As a young wedding-goer, I always imagined that the first few moments alone in the car together driving away from the wedding were bliss. But when we drove away from our wedding, I started to cry. It was hard to see so many people and say goodbye so quickly. I felt like I had felt as a child when Christmas ended; this event that we had looked forward to for so long was gone. Though my husband was so patient about this (though I can’t imagine his shock!), I felt so guilty. Then one day I shared my story with a friend who said that she, too, had cried as they drove away from the wedding. I was able to accept that part of my story and realize that my emotions were part of a wide range of normal.
I was reading this article in The Atlantic about the importance of realizing that new motherhood comes with challenges. It is aptly titled “Before I Forget: What Nobody Remembers about New Motherhood.” Articles like this one make me thankful for the internet as a place where we can look at multiple sides of an experience. It is easier to accept emotions for what they are and process them when we take guilt and unrealistic expectations out of the picture.
I remember my first consideration of new motherhood as something besides pure bliss came in an American Literature college class. The professor introduced us to Sylvia Plath’s “Morning Song.” Rather than feeling purely enamored by her baby, Plath seems to feel more shock and surprise; at one point she compares the newborn’s open mouth to a cat’s.
Though I was first taken aback by Plath’s descriptions, the professor explained that Plath wanted to explore the sides of a woman’s experience that others don’t see. Our often-unrealistic expectations (based on what we read and see) influence how we experience an event. Thanks to Plath’s poem and the candid way we talk about new motherhood today, I knew to be open to the flood of emotions that come with birth and a new baby.
While there were the glowy, rosy moments for me, there was also a startling sense of newness–who is this new little being? How can he be ours? Why is he still crying?
So before I forget, I thought I would record some of my experiences and emotions from the first few weeks in Monkey Baby’s life.
I remember multiple feelings when they first handed the baby to me. After a sixteen hour labor and months of waiting, I saw my son. He was beautiful, but I was also astounded by how big he was (9 pounds). I always thought that moment would be surreal, but I felt very present and was able to take in his size, his beautiful eyes and features, and also the incredible amount of pain I was in.
I remember initially thinking that I would not want my baby to go to the hospital nursery. I still wish he had not been away from me for that short time as they moved me into a postpartum room. But I still vividly remember that at the time, I was in so much pain and was so exhausted that I did not think I could keep holding him. I felt a bit guilty for this, but mostly I felt overwhelmed.
I remember that first night in the hospital. I have been around children my whole life, and I have babysat extensively. But no amount of babysitting and being around children–and no amount of Googling–prepares you for having a newborn. When he started crying one night in the hospital and would not stop, both my husband and I were beside ourselves. There were moments of “We love this baby, but what have we done?!” We were exhausted, and we could not get him calm. I remember asking the nurse if it was okay to hold him so much. She told me, “You can’t spoil a newborn.” Those words changed my life! Then she said he might have a stomach ache and wrapped a warm blanket around his tummy. The crying stopped.
I remember how much fun it was in the hospital to have friends and family come and meet the baby. I was so proud. I was in awe of my tiny son, and when people said he was adorable or remarked on his eyes, I don’t think I even said “thank you.” I kept thinking, “I know! Isn’t he amazing!?” It wasn’t like I had anything to do with it.
I remember how it quickly became NOT fun to have others hold my baby after we came home. We had family members from out of town coming in for a while. At one point after some visitors had just left, I dissolved into tears. “It’s not fair!” I exclaimed to my baffled and slightly amused husband. “He will grow up and change so fast. I don’t want other people to hold him.” Oddly, I still feel a bit resentful about having to share my baby so much during the first two weeks. Now I am happy to let others hold him for a bit!
I remember how wonderful our family members and friends were. I was so thankful to bring our baby into such a loving family. He was doted on from the beginning, and we were, too. I cannot imagine how hard it would be to become parents away from both sets of new grandparents.
I remember those first days of baby blues. I melted into tears one night because he was growing up so fast (at 4 days old!). Then I melted into tears when other people were holding him too much. Once I knew these feelings were textbook “Baby Blues” (around day 4), I felt much better and just accepted the falling tears.
I also remember having terrifying visions of him being dropped or of him falling. I hated leaving him alone for even a second because he was so fragile and new. I never left his side (except to go to the bathroom or shower while his dad held him) for weeks. When he was with someone else in another room, I was always watching.
I remember the first night he cried uncontrollably. Up to that point, I had always been able to sooth him. But that night, he cried endlessly. I was in tears sitting in the living room, pacing the living room, singing, patting, and nothing was working. It had been over an hour, and finally, I noticed that he cried a bit less when we walked by the bathroom and he saw the nightlight. I turned on the light, and he instantly stopped crying. Still, it was one of the most awful nights of my life.
I remember the “discussions” about sleep deprivation. Don’t go there with you spouse. Just don’t. Both of us were exhausted, and both of us were trying hard.
I remember new mother guilt. Thankfully, like the nurse, there were many others to assure me that you cannot spoil a newborn. That gave me permission to truly enjoy my baby and mother him as I wanted to.
I remember that the fog of sleep deprivation, the loss of adrenaline, and Baby’s true “wake up” did not come until the second week. Then he really started crying more. He would wail many evenings. I thought I had done something wrong. I spent way too much time on Google and reading parenting books. But it tore me up inside when he cried. The first time he cried in the car, he was so worked up that he started coughing. I can’t really think of a time when I have felt more upset. Except maybe when I almost actually punched the technician who was doing a heel prick on my naked screaming baby and after ten minutes of trying to get enough blood out of the first heel, he had to prick the second. I still feel a rush of anger just thinking about it.
New motherhood is filled with bliss and shock and sometimes pain. As one father told us about parenting, “The good days are really good. The bad days are really bad.” This sums up life with a newborn for me. On the bad days, it seemed that everything that had happened thus far was so completely awful. I was sure I was failing miserably and that the baby would have a terrible life. Then on the good days, I just wanted to cuddle him and stare at him, and not having time to shower seemed a worthy price to pay.
So there are the things I remember. Facing the many complex emotions that come and holding expectations loosely is extremely important. Though there were many hard and just plain confusing things, I am thankful for grace that pulls new parents and their child though it. And I’m thankful for grace that remembers the joy and the delight because these things ultimately far outweigh the bad.
Note: I realize everyone’s experience is different. Unfortunately, Postpartum Depression overshadows the experience of many new mothers. This is WAY different from normal baby blues, and there is help. If you suspect you have Postpartum Depression, there are many resources to help including Postpartum Support International. This is a beautiful and encouraging letter by a woman who struggled with Postpartum Depression