That feels like all it took. I was massively pregnant, more uncomfortable than I had ever been and positive that the baby was never actually going to come, but then I blinked. Now, I am the (very proud) mom of a perfect 4 month old baby boy. I was put together, had everything organized and I had a plan, but then I blinked. Now, I don’t know how people make it out of the house before 11am, I’m pretty sure I’ve only done my hair 3 times in the last 4 months, I find my husbands pants more comfortable than my own, my nice clean house is dusty, the laundry baskets are overflowing, the fridge is empty and every surface is covered in baby stuff. I had a plan and I thought I had this whole baby/parent thing figured out, but then I blinked. And here I am, 4 months later still finding that more often than not, I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing.
This parenting thing is hard. I love it, don’t get me wrong, but it is freaking hard. I’ve always prided myself on being strong willed, independent and doing what I think is best, regardless of what others think, but in the 4 months since Oliver was born, I’ve found that it’s really easy to get lost. Somewhere in between my expectations, my husbands expectations, the nurses, doctors, friends, family members and all of their opinions, the books, the websites and the million and a half pamphlets I was given, all the advice and the sleep deprivation and the crazy hormones, I lost sight of my plan.
I lost sight of who I was.
Our biggest struggle was with breastfeeding. People don’t tell you how incredibly difficult breastfeeding is. Not only is it difficult, but it’s frustrating and it’s discouraging and it’s lonely. I found (and maybe this was just my experience) that breastfeeding was pushed so hard that I didn’t even bother to think there was another option; that maybe I wouldn’t be able to breastfeed. I just assumed that my baby and I would fumble a little bit, but we would figure it out. Well, we didn’t. And before anyone decides to get judgemental and tell me that ‘breast is best’, let me tell you that we tried… really, really hard to make it work. Oliver was moved into the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit for suspected pneumonia a couple hours after he was born and stayed there for 4 days. This meant that he was on IV antibiotics, he had oxygen going into his nose, and he had a tube down his throat into his stomach to vent any air before it could build up. This, in turn, meant that we were unable to breastfeed for the first 3 days.
When we were sent home on day 4, my milk still hadn’t come in and we had just started having to top up with formula after each feed. By the end of the first week I had started taking domperidone, drinking mothers milk tea (even had a girlfriend make me a batch of mothers milk cookies), I had tried nipple shields and started pumping. We would nurse for 20 minutes per side, top off with a bottle of formula, and then I would pump to try and increase my milk supply. An hour later when he was hungry again, we would start the whole process over. We did this for the entire first month.
I was exhausted. Oliver was exhausted.
It’s strange… before Oliver was born I was so sure of the fact that I just wanted my baby to be fed. I didn’t care if that meant breast milk or formula, I just wanted him to be full, healthy and happy. But then I spent almost every night in the rocking chair in his nursery, trying to get him to nurse and sobbing while he screamed. I wanted SO badly for it to work, but it just wasn’t. No matter what I tried I couldn’t produce much more than 8oz a day. I was failing. And this is what I mean when I say I lost sight of who I was and what I had believed in because if you had asked me before he was born, I would have told you that if breastfeeding didn’t work, oh well. This is also what I mean when I said that breastfeeding is lonely. There is absolutely nothing anyone can do to help you.
Actually, this whole parenting thing has been a little lonely. Don’t get me wrong, Shawn has been amazing. In the first days home from the hospital he took over the cooking and shopping and made sure I had everything I could possibly need. Both our families have also been super supportive, so as far as moral support goes, I have won the lottery.
But there have been a lot of times during the last 4 months that I have felt like a single parent.
Physically speaking, there isn’t a whole lot that someone without any core muscles can do to help out with a newborn. Like when it’s 2am and you’ve been walking around bouncing a screaming baby for 3 hours and you just need 2 minutes to collect yourself, but your husband can’t walk around and bounce the baby so you can’t pass him off. Or when you haven’t slept in god knows how long and you would just like to get a couple uninterrupted hours, but your husband lacks the core muscle to be able to pick the baby up out of the crib to give him a bottle when he wakes up. And I know that Shawn wants to be able to help me with these things; he would get up with me in the middle of the night when Oliver was crying, but really, what’s the point in both of us being exhausted the next day?
Fast forward to today and I think that the 3 of us have settled into a nice little routine; a rhythm that has made life feel much easier. After the first month, Shawn and I made the decision to stop breastfeeding completely and it was the best decision we have ever made. Not only did it give us some extra time, but it allowed Shawn to be able to feed Oliver as well which took a whole lot of pressure off of me and made Shawn feel much more involved. Since then, Oliver is no longer fussy (for the most part… he still has his moments) and the stomach/bowel issues he was having have stopped. He sleeps like a champ; waking up once, maybe twice throughout the night for a bottle. He is the happiest little guy I have ever met and he is growing and changing SO quickly.
As he grows, it’s becoming easier for Shawn to help out and bond with him as well. Oliver can hold his head up on his own so Shawn is able to hold him and lift him and play with him now, which he couldn’t do when he was a newborn. Another SCI mom passed on a carrier to us that her husband used with their little ones and that has made it possible for Shawn to carry Oliver around on his lap and still have his hands free to push and balance (thanks Des!). I love being able to watch the two of them together; Shawn making faces and Oliver squealing and giggling, it makes my heart happy.
Reading back over this post, I realize that it sounds kind of depressing and a little like I’m complaining, but believe me, I really do love mom life. I have never experienced anything as frustrating, as difficult, as overwhelming, or as rewarding as these last 4 months. I have also never learned so much in such a short period… and not just about raising a baby, but about myself and my relationship with my husband.
People don’t like to talk about the hard stuff.
I don’t know if it’s because they want to seem like they’ve got it all figured out, or if it’s for fear of being judged, or if it’s because they think they are the only person who has ever felt this way. Let me be the first to tell you that you don’t have to have it all figured out; I have a feeling that this parenting thing is one giant learning curve that will continue well past when our children become adults themselves. Will you be judged? By some, yes. But others are going to thank you; they will thank you for your honesty and your insight and for giving them someone to relate to, because I can guarantee that you are not the only person who has ever felt this way. You are not alone. But, if you ever feel like you are really struggling, please don’t be afraid to reach out to someone, to anyone. Talk about it, take a few deep breaths, and blink a few times; that’s all I had to do. Time goes by so, so quickly; you blink and before you know it you’re rocking the mom thing like it’s second nature and you can’t remember what life was like before your perfect little babe arrived. So just hang in there, breathe deep, and blink.
P.S. In case no one has told you lately, you are doing an amazing job.
Sam (and Oliver)