motherhood 2 years in: encouragement
I sat down to journal “a little bit” in the weeks + days leading up to my kid’s 2nd birthday in Feb 2021, and what came out ended up being more of a novella instead of a journal entry. This is part 3.
This part of the essay is heavier, about navigating emotions and newborn-time platitudes, mostly. No specific trigger warnings,
As we get closer to Charlie’s second birthday, I am thinking more and more about having another child. Do I want to, can I, should I, does Man-Piece want to, can we afford it, do we want to afford it, can my body and mind handle another pregnancy and newborn phase, ETCETERA.
Every time it comes into my head, I wonder if it’s “just hormones.” Like is it ME wanting another child or is it evolution and pheromones and societal pressure or whatever, influencing me?
I don’t WANT to be influenced. I want to do it because I want to do it (heh, do it). But with hormones in play, how can I know that it’s ME and not…something else?
The hormones are PART of me, so then that leads to: if hormones influence me to want another baby, is that truly an external influence or is it just ME?
This is a bit of a mind fuck, isn’t it? AM I JUST A RAGING HORMONE, FLOATING IN THE VOID OF SPACE!?
This train of typically descends quickly down the mountainside of anxiety into the newborn memory tunnel (hi, taking the train metaphor too far). Postpartum hormones absolutely ravaged me (I’m not special in this way, it happens to everyone, I’m told), and I felt at the time like I couldn’t trust anything I was feeling.
How could I know if the feelings were MINE or simply temporarily induced by an absurd chain of amino acids that will pass if only I can MAINTAIN MY COMPOSURE long enough? Like, fuck you, hormones, I was FINE 4 seconds ago and now I’m sobbing for reasons I can’t verbalize because I’m sobbing! AND NOW I’M SOBBING BECAUSE I’M SOBBING. DON’T ASK ME WHAT’S WRONG, I DON’T KNOW.
But the reasons for the sobbing aren’t always unknown, which is again what makes you question: IS IT REAL!? What makes it REAL?! WHAT IS REALITY?!? WHO DECIDES WHAT IS REAL!?!?!? And now I’m having an existential crisis. AGAIN.
So IN CONCLUSION: the newborn phase was just absolutely not fun for me. I think I did a pretty good job of pretending, though. Like, I posted an ok amount of “look how cute my baby is” pics on social media. I think we can all agree that’s the real metric here.
At least, I THINK I did an ok job pretending. I pretended with some people, and other people got the full on “no yeah this isn’t my favorite, but I’m told it ends eventually?! And like today he sort of smiled so that was great?! I dunno, I’m crying again!”
Either way, I made sure to smile in photos, with friends and people who were meeting my tiny human and marveling at the cuteness, the smallness, and other -ness things people discuss in the presence of a human who still has the warrantee sticker on his forehead.
And there are a lot of discussion points, AREN’T THERE.
Here are some my favs:
“Are you tired? Gosh I remember those days. It’s all worth it though. Just wait until they’re teenagers! Just wait until puberty! Just wait until he turns 2! JUST WAIT! It’ll get better. It’ll get easier. You can do it. You’ll get through it. Parents have been raising children for thousands of years, there’s no reason you can’t be one of them. When they start smiling it’s better. Nothing beats newborn snuggles! Nothing beats when he calls you MAMA! Soak it up because it’ll be over before you know it! Here’s a casserole and my favorite nipple cream, bye!”
Let me just. Let’s evaluate all of these one at a time, shall we? Because I have Thoughts. FEELINGS. THOUGHTS AND FEELINGS. FEELINGS AND THOUGHTS™.
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Are you tired? Gosh I remember those days.
Yes I’m tired, like duh. Thanks for noticing. Glad you remember so fondly. Good for you. I’m still tired, so maybe gtfo so I can put my robe back on and get back in bed.
It’s all worth it though.
Is it all worth it? When does that become apparent? If it’s not in the next 5 seconds, I’m not interested in hearing it.
Just wait until they’re teenagers!
