When I gave birth to my daughter Alice (who turns three on Easter), I had a friend come by my hospital room and give me some sage advice that, at the moment, I didn’t understand: “There’s going to come a point within about two weeks when you start crying for no reason. You’re going to cry and cry, and you’re not going to understand why. And you’re not going to be able to stop. Your husband is going to look at you like you’re crazy, because you’re not going to be able to understand or explain. You’re just going to be so exhausted, and all you’re going to do is cry.”
Terrifying – and terribly true.
That defining moment for me came just about two weeks after Alice’s birth. By then, my adrenaline had crashed, I was exhausted and I saw no end in sight. I was on my knees, holding on to my darling baby’s crib bars and crying my eyes out because I was so tired. And my life as I had known it for 29 years had drastically, dramatically, forever changed. I was responsible for this little life. I would always be responsible for this little life. And that realization was daunting.
I always like to retell that particular story to my friends who are about to have kids – not to scare them, but to encourage them. Because it does get better – and it did get better. Once Alice started sleeping through the night (or for longer than 2-3 hours at a time), colors started to brighten. Words took on meaning. It took us a while to settle into a routine – and when I say “ a while,” I’m talking a solid six months. But once we figured out how to jive with this new little creature, life started becoming much more fuller.
Don’t get me wrong – it’s not that I didn’t enjoy the first few months with her. I loved every little thing she did. I loved engaging with her and feeding her and just watching her. I adored her. But I was so tired that it was hard to make sense of life.
The first two months after having a child – especially your first child – are going to be a challenge. And you won’t quite grasp what that means until you’re knee-deep in dirty diapers, 2 a.m. feeding calls, and runs to the store at 9 p.m. to buy formula/gas drops/wipes/etc. I certainly did not.
I didn’t realize that maternity leave wouldn’t be just free days with my little newborn. It’s survival time. It’s dealing with the pain of giving birth plus the pain of adopting a new identity and the pain of learning to readjust to your new life. Alice ate every three hours around the clock during that first month. The nights were the hardest. I hated the nights because, even though my husband took the 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. shifts, I felt so alone at 1 a.m. and 4 a.m. Then at 7 a.m., after feeding her and drinking my coffee, she and I would nap again until 10 a.m., when I’d finally decide to start my day.
For someone who had been accustomed to waking up before the crack of dawn regularly, I felt like I was being lazy and wasting the day. It took a few weeks before I realized, “Hey, wait. I’m taking care of a CHILD. A HUMAN. This person depends on me for EVERYTHING. I’m supporting two lives here – I am not being lazy.”
Don’t expect too much from yourself after birth. Those first months are hard. Take every day on its own and keep things simple. Don’t worry about cleaning the house. Don’t worry about losing the baby weight. Your job is to take care of that baby.
And what a precious baby it is.
Of course, there are going to be those endless nights, the afternoons when the baby won’t stop crying and you don’t know why. The visitors who overstay their welcome. The countless anxieties that are added to your brain because one day a baby was placed in your arms.
But it will pass. I’m not going to say that everything will be roses from two months on. Alice actually woke up with a nightmare last night, and, bleary-eyed, I hurried to her bedroom to comfort her as she told me what had scared her. And as I rocked my little girl, stroked her red hair, and eventually tucked her into bed, I mentally said the same thing that moms across the world end up saying:
It’s all worth it.