Where to begin? I had an easy pregnancy. Apart from a brief hospital stay during the third trimester when my dog pulled me over, I loved being pregnant. I was able to eat whatever I wanted, exercise each day, and I only suffered from minor symptoms such as swelling, heartburn, and a metallic taste in my mouth. My blood pressure was lower than ever, my weight gain was steady and within the recommended limit, and I had flawless skin for the first time in my post-preteen life. Labor was also relatively easy. I had no idea I was having contractions until about six hours before my son was born, and I was only in significant pain for about two hours, during transition and pushing. This is when things changed.
My son entered this world with force. Nearly nine pounds of baby came out fast and face up, and I paid the price with third degree tearing. I had no idea how severe the tearing was until I was stitched up, laying in the hospital bed, and wondering why it hurt so much to move. I was in pain when I nursed, I was in pain when I changed positions laying down, and I was in pain when I walked. Because I’m normally an active person, I overdid it when I got home from the hospital. My family has a history of easy recoveries from labor and delivery, and I thought that I was being a hypochondriac, complaining about pain that wasn’t there. I ended up with two rounds of Mastitis, which often happens to moms who are overexerting themselves, and at six weeks postpartum, I had to have tissue burned off my birthing area because it didn’t heal correctly.
Along with pain from the delivery and Mastitis, my son is a handful. He was colicky for the first three months. When I wasn’t nursing him, I was bouncing him from room to room, for hours each day, trying to keep him from crying. So many people would ask me why I was so tired. Don’t I nap when my son is napping? Isn’t maternity leave the best? My neighbor even asked why I didn’t help my husband with yard work and suggested I pick up a rake for the leaves in the yard. These comments made me feel self-conscious. I felt like I kept shouting, “MY BABY ONLY TAKES 30 MINUTE NAPS AND IS ONLY HAPPY WHEN HE’S BOUNCING.” Sadly, I don’t think people believed me. Nor did they understand the toll the physical exertion was taking, particularly considering that my husband only had two weeks of leave/vacation and is gone from 8am-6pm each day. The few people who did come over to help had trouble getting my son to calm down enough so that I could nap. Consequently, I spent the first three months of my son’s life in a state of panic, bouncing nearly constantly, trying to console a crying baby, and reinjuring myself over and over since I rarely had time to be still. My days were filled with extreme highs and lows since I was amazed at the privilege of being a mom to a healthy baby boy and also overwhelmed at my inability to calm him during his freak outs.
At ten weeks postpartum, a smiling son emerged. The colic disappeared and was replaced with laughs and giggles that melt this mama’s heart. I love that when I greet Denver each morning, he gives me a mean cheese. I love that in the evenings, he sits in his high chair and laughs hysterically while my husband and I make goofy faces. Life is much easier, but my son still only takes 30 minute naps, and he’s more energetic than ever. I spend the eight hours my son is not napping helping him stand, singing to him while he bounces, walking him around the house, and changing activities every 20 minutes to prevent fussiness. I am still exhausted.
I recently went back to work. I am planning to stay at home with Denver while he’s little, but my employer required me to work two weeks before transitioning to a full-time mom. My own mom is amazing and offered to stay in Nashville during the two weeks of work to take care of Denver. She is a mom to four daughters, and I figured that taking care of Denver would be a breeze for her. My mom loves my son so much, and she is incredible at playing with him and caring for him each day. She even helped Denver overcome his bottle strike. Astoundingly, though, six days into watching my son, she said the best thing I could ever hear: “Your son is high maintenance.” Seriously, she said I should quote her in this blog. She said she’d never have believed the bizarre napping habits or constant attention required each day unless she had experienced them herself.
Do you know what it feels like to finally have someone empathize and see things from your perspective?! It feels like breathing again.
I wish I knew four months ago what I know now. Moms know their bodies and their babies better than anyone else. If you feel like your body is not yet recovered from labor and delivery, it probably isn’t. Don’t compare yourself to other moms, particularly moms who didn’t tear during delivery. Though you didn’t have a C-section, third degree tearing is severe and requires rest. Are you depressed? Maybe. But maybe you’re just plain tired and in need of sleep. If you think you have a difficult baby, you probably do. I’ve spent months feeling inadequate, wondering why I have such a hard time calming my child, wondering if I am the problem. My daily highs and lows are directly related to my son’s ratio of happy to fussy. So many people, with good intentions, have suggested I start anti-depressants or find refreshing activities to do in my free time or simply nap more. These suggestions are unhelpful. If I could nap more, I would. If I had free time, I would take a jog. And if I was jogging, I probably wouldn’t seem so depressed. Rather than a barrage of suggestions about what I should be doing to improve my quality of life, what I’ve needed is someone to listen when I complain, take my son for the afternoon so I can sit in silence, or simply someone to say that I’m doing a great job and this too shall pass.
And pass it shall. Just like babies grow out of colic around three months, I’ve heard that babies become much more self-sufficient at six months when they begin eating solids, sitting up on their own, crawling, and playing independently. Many cat nappers also learn to connect their sleep cycles and take one to two hour naps each day. Please God let this be my son. In the meantime, I will rejoice in the knowledge that I am not failing as a mom. My recovery is simply taking longer than anticipated, and my son is simply a bit more of a handful than expected. What a joy, though, to raise such a spirited young man. What a privilege to carry him safely for nine months. What a relief to know that the last four months have been the most physically and emotionally challenging of my life, but I’m still breathing.