Little Bing-Bong is ten days old today. We've been home for eight of those, adjusting to life as a new family of five—mostly this means adjusting to being the mother of a newborn again. I was inspired by this post on one of my favorite blogs, Reading My Tea Leaves, to share with you what this postpartum period looks and feels like for me.
In that post, Erin Boyle writes:
On lifestyle blogs that delve into the realm of parenthood, the most we often get is a note that the writer has taken some time off to enjoy baby snuggles. For my part, when I’ve mentioned that I’ve just given birth and might be slow to respond to emails, I’ve often been met with a response along the lines of, “so glad you get to enjoy that time with your new baby.” Or, “treasure every moment.” Or, “relish this precious time.” These are all things I’m doing and the notes from friends and perfect strangers along these lines are lovely and warm and very much appreciated. And yet, I think we all deserve a nuanced understanding—and recognition—of what welcoming a baby into the world looks like. We deserve to reframe the postpartum period of rest and recovery as being an essential part of welcoming a new baby and not an optional or luxurious one.
And later she says:
Without a doubt, for me welcoming a baby into the world is a moment of great, indescribable joy. It’s also a moment of terrific tenderness. There’s discomfort. There are hormonal swings. There are hunger pangs and heart pangs and bouts of feeling overwhelmed just as much as bouts of feeling euphoric.
All of which I have to say an unmitigated "YES!" to.
We are—I am—in awe of this little baby. The coos, the grunts, the fuzz covering her shoulders, her unbelievably tiny wrists, elbows, knees; her eyes, which have been slow to awaken, beginning to fixate on me; the surprising heft of her tiny body as she lies on my chest, sound asleep, pinning me to the couch. Having a newborn awakens a compassion in me I had heretofore thought myself incapable of. Taking care of her (and the two that preceded her) is a sacred duty, my sacred duty, the holiest thing I have ever done.
It is also, of course, the most difficult thing I have ever done. While of course I try to treasure every moment and relish this time, that can be hard when running on four hours of interrupted sleep; when with every footstep and every rollover in bed, pain radiates in my back; when the boys, hungry for my attention, take their frustrations out on each other. When my breasts ache from a surfeit of milk; when the baby takes nearly 15 minutes to latch on to one of my nipples, both of us growing more irritated with every attempt; when I am alone and sobbing in the bedroom from shifting hormones and co-parenting tensions.
The post-partum period is no joke. It is unimaginably beautiful, and it is unimaginably difficult. There is physical pain—uterine cramping, engorged breasts, sore nipples, the general aches of having delivered a baby, and for me, the remnants of a pinched nerve that render me barely mobile; there is emotional pain and difficulty—roller-coaster hormones, feelings of overwhelm and inadequacy, an aching to spend more time with my boys, and conflict with my husband. This is an intense period, and the few moments of calm take on an almost sublime feel in their transience. Most of the other moments are some admixture of joy, exhaustion, physical discomfort, wonder, frustration, and when I'm lucky, clear-headed competence. This is a period of endless giving for a mother, of endless emptying of herself into her baby and her older children; and while I do maintain that this is my sacred duty and I do it gladly, that doesn't mean that it's also not really, really hard.
Other than the sleeplessness, one of the hardest things for me is coping with how much I miss my older children while I'm pinned under the weight of a nursing newborn. It can be hard to watch them building on the rug or running around outside while I'm sitting on the couch for the nth time, nursing the baby, or holding her while she sleeps. We do what we can together, which means reading lots of books on the couch, but mostly right now I am an observer to their comings and goings. There is no question that they miss me, too, though I reassure them that this time when the baby needs me so much is temporary, and as she grows I will have more time with them. But even to me that's little solace when I watch them playing, experimenting, and having fun, and don't feel that I can participate. (This is as much due to my pinched nerve, which seems to be recovering slowly, as it is to being with the baby all the time.)
And then there's this, too: even if you do treasure every moment and relish this precious time, even if you bring awareness and mindfulness into the everyday tasks of diapering, wiping, feeding, singing to sleep, this time passes. Even if you stop worrying about everything else and gaze into her eyes for every moment that she holds them open, these moments will disappear. Even if you do your best to cherish and remember every smile, every flutter, every scent, every coo, they will all slip from you. One day you will realize that your "baby" weighs thirty pounds, and talks, and builds amazing Lego structures, and will not eat broccoli, and though s/he likes to hold your elbows at bedtime, you will know that this small child is not quite the same cooing newborn you brought home from the hospital a few years ago, and you will be shocked that that was already a few years ago, and you will wonder what happened to all the moments that you savored because you thought that savoring them meant you would have them forever, but what you have now is a weepy nostalgia and a thirty-pound walking, talking, reasoning, ice-cream-loving contrarian dictator whose every joke, jump, and dance move you try to relish and savor, realizing of course that this model will soon be supplanted by the forty-pound version who's becoming more cunning and clever and strong every day, and at some point you have to give up on the holding on and savoring because there's something about them, these babes, that's always just out of your knowing, and just out of your grasp, and although all of it somehow came from you, all of it is beyond you and more than you.
Photos by me and James.