Live to Learn

Three kids and numerous gray hairs ago, I was a new mom. I was emotionally and physically pained from a traumatic delivery, terrified of falling asleep with my tiny infant, emotionally incapable of putting her down for more than a moment without feeling tidal waves of mom guilt, I was petrified of returning to work, but — mostly — I was exhausted. I was the kind of tired that makes jetlag seem like a yawn. I couldn’t function. I couldn’t think. I couldn’t sleep.

I remember the pediatrician telling my husband and I that within a month, our tiny daughter should begin sleeping better. That timeframe sounded like a death sentence. How could someone live on so little sleep?

Little did I realize that I was my own worst enemy. I had read articles and watched news clips warning against cosleeping. I was convinced that keeping myself awake during my every-90-minute nighttime nursing sessions would keep my daughter safe. I didn’t process, amidst the mom guilt and first-time-mom anxiety, that there were alternatives. My mother, my friends… they all gave me advice but I silenced it all with my self-inflicted guilt and fear.

Then, I began sleepwalking, having “baby in peril” dreams so vivid that one night I awoke to find myself tearing a hole in my foam pillow because I “had to rescue my baby from inside the pillow.” Was this really safer than cosleeping? Was this really healthy?

It wasn’t until my second child — 20.5 months later — that I realized how harmful I’d been to myself. I learned to cosleep just to feed then pop baby back into his own sidecar bed. I learned that I could put baby down to prepare meals, I learned germs aren’t the scariest things, and that a healthy baby can handle a stuffy nose and a sticky todder hug. I learned to calm down, to lower my impossible standards. I learned that baby needs me to be healthy and happy so I could be a good caretaker. However, I had to learn this on my own. I had to learn it through living it.

As much as I’d love to save every new parent from the pains and mistakes I experienced, I know my advice would be shunned. Parenting is a learning curve. It’s messy and beautiful and flawed and humbling. We’re all learning our way through it, navigating the ever-changing terrain.

All I can do is be a listening ear, a source of support, and an honest cohort to my fellow parents. No glazing over the unglamorous with false perfection. No pretending, no romanticizing… just candor. We’re in this together!

No Longer New

There’s a baby boom and I am loving it. Friends from all corners of my life are having first, second, third, and fourth children. Me? I’m nursing my 9-month-old (and pumping for my dear milk recipient baby) while chasing after my soon-to-be 3-year-old, and my 4.5-year-old.

Others ask me, with almost the same regularity with which I ask myself, if we’ll have a fourth child. As a type-A planner, I’d love to have a solid answer, but I don’t. This baby-loving mama would adore to have one more bundle… but can we do it? Do we want to do it? I don’t know…yet.

I see my youngest beginning to crawl and saying his first words, biting me with his baby fangs and swatting at his siblings. I see my middle son lengthening, maturing, and growing fast and far away from the pudgy-cheeked 2-year-old my mind’s eye envisions him to be. I see my 4.5-year-old writing letters, getting lost in fanciful imagination games, and expressing herself with a verbal intensity I can only blame on my genes. They’re growing fast yet I seem to be staying still, just graying at the edges.

They’re no longer newborns. I’m not that overwhelmed, terrified, awestruck first-time-mom I once was. I’m still sleepless, harried, and constantly covered in one form of stain or another, but I’m no longer lost. It’s no longer new; they’re no longer new.  I know what I’m doing… sort of.

It’s sad to see them grow before me and push away, but it’s wonderful too. Do I want another newborn? Do I want another dive into that sleep-deprived, beautiful, cuddly madness? I don’t know… yet.