this week’s contributor is april from our ship on the sea, a husband & wife writing/photography/videoography/event planning power team (and that’s just what they do for fun!). april approached me, curious if i’d be interested in a post about her experience with the unexpected things that happen after babies are born — the stuff they don’t necessarily tell you about and the stuff new parents often find themselves unprepared for; the stuff we often don’t talk about with everyone who asks us how wonderful, albeit tiring, our life with new baby must be. yes! i said. of course! mamas need to hear about other mamas’ struggles: it helps us feel less alone and can sometimes put our own struggles in perspective. it also can open up relationships to work through issues together and find support. read on!
Even before she was born, Annie was unpredictable. At 38 weeks my doctor told us that she would be arriving within days (!!!) and to get everything in order. Jeremy and I rushed home, finished the last of the nursery preparation, I went on maternity leave, and my parents arrived flew in. Two long weeks later… the day my parents had to leave to go back to Nashville, I went into labor at the Denver Biscuit Company. (You better believe I stayed and ate the entire cinnamon roll). The doctor predicted a 9 to 10 pound baby. Annie was born at a sweet little 6 lbs 13 oz.
We prepared well to bring our baby home, but we weren’t prepared for a few things that followed once we got there:
We weren’t prepared for breastfeeding not to work out for me. I mean- I took classes! And watched DVDs! And had THREE books! That preparation and multiple lactation consultants couldn’t help the range of issues I experienced. I just finished nearly 7 exhausting months of pumping. I didn’t even get the chance to make anyone uncomfortable from breastfeeding in public. : )
We weren’t prepared for our baby to have severe colic. When she started crying for hours every night at three weeks old we assumed it was gas or just typical evening fussiness. By the third day we realized we were in for weeks of what we called “Scream Fest 2012”. Annie would start crying at 5 pm and end around 11. We did everything imaginable to make it stop. One exhausting Friday night we put Annie in the car around midnight to get her to stop crying. It worked! But then we were too afraid to stop driving. We drove around our downtown neighborhood until 2 am looking at all the couples out on dates, laughing and holding hands, probably all a little sauced. I wanted to scream “OH YOU JUST WAIT.”
After the colic stopped, we weren’t prepared for the chronic congestion to begin. It’s common for young babies to be congested, but when it didn’t stop, we knew something bigger had to be going on. We took Annie to the pediatrician more times than I can count, Urgent Care twice, and the ER on multiple occasions when her breathing was so labored that she refused to eat or sleep. No one seemed to find anything wrong, but as her parents, we knew there was an issue. It was heartbreaking and we felt defeated. Finally, an Ear, Nose, and Throat doctor confirmed what I already assumed- her adenoids we’re blocking her airway so severely that she struggled to breathe and eat, thus making quality sleep a joke… a super NOT funny joke. In six months time Annie had only slept for more than three hours ONCE. Thankfully, the end of the sleeping/eating issues is in sight – Annie is having her adenoids removed next month and we expect her issues to almost fully resolve. YAY!
Either most new parents really do have few issues, or those who do simply don’t talk about it. Well, I really wanted, maybe even needed, to talk about it. I thank Emily for giving me the space to do so, and I hope that someone out there finds this helpful. I want to share some of our own lessons learned, thoughts, and internet love with those who might be struggling:
Ask for help. Since Annie’s birth, Jeremy and I have had three dates. One given to us by friends for three hours, a quick dinner date, and a movie. I take responsibility for this because I didn’t feel comfortable burdening anyone. Looking back- what a ridiculous thought. So many people who love us were willing to help, and we could have used the time alone together. So- ask for help! If your friends offer, take them up on it – that very week! If your family lives out if town- show weakness! Say- “Um yeah… we’re LOSING IT OVER HERE, please come help. Thanks!” Most likely those new grandparents will be thrilled you asked and will get on that plane if they are able to.
Talk about it. Your honesty allows others to be free in sharing their own hardships. My greatest comfort in low moments has been finding those who will simply say “I know. It sucks. It will get better.”
Learn to let go and do what you need to do to get through it. Don’t beat yourself up over getting delivery because you’re just too exhausted to even think about turning on the stove. The same with the housework – nothing matters more than your well-being, especially not mopping. I wish we would’ve been more open to letting go of some things that weren’t working. Was giving Annie breastfeeding ideal? Yes. But should I have considered giving it up at the extreme point of exhaustion while Annie was sick and not eating any way? Yes- I should have been open to formula.