Teenager time is decades from now, but thanks for that. Definitely excited to keep them away from internet predators, cyber bullying, regular bullying, worry about college, and deal with The Sex Talk. Excellent input, my anxiety is definitely lower now!
Same same. Doesn’t help me at this very moment, so like, bye.
2 years old is mentally a decade away. I’m not entirely sure I’m making it through the next 24 hours, so having me consider that year 2 is going to be WORSE than right now is both incredibly unhelpful and essentially the opposite of motivating or encouraging. So again, thanks.
It’ll get better
But like WHEN. Once again forced to ask: if it’s not better in the next 5 seconds, I’m simply unconvinced I will make it to such a time.
You can do it
ACCORDING TO WHO? Have you seen me do it? Have you witnessed my motherhood victories and as such know my resume of successes? Would you endorse me on LinkedIn for this? Do you know my parenting chops and therefore feel qualified to give such a recommendation? To me, about myself?
Perhaps this piece of encouragement IS encouraging to some or even many people. For me, it was an invitation to make a snarky comment, roll my eyes, and then go sob some more.
Parents have been “doing this” for X amount of time, same RE giving birth: mothers have been doing this since before Jesus and blah blah – oh and speaking of Jesus, did you know Mary gave birth to our savior in a barn with no modern medicine?!
Simply put, I am just not interested in what other people have done or have been doing as proof that I, too, am capable of doing said thing. This method of external motivation does not work on me. And in fact upon hearing this, my base instinct is to yell something contrary about how maybe then I DON’T want to do it, simply because “everyone else” has been doing it.
There’s a quote from an obscure movie: “What one man can do, another can do.” This is, inherently, a motivating statement. I appreciate it. I use it on myself for business-y things and sometimes fitness or athletic goals, and in certain contexts, it helps.
In the newborn context though, I wasn’t hearing it. I couldn’t hear it. WOULDN’T hear it. I didn’t like it. I didn’t think it applied to me, and it did not encourage me.
When they start smiling, it’s better.
This is a fact and cannot be argued. Once they smile, whether in response to something you actually do or say, or just because they tooted, it’s awesome.
HOWEVER, much like “it’ll get better,” if I don’t see IMMINENT smiles, I am not encouraged. Simply wondering how many more sleepless nights before I’m awarded with the instinctive fart-response or a behavioral facial movement…it’s just not helpful in the moment.
Nothing beats newborn snuggles
This is a doozie. Buckle up.
SO MANY PEOPLE love newborn snuggles. SO MANY.
EVERYONE, it seems, wants to hold the baby, rock the baby, snuggle the baby, nuzzle the baby, cuddle the baby (now I sound like that book we have).
Everyone loves the smell. Everyone loves the soft skin. Everyone loves the fart smiles and coos. And when I say everyone, I do mean that 95% of people I encountered while I had a newborn with me, wanted to do one or all of these actions and then remark on subsequent cute things.
It’s like a mad lib of The Newborn. Let’s try one!
Fill in the blanks: OHEMGEE! SQUEE! [Name] is so cute! He looks just like [parent this person is closest with]! Look at his [choose one: cheeks, nose, mouth, toes, eyelashes, leg or arm rolls]! I could just eat him up! Can I hold him? I just love the new baby smell! OHEMGEE! He just [made a noise, tooted, smiled, looked at me]! I am dying at how [choose one: precious, cute, adorable, tiny] he is! His skin is so soft, too, it’s like a [choose one: baby’s bottom joke, rose petal, velvet, something else really soft]. How does he sleep? How is it going?? How do you FEEL???
Wasn’t that fun?
Side note re the baby smell: I have news for us: it’s johnson & johnson, y’all. We’re all using the same samples from the hospital, and all the hospitals use j&j, ok? It’s the soap. Also spoiled milk. Didn’t know we all loved the smell of spoiled milk so much, but ok.
Now that we had fun with the newborn mad lib, let’s get down about newborn snuggles.
