I know it’s cliché to say when you have a baby, but holy cow, how is it possible that our little June Bug is already a week old? It’s crazy, because I’ve been awake for probably twice the amount of time this week as I was last week, but this week feels like it’s half the length. It’s a very strange feeling to want both time to completely stop and wanting it to speed up.
This week has definitely been one of the hardest ones of my life. I expected it to be hard. Society conditions you to expect that. But I don’t think I quite grasped the reality of how hard it would be. And honestly, I’m not sure there is anyway to grasp that until you’re in the middle of it. Just like with the time passing thing, the emotional rollercoaster of the newborn stage is completely contradictory. On one hand, it’s so incredibly difficult, emotional and taxing, you’d think you’d want to do anything in your power to make it stop. But that’s not the case, because even though it really sucks, it’s totally worth it and you’re happier than you’ve ever been. I’ve never done anything in my life that is so difficult, but so rewarding (maybe that’s what you runners get from marathons?).
Anywho, one of the things I’ve been thinking about during 3am feedings is how much of a disconnect there can be between the expectations of a major life event and the reality. You can do as much reading, researching and learning as possible, and it still doesn’t entirely prepare you for the experience of something. I knew that going into parenthood. I knew there was no amount of reading I could do that would really ready me for the journey I was about to take, but even so, I felt like I prepared as much as I could.
Of course, even with all the preparation, there have been some things that have totally caught me off guard this week (and I’m sure more and more will bubble up as we keep on the parenthood road). I’m not naive enough to think that I have anything of substance to add to the droves of experts and parents doling out advice out there, but I can share my experience. And I think there is value in hearing everyone’s experiences. I think that same thing applies to labor and delivery, and I definitely plan on sharing that story with you guys in the near future, but first, I thought I’d do some reflecting on my expectations and reality from the first week of motherhood.
What I Expected: Baby blues, weepiness, crying all the time, sadness.
What I Didn’t Expect: Crushing anxiety and panic attacks.
When you’re pregnant, you hear a lot about the baby blues (and their ugly, more severe cousin, postpartum depression), so both Craig and I have been on high alert for any signs that I’m not coping well with the insane amounts of hormones that are ebbing and flowing through my body. We’ve been on the watch for your typical signs of depression, but one thing we didn’t learn until this week is that postpartum anxiety is just as common. I’m not talking run-of-the-mill anxiety because you have a tiny, fragile human to take care of. I’m talking full-on, feel like you’re having a heart attack anxiety for no apparent reason. I have yet to feel down or sad, but anxiety? I’ve got that one in droves.
I’ve never suffered with anxiety much before, so this has been an incredibly confusing thing to wrap my brain around. For the first few days (both in the hospital and at home), I felt like surely something had to be wrong with me physically. Craig almost took me to the ER one night because he thought for sure I was having a heart attack. We’re both so thankful to have a great support system (both in person and online) and were able to figure out that anxiety is a totally normal part of the postpartum hormone crash (and we also learned that a few of the complications I had during labor can exacerbate the problem). It made me feel better just to know that what I was going through was normal. And now, I’m happy to say, after a week postpartum, the anxiety attacks are dwindling in both frequency and intensity.
What I Expected: To be sleep deprived.
What I Didn’t Expect: Insomnia.
The number of things you hear about sleep when you’re pregnant is insane. You’re going to be exhausted. You should stock up on your sleep while you can. Sleep when the baby sleeps. And while all of that is true, none of it talks about something I had no idea was common—postpartum insomnia. I’m not talking about not being able to sleep because there is a screaming baby in your room, I’m talking about when the baby is peacefully passed out in her bassinet, you’re exhausted and you can’t sleep. I had no idea insomnia was an issue in postpartum mothers. I figured I’d be so exhausted that I could fall asleep at the drop of the hat, but it hasn’t been the case. In fact, our little June Bug is actually a really awesome sleeper, and I’m the one who can’t seem to get the whole sleeping thing down. It has definitely improved as the anxiety attacks are lessening (trying to fall asleep when your heart feels like its going to explode and you are hyperventilating is not easy), but I can still tell that sleep won’t come as easily as it once did—and probably never will.
What I Expected: Craig to be an awesome Dad.
What I Didn’t Expect: Craig is an awesome Dad and an awesome husband.
I never had any doubts that my husband would pick up this whole fatherhood thing pretty quickly. I also expected to take a bit of a backseat in his life while he figured out his new role as a Daddy, but I’ve been so insanely impressed with his ability to juggle both roles. I think he grasped early on that the best thing he can do for our daughter right now is to make sure I’m taken care of, and he’s been making that his priority. Of course, he holds and loves and takes care of our little girl, but he also does everything he can to make sure I’m set up to take care of her as well. This involves everything from being the one to change the majority of the diapers to spoon-feeding me yogurt while I nurse at 2am. I feel so fortunate to have him along on this ride with me.
