Friday, January 15, 2016

i should and i shouldn't.

I've been reluctant to write this post. There's a lot being written about new motherhood. A lot of really true and wonderful things being written about the magic of holding your newborn baby and feeling a love well up inside you like you didn't know was possible. There's a lot of blog posts about how motherhood is made of  moments of awe inspiring connection with your kids and those moments of beauty somehow transcend the tough moments and all is made well in the light of your sweet baby's smile.

This is not that post.

I've alluded to this in previous posts, but new motherhood did not well up in my heart and crescendo in a moment of love when I held my baby for the first time.

No. It slapped me across the face and then kicked me while I was down.

Let me start from the beginning.

I have always known I wanted to be a mama. I love kids and ever since my baby brother was born when I was eight years old, I've been comfortable and at home in the company of kids. All through out my years of babysitting and being a camp counselor and nannying, I've longed for the day when it would be my own child I comforted or told jokes with or took to swim lessons. Then I got pregnant and I was elated because I thought, Finally! I am going to be a part of the Mama Club- that exclusive membership that buys you the knowing glances from other mothers and the fullness of heart that seems no other relationship can create. All through my pregnancy, I read what seemed like every single piece of literature about the unique bond that mothers and babies experience beginning in utero and strengthening during labor and delivery and breastfeeding and those fragile weeks known as the fourth trimester. I pored over articles and blogs and books that explained attachment parenting and kangaroo care and the importance of baby's first vulnerable weeks. I listened hungrily to other mothers talk about the magic of midnight feedings, looking down at their baby who needs them so instinctively and feeling overcome with purpose and love. I had imagined exactly how I would be as a new mother and I knew I would love it. I should love it, right?

And then every expectation seemed to slip away from me one by one, only to be replaced with a much less romantic reality.

In the recovery room, I imagined I'd hold my baby to my breast and she'd squirm and shuffle to latch and we'd experience the incredible bond of a mama feeding her baby for the first time. Instead I was so tired and delirious from the long labor and the drugs that I had to squint my eyes to keep from passing out while the nurse talked to me about squeezing the nipple just so. I loved holding her to my skin, but truth be told, after the most physically grueling day I had ever endured, I wanted someone to take her away so I could fall into the deep, uninterrupted sleep that I was desperately craving. Then breastfeeding continued to frustrate me as the soft-focus moments of gazing down at my baby eluded me and instead I found myself un-showered and sleep deprived and sitting on my couch for the umpteenth hour in a row watching this tiny person literally suck the life out of me.

I imagined I would be tired, but so filled with awe at my new baby that the exhaustion would pale in comparison. This was especially hard for me (and still is). I've climbed actual mountains before and experienced that euphoric feeling at the summit that makes you forget your shaking legs and the weight of your pack. I really thought the first sleep-deprived weeks would feel like that. They didn't. I felt like a shell of myself that no one seemed to notice was empty. I thought about sleep while I was awake and wept hard when I was woken from the two or three measly hours I would get at a time. I started to dread nightfall because instead of the magic of midnight feedings, I felt the most intense jealously at anyone that was going to sleep and not wake again until the sun was up. (My mom deserves a special award for getting up and sitting on the couch with me in those lonely, exhausting hours. Just writing about it and remembering the overwhelming fatigue and knowing that someone would give up sleep on purpose just to give me some moral support makes me want to throw her a parade. Thanks Mama!)

Finally, I imagined that I would feel a bond with my daughter so fulfilling that all these other things would fall away when I looked at her and took in the sight of this person that my husband and I created. I had spent so much time during my pregnancy talking to her and imagining her face and her tiny hands and imagining our lives with her in it, that I was certain I would fall in love with her the moment I saw her. I imagined I would answer, "I'm tired, but my heart is so full!" when people asked how it was going with a newborn. Most importantly, I imagined that her neediness, her reliance on me for everything, would fill me with a sense of purpose that would radiate from me.

Imagine my surprise when all I felt when I left the hospital was overwhelmed and mostly terrified. I felt resentment and regret. I felt like I was dying a little death every time she cried and I could see my old life, a life of independence and productivity and self-assurance; a life I loved, slipping away. When she cried out and needed me and only me, I wept at the realization that no matter how old she was, she would always need me for something and instead of the feeling of purpose I imagined that would give me, I felt terrified by that neediness so deep to my core that it was all I could do to not to get in the car and drive and drive and not stop.

And every time a feeling of fear or resentment or exhaustion or anxiety would arrive, the most intense guilt would follow. "I shouldn't feel this way. I should be so in love with my new baby. I should be embracing my new life and my new role. I shouldn't feel so annoyed that she needs me. I should... I should... I should..." And the sound of my own guilt was deafening.

And then I became the needy one.

I needed space to let go of all the shoulds and shouldn'ts and the high expectations I'd set for myself and I needed space to be selfish and to grieve my old life. I needed kindness and compassion when I cried out of exhaustion and anxiety. I needed permission to say that I did not feel a sense of purpose, but instead I felt anxious and scared at the responsibility of parenting. I needed a lot of grace and love.

And I am lucky to have wonderful friends and an endlessly supportive husband and they gave me everything I needed. They let me be intensely selfish and they listened and reassured me without even a hint of judgment and, let me be clear, it was life changing.

In the space my loved ones created, I healed. I'm healing. Once I had the safe space to say out loud all the things I was convinced I shouldn't say, I felt free. I was free to be frustrated or exhausted, to be jealous or even resentful. And the safety to say them without judgement was just the thing I needed to banish the nagging guilt. There is no room for guilt when you your dark feelings are met with validation and grace. There was no more should or shouldn't. There was just the truth. And the truth is that my baby is needy and it scares me. And sleep deprivation makes me feel horrible and I hate being awake at 4am. And breastfeeding is hard and kind of annoying sometimes. And I miss my old life a lot. And I didn't fall in love with her the minute I saw her.

And that's okay.

I am finding joy in motherhood now that I have let go of the guilt and the expectations and steeped myself in grace. All those hard things are still very true but there are some other things that have become true as well. It's true that I'm becoming a more selfless person with each need of hers that I meet, especially when it's uncomfortable and inconvenient.

I am becoming a better person because she is in my world. It's not easy and it's not romantic, but it's good and I can feel my heart stretching wider and wider to welcome her in and it's like nothing I imagined.
Photos by Yates Photography

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