What If I Didn’t Enjoy the Early Days Enough?
My baby turns eight months old tomorrow.
Eight months, how did that happen?
I’d heard it said that the days are long but the months (and years) are short and now that we’re here I feel it to my core.
I was lucky with an easy pregnancy. I enjoyed it all the way up until the last couple of weeks at which point I was plagued with false labor. But I was lucky to have a quick birth that I felt good about, and I figured early motherhood would continue along that trajectory.
But I got hit hard with multiple things at once – postpartum depression, difficulty nursing, and very limited time off for both my partner and I. It became very lonely very quickly, and the sleepless nights coupled with my rigorous pumping schedule made the days stressful rather than blissful.
I had pictured bonding with my son as he nursed. Gazing on him while he slept in my arms, and having a constant support system around me that would facilitate all of this.
But childcare was harder to find than I’d bargained for, sometimes having family over was more stressful than helpful, and I expected Felix to sleep through the night way, way before it actually happened. (which, actually, it hasn’t yet)
In a moment of vulnerability I shared all of these feelings on my Instagram stories last week and I was overwhelmed by the amount of people who sent me messages to say they had the same feelings. Now I know that many new parents feel this way. The guilt of not enjoying every moment plus the gut punch of knowing you can’t get that time back can be so painful.
Should I have valued those sleepless moments more knowing that I can’t go back?
Is there anything I could have done to make it easier since I might not have a baby again? To make myself love it more?
These thoughts are not constructive. Living in the land of what ifs, holding onto the past that I can’t change, and continuously dwelling on the things that make me sad aren’t going to help me in this moment. This moment is all I ever have. I know this, I have to keep reminding myself of this.
Before I got pregnant, I asked just about every mom I knew to give me the dirt. Was it really worth having children? Would they do it again if they had the choice? The first time I asked, I was surprised when she paused, wrinkled her brow, and said “it’s not for everyone, and it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”
I’d half expected every parent to be over the moon with joy over their choice. To be so in love with their child that they would shower me with, of course it’s worth it!
That’s not to suggest that she didn’t love being a mom. I love being a mom, too. But I completely understand now what she meant when she said it’s not for everyone, because it’s really not, and that it’s the hardest thing she had ever done, because it’s the hardest thing I have ever done, too.
And I’m learning that it’s okay. Social media and other people’s desire to only show the good parts can make new parents think that it’s supposed to be wonderful all the time. On the complete other end of the spectrum, social media sometimes only showed me negative things about parenting – people saying that they have regretted their choice to become parents. While both feelings are valid, suspect for most of us it is something in the middle. A beautiful challenge where you give everything you have to someone else without any expectation of getting anything in return. To me, this is the definition of unconditional love.
And I’m so grateful that I get to know what this feels like. You really can’t understand the gobsmacking feeling of loving someone else this much until you know it firsthand. Even with running on low sleep, not having the nursing journey that I had hoped for, and dealing with the wild emotions of postpartum depression, I am learning this new side of me. I am learning that I can do even harder things than I thought.
Prior to this, the hardest thing I had ever done was start and build my own business as an entrepreneur. There were many 11th hour moments. There were so many times when I wondered if I should give up. When I felt like a failure. When I was down to my last few dollars and started hitchhiking around China so that I could keep my dream of travel writing alive. I look back on the hardest times of that journey with so much gratitude. I would not be the strong, adventurous person I am now without those challenges. I would not know how to problem solve the way that I do. I would not have this much self efficacy.
And as a mom, I do second-guess myself a lot. I did as an entrepreneur as well in the early days. But it’s the little failures that actually helped me grow the most. I know that this is the case now. And I know that my son does not look up at me and see a failure. He sees his whole world. He lights up when he sees me, he gets excited. I get choked up just thinking about it.
Although those early days are the hardest thing I have ever been through, there were so many special moments that, since I was the main caregiver for our child, only I got to experience. We are bonded in a way that nobody else is.
When it comes down to it, that’s all that I really wanted. And I’m a human being, after all. We are flawed, imperfect, and full of expectations.
If I could do anything over again, all I’d do is let go of the ideas of how it is supposed to be.
Because it unfolded the way it did to teach me something, as it always does.
My goal now is to remember that when times are hard, to not dwell on the past or focus on the future, but to be in the moment no-matter how tough it is. I owe that to both my son and myself.
Eight months has passed, and with any luck, the rest of my life will be filled with my son. I can’t go back in time, but I can do my best to appreciate each moment moving forward.