, wrapped tightly against my body, over and over, in a cloth that stretched approximately 75 feet. I loved the way her tiny form nestled into mine. I would lean my head to inhale her sweet baby scent and use every last bit of restraint to keep myself from stuffing her into my mouth where I would keep her for eternity, which is something that makes perfect sense when you're running on post-partum hormones and 2 hours of sleep.

I loved babywearing. For the first 30 minutes. At minute 31 my cozy wrap began to feel more like a straight jacket. I could feel beads of sweat forming in places I couldn't itch and my vertebrae began violent protests and threatened to leave my spine to join another part of the skeletal system because they certainly did not sign up for this nonsense. I couldn't agree more and if I could have used them to form a third arm I would have, because I clearly did not have enough as it were. I couldn't hold a newborn and chase after a toddler and help a preschooler draw a lion, except not that kind of lion.

So the baby slept in the wrap on my chest and nursed in the wrap and I probably would have driven around with her in the wrap except it was too hard to maneuver my arms around her body while steering. I would like to suggest post-partum women be sent home from the hospital with some kind of supervisor.

Having a baby was the hardest thing I've ever done. Having a bunch of babies in a row made me fantasize about going to jail so I could be left alone in a small room with nothing but a bed and a Bible. 

Lock me away, Your Honor! I'm guilty! Guilty of not enjoying every minute of having babies. I probably enjoyed 30% of the minutes. The other 70% was just hard work. Long, hard, exhausting, cry-your-eyes-out, pray-for-strength-to-get-through-the-day work. Was it worth it? Unequivocally, absolutely, YES.

Do runners enjoy every minute of a marathon? Do medical students enjoy every minute of residency? Admittedly, I have done neither, but I imagine people take on hard things not because they are fun or easy, but because somewhere deep down they know that the hard things are really the only things worth doing. It's the hard things that show you who you really are, what you are capable of and where you draw the strength to keep going. There is often unspeakable joy hidden in the midst of hard places and the only way to find that joy is to do the work it takes to get there.

Sometimes we take on hard things not by choice, but by circumstance. Either way, the result is the same. What doesn't kill us makes us stronger, as they say. Of course, that still doesn't mean we should enjoy every second of our near death experience.

The quickest way to make a new mom feel like a failure is to tell her "enjoy every minute! It goes so fast!"

Really? I wanted to say to that older woman with fresh makeup, leisurely making her way down the produce aisle. May I smear some yellow poop in your hair? How much would you enjoy that? You know how long I've been awake? Twenty hours. That's 1,200 minutes. Every night I pray for time to speed the frig up.

It's been seven years since I had my first baby and three since I had my last. I feel like I've crossed over this bridge of diapers and sippy cups and naptimes and I can't believe I'm already on the other side.
Although, when it comes to photos, some things never change.

2 out of 3. I'll take it.
I see a young mom with a new baby and I'm nostalgic, longing to hold my tiny babes one more time. I still want to put her baby in my mouth, but I also feel a sense of relief, maybe even a feeling of accomplishment that I have pushed through all those endless hours. I have this urge to lean over and whisper "enjoy every minute! It goes so fast!" I've almost forgotten all the hard work and tears and one million ounces of breastmilk that it took to get me to this place. Instead I tell her "you're doing a great job! Your kids are amazing! Yes, I would love to hold your baby while you rescue your toddler from the third story of the playplace."

I may have crossed the first bridge, but there are still many miles to go. And this place I'm in right now? I think I'm going to like it here. Here are some things I've done today that at one point I was convinced I would never do again:
1. Took a shower. Alone. Without someone crying. Including myself.
2. Rode in the car with 3 other people and only buckled my own seatbelt.
3. Walked around for several consecutive hours without a human person attached to me.
4. Enjoyed an actual conversation with my kids because they are clever and funny and amazing.

There are still hard days and there are good days, but most often the days are some of both. The hard work to enjoyment ratio seems to be balancing out a bit though. This motherhood gig doesn't always get easier, but it changes and becomes different, and that's usually what you really need anyway.

As for me, I'd like to think I'm older and wiser, but probably I'm just older and less anxious. I know some things now. I know that whether you choose to sleep train or not, your child will sleep eventually. I know that despite your effort to raise your baby solely on breastmilk and organic broccoli, one day you will walk in the kitchen and find her dipping cheetos in maple syrup. I now know that my opposition to my 3-year-old wearing his Batman underwear over his clothes was not worth the fight.

When I look over my shoulder I see the days that seemed to last an eternity evaporate in an instant. I know it goes so fast, but I also know it's impossible to enjoy every minute.

I won't give you unsolicited advice on potty training or discipline practises, but if you ask I will tell you to just lean into it, all of it: the joy, the pain and everything in between. It's all part of the maternal package. Just embrace the chaos, the mess, the snuggles, the belly laughs, and if you can't because you need to go cry in a closet for a little while that's ok too.

Now I am (mostly...sometimes) the one who gets up first. I now wake them up to start the day. I miss my babies, but I am loving these kids.

I don't know what tomorrow may bring, but if I've learned anything from motherhood it's this: these days with these little people are more than I could have hoped for and nothing like I expected.

I have less control than I think and more grace than I deserve.

I don't have a plan and I don't have answers, but we have each other and all I know to do is lean in and count it all joy.