As many of you know, I'm a new mom. And I'm tremendously lucky to have gone through the pregnancy and new-mom phases along with two amazing girlfriends -- we all delivered within four and a half months of each other, with their two babies being born two weeks apart.
My husband and I had our little one first, and so we got to do a little trailblazing. Our son's birth was a lengthy, difficult process, and I came home from the hospital well behind the proverbial eight-ball in terms of sleep and rest. The first two weeks especially brought challenges I had never dreamed of -- from the baby's well-defined sleep preferences (read: in someone's arms) to my own struggle with baby blues and unbelievable anxiety. I found myself so often lying awake at night while the baby snoozed in my husband's arms, wondering, "will something happen to him? am I doing this right? what if I make a mistake? what if my in-laws think I'm a terrible mother to their grandchild? what if he's not getting enough to eat? what if someone tries to kidnap him? what if I'm driving with him over an overpass near a bayou and I go off the road and we go into the water and Ican'tgethimoutofthecarseatOHMYGOD." I was such a wreck that simple things like the baby spitting up reduced me to tears -- "I'm sorry," I would sob to the baby. "Mommy's so sorry."
With tremendous support from my husband, my family and my doctor, I made it through those rough first two weeks, only to deal with more challenges in the form of breastfeeding. What I had always believed to be a simple and natural process turned out to be a painful and arduous struggle. At times it would hurt so much that the simple act of picking up the baby to feed him would make me cry real tears, in anticipation of the excruciating pain. I never ONCE considered quitting -- it was important to me to breastfeed for a variety of reasons -- but it kicked my butt for a while.
And then there was the perfectionism.
I have always held myself to high standards. So what, right? Plenty of people do that to themselves. And I've accepted my tendency to set ridiculous expectations of myself in the past, succeeding at times and falling short at others. But when you cross impossible standards with no sleep and constant perceived scrutiny from others around you (which I now think was largely imagined on my part), you have a recipe for disaster. All I had wanted was to be a stay-at-home mom to our child, and yet each day I felt like I was messing up the very job I'd felt perfectly cut out for. I looked after the baby scrupulously, attending to his every need. I kept him clean, fed, and held him as he slept. I wrote down logs of when he ate and when he had diaper changes. I noted his first trip to the doctor, his first chance to try a pacifier, his first time in the swing. I was so deeply subsumed in caring for him that I convinced myself that even taking a nap and going "off-duty" was impossible. And I barely registered my husband for a while, and completely neglected myself.
Fast forward to today, five months later. I've found a bit more balance in my life, I'm glad to report, though I still struggle with feeling like I have to have each day be "perfect" for my son -- perfectly timed naps, just the right amount of stimulation, exciting outings to entertain him, no TV, lots of playtime, books, you name it. And I've learned a lot from this process, and when my two girlfriends had their babies recently, I stood by, ready to reassure them when they felt overwhelmed or when their babies cried or when they needed a break to nap or take a shower.
Except they've handled everything beautifully. My sister-in-law is so attuned to her month-old daughter that I'm in awe. They seem to have found a perfect daily rhythm of eating and sleeping, and have ventured out into the "real world" in ways I wasn't brave enough to try till much later. My other girlfriend handles motherhood as gracefully as if she's had training all her life. Each of these new mothers has sailed past the feeding challenges that I found cripplingly painful, and seems to get enough rest to feel functional each day. They both amaze me with the ease they bring to being mothers to their beautiful children. I feel lucky to be going through this process alongside both of them -- and yet, that part of my brain that demanded perfect test scores on American history exams and that required me to achieve the highest performance ratings distributed at work now makes itself heard again. "What did I do wrong?" I lay awake and wonder. "They make it look so easy. How did I manage to make it so complicated? ... Am I not cut out for this? Am I doing it all wrong?"
And worst of all, "Will all this somehow hurt the baby?"
It certainly hurts ME.