I get up in the morning, and prepare to take the pregnancy test that I've been waiting to take since I bought it mid-morning yesterday. The results appear immediately. I am indeed pregnant. I'm a little surprised but feel at ease. My husband and I weren't trying to get pregnant nor were we trying to prevent pregnancy. It seemed like a good time in our lives to grow our little family. So when I sneak back into our room and whisper the news to him, he squeezes me tight and we feel relief, joy, and a little uncertainty.
I spend the entire pregnancy imagining what my baby will be like. What things we will do together. How I will feel to finally have him in my life. Family members, friends, and even strangers have plenty of advice and "truths" they want to share with me. Mostly they say I'll never sleep once I have a baby. People tell me I won't have time for myself anymore, and I won't be able to enjoy the activities I do now. It's slightly insulting since I've put a lot of thought into having a child of my own. Of course I don't plan for life to carry on exactly the way it has. But I also still expect to be me and to enjoy the same hobbies. Some of those activities will require adjustment, but that is exactly what I will do. Adjust. I don't appreciate hearing all this bummer news, and I tell myself that I will love every aspect of motherhood. I've wanted to be a mom for so long and I just know I will cherish every single moment.
Now, it's my due date. The baby still isn't here. I'm in my doctor's office and we're scheduling an induction for later this week. She strips my membranes and we cross our fingers that I will go into labor before getting induced. As wished for, I arrive at the hospital early in the morning of the scheduled induction already deep into labor. 9 hours go by much faster than ever before in my life, and the baby is here. I don't cry, but my husband does. I feel like I already know my baby boy and I am ready to have him in my arms.
Our time at the hospital is relatively fleeting. I am desperate to get out of there because, boy is there interruption after interruption after interruption. I had been warned of this, but the reality is so much worse than imagined. I don't think we are ever left alone for more than 30 minutes. For which, I am annoyed, but also grateful. I thought I was completely ready for this great new task of motherhood, but now that the baby is here I am overcome with feelings of insecurity. I need their help. I need all their help. I can not do this alone. Even though I have ample experience caring for infants I find myself looking up how to burp a baby, and I even watch a video on how to change a diaper. I have probably changed about 100 diapers before in my life. But I don't trust myself. I feel like I forgot everything I know about caring for a baby. Luckily, my husband's sister had scheduled a flight months ago that happened to come in on the exact day our baby boy is born. She is only here for 2 and 1/2 days, but these would have been a couple of very dark and uncertain days had she not been here. She grounds us in a way only an experienced parent can. Someone who has been where we are before. Someone who knows this feeling. This feeling that nothing will ever be the same again. This feeling that an entirely new life is starting. It is the biggest adjustment I have ever faced before in my life.
The first few days are so long. I don't know exactly how much sleep I've gotten, but I know I should feel like collapsing from exhaustion. Yet, I carry on, because I have to. My husband is in his first year of medical school and we had discussed how we would handle the sleeping situation with a new baby. We decided that he should sleep in a different room so that he could get the rest that he needed to perform well in school. He is already a poor sleeper without the added nightly disturbances that come with a new infant. Even though we talked about our plan over and over, when it is time to enact that plan, I am not ready. I do not want to spend those long dark nights alone. I need my spouse to at least be present in the room. To be at my side. I need someone, anyone else, to be there with me. But, I don't say a word. Not to anyone.
I hate to admit it, but some of the bummer news given to me by parent after parent turns out to be true. Not all of it, but I do feel like a whole new person. I feel like my previous identity has been stripped away from me and all that is left is Mother. Nurturer. Caregiver. 24/7 I have to give myself to this little person so they can have a happy and healthy life. I want him to have a happy and healthy life. I love that I get to watch him grow and learn. I love being there for every magical moment of motherhood. But why are the magical moments surrounded by a heavy darkness? Why are these disturbing thoughts popping up in my head, seemingly out of nowhere? Things I never imagined would cross my mind. I imagine horrible ways my child might be hurt or killed by things that are completely irrational. I wonder, " what have I gotten myself into? " At one point, I think that if something does happen to my baby, it will be devastating and I'll be heartbroken, but then I will be free to go back to my old life. I hate myself for thinking those things. I'm not sure how to keep the darkness out.
I can almost feel and taste the darkness in my room at night. It affects me so much, I can't even bear to be in my room during the day. I avoid it. I take naps elsewhere. In any other room besides our bedroom. I hate that room. That room means isolation. That room means I am guaranteed to wake up multiple times during the night to care for this little child all by myself. There will be no one's hand to hold. No one to look into my eyes with sympathy. No one to offer words of encouragement.
Within the first few months, we have other visitors. Both my mother and mother-in-law. Even my father comes for a few days. I stay up later than I should just so I can have the company of other people. Eventually, I reluctantly prepare for bed. I think so many times about asking one of them to sleep in that room with me so I won't be alone. I don't want to inconvenience them. So, I continue to say nothing. I keep those feelings inside. I don't share them. I just hope they will go away.
Well, I am one of the lucky ones. Those feelings do start to go away. Every time my parents, husband or mother-in-law make food for me, clean up a mess or tell me I am doing a great job, it adds a little light to my world. They cradle my baby for me and give me a break and I can feel myself recharge. They listen to me, reassure me and give me the confidence I need. My mother literally cradles me at one point. She makes me feel special and beautiful and cared for. Little by little, the days get easier, and the nights get easier. After months, I can even begin to look forward to the nights. Now, nights mean I can snuggle with my baby. It means his face will smile at me when I get up in the middle of the night to change his diaper. I am getting plenty of sleep now and don't need to force myself to take naps during the day anymore. My husband also sleeps with us for half the night just about every night and every once in a while will spend the whole night in our room. He tells me I'm a wonderful mother just about every day. I still have hard days, difficult moments, and occasional nights with insufficient sleep. I feel so humbled and honored that my baby chose me to guide him through this life; and, I still mourn the life I had before my precious baby was born, more often than I thought I would.
Now, I find myself pondering what message I would share with new or expecting parents. The truth is, I don't really believe there are any words that can fully prepare a parent for what they'll experience in the days following the arrival of their baby. But, there are words and actions that can comfort and support new parents, and there are things better left unsaid. Going through this experience has given me a glimpse of what every parent faces. Though I recognize we are all so different and in unique situations, I have so much more empathy and understanding for parents of all types. So, I've signed myself up to be a cheerleader for all new parents, old parents, those who can't or would rather not become parents, because having a child is a BIG deal. And whether or not having a child is what you want, and no matter how "good" of a parent you are, you deserve to live without guilt or shame. We are all doing the best we can.That is what I believe.
"You are not alone and you are not to blame. Help is available. You will get better," (Postpartum International).
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