It’s 2 a.m. and, for the last hour, I’ve been trying to settle a one-month-old who can’t seem to get comfortable. He’s scrunching and stretching, his face is turning a bright red, he’s crying and rooting and can’t stop fidgeting. He won’t take a bottle, he doesn’t need his diaper changed, he’s downright revolting. I haven’t slept — literally — in days. I haven’t left the house in a week. I can’t remember what the sun feels like.
Welcome to the rude awakening that’s called motherhood.
This is the part no one tells you about. How you’ll never have time for a shower. How you’ll walk around like a zombie for a month because you’re feeding a baby every two hours. How your refrigerator will only have condiments and beer — not the fresh veggies and pre-made meals you thought you’d be eating. How your body will hurt in places you never thought possible — like your nipples.
I knew that being a parent wasn’t going to be easy. And, despite the warnings from been-there-done-that friends, nothing could have prepared me for what I’m going through right now. My fantasies of peaceful, early-morning feedings where we’d listen to classical music — great for the baby’s brain! — and strengthen our bond while breastfeeding were quickly replaced by the reality of an inconsolable baby painfully clamping onto my raw boob while I struggle to comprehend whatever informercial is on TV. It’s not pretty.
Every day I feel like a total failure at this. Whenever the baby cries, whenever I open the fridge and see nothing to eat, whenever I look in the mirror and see a bleary-eyed, pasty-skinned, brain-dead version of myself. All that circulates in my head is, How do women do this? And more than once?
I’m no schlep. I can usually deal with high levels of stress, juggling multiple tasks while making sure the house is clean, there’s food on the table, the bills are paid and the dogs are walked. I do that and still manage to read books and get eight hours of sleep!
I figured adding a newborn to the mix would just be another thing to juggle.
That was my first mistake.
First of all, you can’t juggle a baby (figuratively or literally). The baby takes over everything. All those other things you juggled — work, laundry, Pilates, hanging out with friends — no longer exist. This newborn assumes every aspect of your life. You won’t leave your living room, dirty clothes will pile up, you may not shower for days. Your life will revolve around dirty diapers, sterilizing bottles and pumping breast milk. You’ll never be more interested in the color of poop and the conversion from milliliters to ounces in your life.
As much as I’ve been through — from working in stressful newsrooms to enduring a difficult pregnancy that had me sidelined for months — I never felt as defeated as I have in the past month. I can’t understand why it’s so hard for me, why other women seem to have no problem raising a newborn (so much so they have MORE), why I can’t seem to get a handle on this. What’s wrong with me? I’ve always been able to manage so much — multiple jobs, workouts, lunches with girlfriends, birthdays, family dinners, cooking, cleaning, blogging, volunteering — why was this so hard?
My body isn’t producing the amount of breast milk my friends did. (I have two girlfriends who had to buy refrigerators just to store their extra milk.) Because of my baby’s sensitivity to lactose, I’ve had to supplement with formula, a practice that has been wrongfully shamed in the past few decades, making me feel even more like a failure. I’m still recovering from a C-section and can’t hit the surf or gym like many moms can. And forget trying to scrapbook the experience; I’m lucky I brush my teeth!
I kept wondering if it’s just me. I desperately search online for confirmation of the opposite, hoping to commiserate with the frustration of other women who feel like they’re failing at this. I can’t be alone.
And — thankfully — I’m not.
While it seems like raising a newborn is some kind of ethereal, magical experience — especially on Instagram, which I had been trying to avoid — I’m here to say it’s not. It’s full of spit-up and poop-splosions. It’s the only thing in my life that has literally brought me to my knees in tears. It’s beyond humbling; it straight-up destroys you.
I feel so defeated, so hopeless, as I struggle to comfort this clearly uncomfortable baby. I can’t imagine ever getting through this stage, though I know — people keep telling me — that it gets better, it gets easier, I’ll actually sleep again. I just can’t fathom it.
But when he does finally fall asleep, cradled in my arms, and the house is quiet and the dogs are curled up on the couch with me, there is a kind of peace that washes over me, a feeling that it’s possible I’ll get through this.
But do this all over again with another baby? Ask me when I get four hours of sleep.