It seems like there’s a gag order surrounding the first couple weeks of being home with a newborn. New parents don’t want to discuss it, even with their partners. It’s only when you’re past it, when you’ve come through the other side, that sometimes you will open up to others. And to your astonishment, you find out: It wasn’t just you. You weren’t alone. There were other people, right there with you, afraid to speak up because they didn’t want to sound like absolute shitheels. Well, my friends, allow me to break the silence and say what everyone thinks and no one wants to admit to.
For the first few days, or weeks, or maybe even the first month or so of your new baby’s life, you will be thinking that you have made a horrible mistake. You will think that you have ruined your life. You will wonder if there is any way to take that baby right back to the hospital and leave it at Labor and Delivery for the nurses to ship home with someone, anyone else. You will think something along the lines of “Our lives were so good before. Why did we do this? Why did we ruin it? Why couldn’t we just have been HAPPY WITH WHAT WE HAD?”
I felt all this. It wasn’t that I hated my baby. On the contrary, I loved him. It was just SO HARD. It was SO DIFFERENT. It was so physically and emotionally draining. I wasn’t up to it. I wasn’t strong enough. It wasn’t like anyone had told me it would be. Oh sure, people tell you it will be hard. They will talk to you about not sleeping, or not being able to take a shower, or not having time to yourself. But no one tells you that you will think seriously about quietly packing a bag and taking off, or leaving your baby with his grandparents (who certainly don’t seem to mind when he cries all the time), or grabbing your husband and heading down to change your names and flee to Canada. No one tells you that you will sit there with your baby when he’s crying and he won’t sleep, and you will feel such crushing guilt, because you waited so long and tried so hard to bring this person into your life, and now that he’s here, all you can think about it somehow hitting CTRL-Z and undoing this terrible, terrible lapse of judgment.
You will look on the internet for others who feel the way you do, because you want to know if it’s just you. Is it just you who feels this way? Who loves your baby but feels like that love is not enough to justify ruining your life the way you have? The internet will give you some weak-ass pages talking in muted language how it’s normal to “have trouble bonding” and how you may not “feel exactly as you think you should”. The internet will tell you that “it’s OK” and “not all mothers feel that instant rush of love”. The internet means well, but it makes you feel worse, because the internet is talking like “having trouble bonding” is the worst thing you should be feeling, and you are feeling so much worse than that.
The Man and I were taking a walk right about the time that The Boy stopped acting like a raging hellbeast and started settling in to being an actual baby. He was maybe 3 weeks or a month old. Somehow, we got on the topic of how terrible the last few weeks had been. The Man said, somewhat hesitantly, “I really thought we had made the worst mistake of our lives. I was thinking ‘What have we done? We were so happy!’” And for me, that was when the clouds parted and I was able to stop feeling like it was just me, that I was the lowest form of suckage on the planet.
This week, I was in Babies R Us and I ran into a woman who had been in two of our classes – the childbirth class and the breastfeeding class. She was really nice and I’d enjoyed talking to her in class. She had her little girl with her; I had The Boy with me. I asked how she was doing and she said, “Coming out of the fog. You know…this is one of the first days we’ve been out of the house. It was just…” and I interrupted and said, “You felt like you’d made a big mistake?” Her eyes lit up, and she said “Yes! And I felt so guilty, because of all the infertility treatments we’d done, and how much we’d wanted a baby, it was like I didn’t have a right to feel so bad about it.” And then, I knew it wasn’t just us, and she knew it wasn’t just her and her husband, and we looked at each other with complete understanding.
And the whole reason I’m writing this is for that person who is sitting at home with a big hollow feeling in their heart, with a baby tucked in next to them, or upstairs sleeping for a blessed 20 minutes, or maybe for the person whose baby never sleeps at all, or the one with the baby who won’t breastfeed, or the one with the baby who does everything ‘right’ and yet is still having a hard time getting used to this new normal. What I have to tell you is: I understand. I’ve been there. And, it DOES get better. Don’t feel bad for feeling like you made a mistake. I’m pretty sure that EVERYONE goes through this, it’s just that no one talks about it…because it DOES end. And once it’s over, all you want to do is forget, not just because it was such a dark time, but because you did not like the person you were during that time, and all you want to do is move on. And that’s fine, once you’re out of it. But I’m not writing for the people who are out of it. I’m writing for the person who’s still in the trenches.
It gets better. Hang on. HANG ON.