You Are Doing A Good Job.
I remember leaving the hospital with our first baby, two bags of a stranger’s blood coursing through my veins, sleeping newborn in the back seat, this thought crossing through my mind as we drove over the soft, snow covered mountains – I can’t believe they are letting me leave with this thing. I have no idea how to take care of a baby.
Death almost took me after the birth of my first son. Anesthesia, stitches, and two bags full of blood later, I was feeling weak, tired, white as the January snowflakes outside. The baby couldn’t latch on to feed. The nurses would help, pinching my nipples and shoving them into his mouth, but as soon as we got home we would both sit on that taupe leather couch crying from sheer frustration, him famished, me battling with the crushing guilt of failure and body betrayal. A lactation consultant, an angel in Carhartts and a periwinkle polo shirt, came to my house, sat with me on the couch, the dreariness of winter settled all throughout our house, and patiently helped us figure out how to nurse… but the darkness of depression still crept in. I fell into a deep hole of loneliness, the responsibility of total sacrifice weighing heavily on me, the bitterly cold winter, a baby who needed to be in my arms at every moment, and an overwhelmed and mentally absent husband.
Instead of being bombarded, bleary eyed and dazed in the produce aisle with a tiny baby strapped to my chest, by women telling me to “enjoy every moment”, I wish someone had told me that things would get better. That this wouldn’t always feel so overwhelming, that every moment wouldn’t be enjoyable, that over time bits of myself would start to fight their way through the darkness, that this little person wouldn’t always need every piece of me, waking and sleeping. I wish someone had validated my tender state, my misery, the crushing guilt, the tears shed alone, folded body propped up against the shower wall so that no one could hear me. Because the dawn does come even after the darkest hour, bearing the sunlight and pushing out the night. It does get easier, you do start to metabolize it, your baby does slowly become more independent, and you do eventually start to breath again. But being encouraged to enjoy every moment when you are struggling just to survive the moment is agonizing, guilt inducing, isolating.
And, I get it, now. Now that I’m two kids in and two years out from the newborn stage, I understand. Those comments come from a place of honesty, a place of sweet remembrance and beautiful forget. When I see a mother with a wrinkly-skinned, yawning newborn, I’m flooded with warm, visceral memories of days spent in bed counting tiny fingers and toes, hours passing with no agenda, a fuzzy head nuzzled into my chin. Part of me yearns deeply for that lazy passing of time, the excitement of newness, the elation of learning everything about this tiny new person. I understand why people tell you to enjoy every moment, because mothers more than anyone understand the unmerciful passing of time. Suddenly your baby has become a 4 year old, or a 24 year old, or a 44 year old; that baby you clutched against your breast in the wee hours of his life is no more, that time has passed and it won’t return. And the paradox is, when you’re in the thick of mothering a newborn you can’t possibly appreciate the brief and fleeting moment that you are immersed in.
In the parking lot of a coffee shop recently, I saw a woman in the next car over nursing a little baby. Just from her expression, the tender look on her face, the way her arm moved slowly and softly, I could tell she was nursing a newborn, rubbing the velvety softness of a baby head. Part of me felt compelled to burst out of my car, knock on her window and express effusively that I 100% supported her and loved her, here and now, in this moment. That’s what moms should be saying to each other in the aisles of the supermarket. That’s how we should treat one another, with empathy for the painful loneliness, the fears of failure, the sleepless nights. With celebration for the joys that babies usher in, the elation, the arrival of a new soul. When I had my first son, I wish that someone had hugged me, asked me out for coffee, told me that they loved me, that it was hard, that my feelings were OK, that it would pass, that I was doing a good job.
Elissa Koop, The Village Journalist