I, apparently, am not one of those 95% of people. I am the friend who truly doesn’t want to hold your baby. I am not a “baby person.” Babies were (still are, let’s be real) terrifying to me.
Even as a teenage babysitter, I think I babysat for an actual baby (like, less than 18 months old) ONE time. And it went SO WELL that I had to call my mother to come help me change it’s poop diaper because I simply could not handle it. And we waited – me and this baby – with it’s tiny bum out, feet in the air, while Ma walked down our street to help me. The older brother – at a very wise and helpful 4 years old – answered the door and told her what was up, exclaiming proudly when she walked inside: “she pooped and IT’S EVERYWHERE!”
This anecdote almost perfectly sums up how I deal with things: outsource, or call your mother (is that a tiny bit of irony, as I discuss being someone’s mother?).
When Charlie was new, I just wanted someone to bring him to me when he needed to be fed, then take him away again so I could go back to sleep. It’s not that I actively didn’t want to hold him, it’s just that I didn’t actively want to hold him all the time, nor did I desire to take him away from other people who were clearly VERY much enjoying holding him.
I was fine with it and happy for someone else to hold him, give him a bottle, hold him again, and obviously change his diaper. I kept feeling like, I did all the work to grow him and bring him into the world. I stay up with him all night. I need a break. I get to see him 24/7. Let someone else have a turn. And since other people seemed so eager to do so, I figured, why stand in the way?
He was a calm baby, mostly. Not colicky, slept probably better than average (I guess I have no way of knowing if this is true, but it seems true), soothed [relatively] easily [most of the time]. He was what we all call an “easy baby,” which I also have Feelings + Thoughts™ about that I’ll save for another time. But because he WAS so “easy” – everyone thought so and told me so – everyone was thus willing to pick him up, snuggle him, take him away from me. And…I didn’t mind.
Looking back on this, I feel a little sour. Maybe I DID let other people snuggle him too much. I SHOULD have snuggled him more. To “soak it up” before it ended.
Because as he approaches 2 years old and 30 pounds, he is far from newborn snuggle size. He is squirmy and contrary, heavy and hard for me to carry, spazzy and prone to accidentally headbutting me, or having a tantrum at the drop of a hat and smacking me in the face.
So I guess sometimes I do miss it, though I do also insist on having no regrets, and to me “no regrets” means I don’t think of it in terms of “missing it.”
But this statement, “nothing beats newborn snuggles,” as it’s not really advice, didn’t give me comfort either. Because I didn’t crave the snuggles. So when hearing other people – some of them strangers to me, or especially younger women than me who have no children of their own – it made me doubt myself. Like SHE loves the snuggles and she doesn’t even HAVE kids (whatever that might mean, hormonally, instinctively, I don’t know but it seemed to have significance). I HAVE a baby – a new one at that, and I just don’t love it – the snuggles. And it kind of doesn’t bother me that other people are snuggling him more than me (or at least, perceived more).
This self-doubt and questioning I think can be crippling. And it was for me, at times. In dark moments, I would wonder if I had made a mistake. Does me NOT desiring excessive amounts of baby snuggles and skin time mean that I shouldn’t be a mom? Should I have not gotten pregnant? Am I going to fuck this whole thing up because it wasn’t meant to be and I did it anyway? These are rhetorical but could be worth discussing in the comments if you felt the same!
It’ll be over before you know it
Well, it IS over now. But it wasn’t “before I knew it.” It was over in the exact amount of time it was supposed to be over. And I think I floated through much of it in a daze of doubt, a haze of wondering if I’m doing the right thing, if I’ll ever find my stride, if I’ll ever feel comfortable calling myself a MOM, if I love my kid “correctly,” if I’ll ruin him because I DON’T think that my entire purpose on this earth is to be his mother, if I’m even meant to do this if I DON’T martyr myself for the cause of motherhood.
So, I dunno. This part doesn’t have a conclusion. Was it over before you knew it? LOL. See you for Part 4, which is the final part of this whole essay thing, at least for now.