What I Expected: To enjoy having a support system.
What I Didn’t Expect: I need my support system.
Before I gave birth, I thought it was going to be nice to have my parents nearby. They could bring me dinner. Or come hold the baby while I showered. And while they’ve done both of those things, the importance of having them nearby has gone so far above and beyond those menial chores. Like I said above, Craig has been amazing, but I truly believe the hard reality of life with a newborn goes beyond just what two people can handle (especially when they’re first time parents). I truly get the “it takes a village” sentiment now. If I didn’t have my parents around, I’m sure we would have muddled through it, but having their support has been so key in helping both Craig and I feel like we can succeed as parents.
My parents have done truly helpful things like laundry, cleaning (as I type this, my Mama is vacuuming our bedroom), running errands, and driving us to doctor’s appointments, but I think just the emotional support of having them nearby has been so much more important than the actions. On our second night home, at 2 am, I sat on the couch in hysterics in the middle of the panic attack, and I managed to choke out, “I want my Mommy” to Craig. He called, and she was over within a few minutes. It wasn’t that I wanted her because Craig was doing a bad job, but I wanted her because I knew I needed someone to take care of me in that moment and we needed someone to take care of the baby because I was a mess—and as awesome as Craig is, he’s just one person. I’ve said multiple times this week that I don’t understand how single parents or parents that are far away from their support systems handle the first few days/weeks of parenthood. I feel so fortunate to be in the situation I am in.
What I Expected: My appetite to return.
What I Didn’t Expect: I could eat everything ever.
I made no secret of the fact that I felt rough during pregnancy, and my appetite was particularly screwed up for the majority of those 42 weeks. I was really excited for my appetite to regulate postpartum (and a little bit terrified I’d be one of the 1% of women who still deal with morning sickness postpartum). Thankfully, all my morning sickness symptoms were gone pretty much the second I pushed the little one out—literally, I was asking for a cheeseburger within the hour—but something I didn’t really expect was just how flipping hungry I’d be! I had heard breastfeeding makes you hungry, but I didn’t have any frame of reference for this kind of hunger. I imagine I’m probably wolfing down a good 3000 calories a day! It is so nice to enjoy to eat again. And hey, if my body needs all that fuel to make milk, I’m all for it.
What I Expected: This week to be difficult.
What I Didn’t Expect: This week to be hilarious.
Oh man, some of the things and situations that you land in during your first week of parenthood are absolutely hilarious. I’m not sure if it’s sleep-deprived laughter, hormonal surges or actual hilarity, but I’ve found myself all-out-cackling a few times this week. There was one night, after I had finally come down from a panic attack, Craig had finally gotten the baby to sleep in her bassinet, and I was sprawled out on the couch without shirt on (because, ow) and he was curled up sleeping on Puppyface’s bed on the floor, and I just started howling in laughter. Look at what this little eight pound bundle of cuteness had reduced us to!
What I Expected: Decisions to be black and white.
What I Didn’t Expect: Every shade of gray.
When you’re pregnant, you get asked all kinds of questions about “how” you are going to parent. Are you going to breastfeed or formula feed? Are you going to cloth diaper or use disposables? Are you going to use a bassinet or a crib? At the time, the answers feel so black and white. You do the research, and you make your decision. But when you’re in the middle of it, you realize there is a whole range of shades of gray to choose from on almost every single parenting decision. It might eventually become more clear, but for now, every decision we make is about getting through today. And that might or might not be the same decision we make for tomorrow.
What I Expected: To loathe getting up at 3am to feed.
What I Didn’t Expect: To love early morning nursing.
Everyone talks about how much it sucks to get up every two hours to feed your kid, and while it’s not totally awesome, I’ve actually found quite a bit of enjoyment in our early morning nursing sessions. They’ve started to regulate a bit (for now) and tend to happen after we’ve both had our longest stretches of sleep, so while I don’t feel totally rested, I feel more rested that normal, and I can just sit there by the light of the LED candles (what we use as a nightlight) and enjoy the beautiful face of my beautiful girl. It’s a really spectacular time. And then we both drift off to sleep, and the next time we wake up, the horizon is usually starting to lighten up and we’ve made it through another night (which is a victory). I can’t definitely see why mothers are hesitant to give up that last nursing session when they’re weaning.
What I Expected: All-consuming love.
What I Didn’t Expect: All-consuming every emotion.
Of course I’d love my child, and while it’s the kind of love that’s impossible to put down it words, it is definitely something I expected. What I didn’t expect was that all the other emotions that go along with her to be just as all-consuming as the love I feel for her. All-consuming worry when constantly checking to make sure she is breathing. All-consuming pride when she does something awesome like pooping (woohoo!). Every emotion that is tied to her is heightened to the nth degree. I’m not sure if that’s hormonal or just parenthood, but I’m trying to go with it. It is such a blessing to be able to feel so deeply for someone. What a lucky girl I am.