Give yourself the ultimate gift: Stop comparing yourself to others. When those well meaning friends with dream babies who sleep through the night at 3 weeks old (I hear these mystical babies exist?) start to offer advice about your difficult baby- it’s ok to stop them mid-sentence and say “We’ve actually tried it all.” and get off the phone. I’m not suggesting being rude, but if you have to hear another unhelpful suggestion again you might lose it even more severely. (So hey dream baby parents- it really is awesome that you’re having an ideal experience. Really- no sarcasm! It’s awesome! But your friends aren’t and they are struggling. So consider *not* offering advice. Instead say “What can we do to help?” Better yet- don’t even ask- just do it. Bring a meal over or take their baby for a walk and let your friends have an hour alone.)
With all this said, we didn’t expect that we’d be so happy to spend our weekends laying on the floor with Annie, singing songs and reading books. The delight in her laughs, the feel of her little hands rubbing over my cheeks and my husband’s beard – the best! Tonight we all sat together on the floor with baby sized instruments and had a mini-family band for a few precious minutes. I never expected to pray for time to stand still, even for just small moments like these.
P.S. I hesitated writing this post because I didn’t want to sound ungrateful. We recognize how fortunate we are. We have a happy baby girl, and her health issues can be fixed. We are lucky- we know this. However, when you’re in the muck, it all becomes relative. To those who might be struggling – I’m wrapping my arms around you in a huge internet hug. It gets better- I’ll swear on it.
thank you so so much, april. your honesty is brave and important. and i have no doubt this will have been something someone needed to read. parenthood is not easy. but its trials, as much as its blessings, need to be talked about amongst other parents and community members so that we can learn from and support those going through what all parents have gone through. (and how beautiful is that family?!)
if you are interested in contributing to A Denver Home Companion, please submit original writing (or ideas!) to emily [at] adenverhomecompanion [dot] com. though i may not be able to publish everything, i certainly consider all of them.
The honesty in this post is so so refreshing. Thank you April for sharing this and offering such wonderful advice. Right now as I am getting ready for baby, I am constantly reminding myself that it’s a journey, and I really can’t plan for everything.
Thank you for this post, it is so what I needed today. Our 9 month old has never been an “easy” baby and about a month ago he started having seizures and hasn’t stopped. We are looking at a scary future and are trying to move to CO to get help from family. Too often I compare and then feel angry but the reality is most people don’t talk about the hard stuff and our “normal” looking babies can have more complexity than meets the outside eye. Really, thanks for talking about the hard stuff too. This mama needed to not feel alone today!
I love it. “Do yourself a favor, stop comparing yourself to others”. So true.
This was such a wonderful, brave and honest post. Thank you April for sharing and thank you Emily for posting.
In the age of blogs and social media, the challenges and hardships of parenthood often (seem to) get lost or are never told in the pursuit of creating a perfect image. It’s a shame, really. I only recently decided to be more honest with my writing about motherhood. And ever since then, there has been an outpouring of support from friends and family who have been similarly situated and didn’t exactly have that “dream baby.” While not every suggestion works, there is comfort in knowing that things will get better and others have travelled this road before you…
It takes a village to raise children, and since we moved to Colorado 2 years ago we’ve been cobbling together a village of incredible people to make up for the absence of family (who are all on the east coast). We rely on them, and they rely on us.
On this end, our eldest son is in the thick of 3 year old temper-tantrums, but that pales in comparison to the challenges we faced when our second son was born. He had a serious skin condition from day 1, but it wasn’t until months later that he was diagnosed following an emergency visit to the hospital. His longest stretch of sleep was 2 hours…and that was for the first SIX months of his life. It was frustrating. I was exhausted and I cried. A lot. We would drive him around in our car, and then loose our parking spot because at the time we were still living in Brooklyn (which only added to the stress). It was one crisis after another. But things slowly started to get better. He took medicine and we slathered him with steroids when we saw the first hints of an outbreak. Now, at age 2, he is cheerful, delightful, and a joy to be around (and sans skin condition). But it took a long time (about 10 months) and there were many moment when I thought I would just loose it. But you get through it, because where there are valleys there are also peaks. And motherhood has both!
As for the comparison note, Theodore Roosevelt said it best: Comparison is the thief of joy. Best of luck with your journey….