A grandmother’s thoughts:
A Leap of Faith
My daughter, Alison and her husband, Tom, just had a baby girl. She was born a month premature and is now about 10 weeks old. They live across the country from me and my husband, so I decided that we should relocate for two months to be close to her and her husband to help. Thank goodness that we did! It really takes a village to raise a family, from the very first days. As our daughter so aptly put it, “the best preparation is to learn to embrace the unknown with a spirit of wonder and adventure.”
Parenting in your 30’s
With many parents waiting until they are more mature than previous generations, the challenge is thinking that one can prepare for all of it. By the time you are in your thirties, having worked, studied and been able to take control over many aspects of your own life, there can be a belief that “I can study this and get all the things, resources, etc., to make this baby experience run smoothly.” As my daughter found, this can set you up for disappointment, and maybe even distress, because you have no control over how this baby comes into the world, and what sort of little personality and biology she might have. It is, I think the greatest leap of faith we take in this life. Thankfully, so many of us have the courage to take that leap and find life’s greatest reward during the hardest job we’ll ever have, parenthood.
These last few weeks, I’ve had the privilege of being witness to all of it, the joy, the tears, the half madness that comes from not being able to console a tiny infant. I believe that having the right community is essential. Grandparents, friends, babysitters, night nurse, doula, therapist, and a supportive partner help a new parent keep their sanity. We call it “Team Ella”. Many new parents, particularly mothers, believe that they are failing because their baby is so hard to console, cannot breastfeed, or sleep consistently. That is no one’s fault or failure. It’s exhausting, and you can lose your S—T easily, so you just need someone else there to give you a break, or many breaks.
When it’s a serious condition
The postpartum period also involves significant hormonal changes, which can cause anxiety, mood swings, crying spells, and difficulty sleeping for many women. These changes, commonly referred to as the “baby blues,” occur soon after delivery and may last for up to two weeks. There are also the lesser known postpartum mood disorders, described in a humorous New Yorker article. While some emotional swings are to be expected, some women may experience more severe mood disorders. There is postpartum psychosis, which is a very serious condition that requires professional treatment. There can also be postpartum depression, which is a severe and long lasting form of depression, that can include withdrawal, suicidal thoughts, lack of appetite, and requires attention from a doctor and mental health specialist.
Now for my daughter’s thoughts:
As a pregnant person and as a new mom, I have sought connection with other women experiencing the same things, but I continue to struggle with the way we relate to each other, which mostly seems to be through the giving of advice. I’m certain it comes from a good place -“I just went through the same crazy experience! Here are all the things that helped!” – but in so many important ways, our experiences are very different and what worked for you may not
work for me.
Instead, it is such a gift when I get a chance to share my experiences and feel heard and acknowledged, which is one way therapy has been so helpful. On that note, rather than giving any advice on early motherhood, I’ve decided to share my thoughts and experiences of these first crazy days and some of the things that have surprised me.
Can I Prepare? The Illusion of Control.
One of the first challenges when preparing for our baby to arrive was navigating my desire to have a plan for everything and knowing that when it comes to babies, almost nothing will go according to plan. I arranged for a doula and bought all the baby gear. I indulged my planning instinct because it helped me ease my mind and feel more prepared. I realize now that I should also have been preparing my mind. I wish I had:
- started therapy sooner
- worked to understand my need to have a plan for everything
- begun to develop a more flexible mindset, which is probably better preparation for parenthood than buying endless products on Amazon.
Thank Goodness for My Partner
With the huge caveat that my water broke a month early and Tom (my husband), had to rush home from Los Angeles for the delivery, my labor experience was reasonably undramatic. Labor and post-delivery in the hospital was extremely emotional and stressful. It was also an incredible bonding time for me and Tom. He expressed a lot of awe and pride in me becoming a mom. He helped manage all the crazy things that were happening to my body. He literally
changed my diapers, waking up with me every 3 hours to pump and bring milk to Ella in the NICU, the list goes on. It took the feeling of us being a team to a whole new level.
I was surprised at how completely in love I was with Ella immediately. I have never identified as a “baby person.” I wasn’t even sure I was ready to have a baby. But, as soon as Ella was born, I kicked into mom gear in an instinctual way. I was worried I’d be bored and frustrated by the newborn phase. In many ways I am, but I’m also obsessed with snuggling her and kissing her cheeks and staring into her eyes. I spend a lot of time wishing we could get to the part where she sleeps through the night and isn’t throwing up all the time. And, I also want her to be able to curl up into a little ball on my chest forever.
I still feel a sense of guilt and loss around the early newborn days not going the way that I had hoped. For example, I assumed that I would breastfeed for at least the first few months of Ella’s life. We never got there. I tried and tried, but it was always such a struggle. I don’t even know why it was so important to me. Maybe I thought it was the best way to bond with my baby. I must be the source of her best nutrients. Breastfeeding feels like an essential part of the motherhood experience. If I quit, “I was being selfish or lazy.” I don’t know where these ideas came from. But, no matter how many people told me it was ok to quit, quitting felt like giving up.
One great resource I will share if you’re trying to make this decision for yourself is Emily Oster’s book Cribsheet. She also has a great book on pregnancy called Expecting Better. Both are based on sharing data instead of advice/opinions and encouraging women to make the choices that are best for them.
The New Normal
As I look back, I realize that we were in survival mode during those NICU days. In many ways, things have gotten harder as I’ve tried to adjust back to my “normal” life. When I get the chance to enjoy some of my favorite pre-baby activities, like dinner with friends or a yoga class, I’m preoccupied with thoughts of Ella. Is she getting a good nap? Did she finish her bottle? Did she fuss the whole time? I miss the time when I was able to be fully present in these activities,
and I wonder if I ever will be again. One thing I’ve realized is that I’m still figuring out what our new normal looks like. That process will probably take a while. This early stage is about having stamina, flexibility, and the ability to take the long view. This will pass, and more provocative and exciting matters await! Maybe we can fill you in on the sleep training to come soon.
Tory Joseph (Ella’s Nana) LCPC, and Alison James (Ella’s Mom)