It’s 1:06 PM, and I just put Clementine down for her second nap of the day. Of course, she could sleep for five minutes or fifty minutes, but hey, I’m celebrating the little victories. My baby has been a horrible napper outside those initial newborn weeks when she practically slept all day. However, at that point she wasn’t sleeping at night, so it was pretty much a wash. Up until a couple of weeks ago, the only time she would sleep during the day was on me, either in her wrap or after falling asleep nursing. Two minutes after being put down, I would hear the inevitable “come and get me” screams from the nursery. Thankfully (seriously praising the Lord here), she’s started to nap. On a good day I can get two naps totaling up to about three hours. On a bad day, I usually get at least an hour.
I never expected one little hour to myself to be so absolutely glorious.
Motherhood is hard. So much harder than I imagined. Before you have kids people warn you how hard it is, and you hear about the sleepless nights, but no veteran’s words of wisdom truly prepare you for the exhaustion and frustrations of new parenthood.
I love my daughter. Fiercely. She is beautiful and funny and smart and a true joy to us. She and I have grown quite a bit together, and I am so thankful God chose me to be her mother. It has been a process, though. We’ve sort of had to get used to each other and grow into our roles as mother and daughter. I want to be honest about the difficulty of these first few months because 1) it’s already so much better, and I don’t want to take where we are now for granted, and 2) maybe another new mom will relate.
The moment Clementine was born, I didn’t experience a wellspring of “loving” emotion. My biggest feeling at the moment was gratitude that the pain was (mostly) over. My second biggest feeling was shock after hearing the word “girl” came out of the doctor’s mouth. I don’t know how else to describe those initial moments, but it wasn’t the “I fell instantly in love” that so many others have expressed. Amazement? Yes. Disbelief that two minutes ago this thing was inside me and now she’s out, and she’s mine, and I’m a mother? Absolutely. Love? Not exactly.
The first 24 hours with her were great. She was calm and barely cried. She slept through the night! Breastfeeding was a bit of a challenge, but overall we felt pretty good. Then came night two. No one got any sleep. She HAD to be held. Every second. I remember crying and wondering if I’d ever be able to put her down again. Breastfeeding continued to be an issue, and I didn’t get the support I needed from the hospital staff. I felt panicked and ill prepared, and she was nine days early, so my family wasn’t there, and it was all. just. so. much.
David and I held our own for almost a week before reinforcements arrived. At first I almost looked forward to having some time to ourselves as a family of three. After about 24 hours at home, however, I felt like crying out (like a baby myself), “I want my mommy!” Thankfully we had some good friends take care of us that first week, bringing us food and most importantly, teaching us to swaddle. David had to be gone quite a bit to take care of Clementine’s paperwork, not to mention hunting down a nipple shield that didn’t make me bleed. (Did I mention breastfeeding was a problem?!) Those hours with just me and Clementine were lonely, even daunting.
My mom and aunt arrived a couple of days before the actual due date, and while I know they were sorry to have missed Clementine’s birth, they were happy to have three full weeks with her to hold and snuggle. I was just grateful to have help. I was so incredibly emotional and overwhelmed. Every day I would cry; oftentimes I didn’t even want to get out of bed. The sleep deprivation was killing me, and the constant struggles with breastfeeding left me feeling so defeated. I was cranky and rude to the people who loved me enough to fly halfway around the world to support me through this time. A friend (and fellow new mom) posted this blog at just the right time, and I read it aloud to my family, pausing several times as I choked on tears of empathy.
I Skyped with a good friend and veteran mom of four and explained how I thought something was wrong with me. I was supposed to love more than I did. I wasn’t supposed to resent my baby. My friend shared something so freeing. She said that newborns are cute, but they are not fun. She said that just after her first was born, if someone had come to her house and offered to take the baby away forever, she would have gladly handed her over. Another friend shared her struggle with breastfeeding in the early days explaining that once she got home from the hospital, she and her newborn daughter just sat and had a good cry together over how difficult it all was.
This is not the picture of new motherhood we typically see. We see newborn photo shoots with slumbering infants and perfectly manicured moms with freshly blown out hair. We see this:
I honestly wasn’t prepared for the reality of motherhood. And it’s taken me a long time to adjust. A week or so after all our family had left, I was Skyping with my aunt who asked me how things were going. I of course teared up and said not well. What I felt the most was obligation. I changed Clementine’s diapers and fed her and bathed her and didn’t sleep because of her because I was her mother, and I was obligated to do so. I still didn’t feel that overwhelming motherly love I had heard so much about and expected to feel. My aunt said it was okay and that in this season, obligation equaled love. It wouldn’t always be that way; the feelings of love would come, and I shouldn’t beat myself up over what I was supposed to or not supposed to feel.
Thankfully, she was right. In time the feelings have come. I do think I have the cutest, smartest, funniest baby on the block. 😉 There are certainly still frustrations and challenges, but those will always be there. Love may have started out as duty, but in time it has matured into delight.