By Natalie Sullivan
A few weeks ago, at a welcome party for my just-over-three month old son, as I thanked my friends for their love and support, I tearfully said “this is hard.” Moments later, I was asked about the most surprising thing about having a child. My answer: the 24 hour nature of it. The fact that after a long day of taking care of him, when my husband and I would get ready for bed, we realized that our son made no distinction between night and day. To him, it was quite the same, which meant that we’d be up at his command every 2-3 hours, regardless of whether it was day or night. Moments later, a good friend who is not yet a mother piped up and said that she remembered going to lunch with me about a month earlier when we had talked about my newfound parenthood. She said, “Natalie is the most maternal person I know, so if she thinks this is hard, I’m screwed!” Hours later, as I was straightening up, my stomach sank as I thought about how I’ve been portraying motherhood. I wondered, thinking back on the past few months, how I’ve been representing how I feel about being a first-time parent. I tried to comfort myself as I thought that there’s no one person, besides my husband, who can really say that I’ve complained a lot about our experience, but I still couldn’t shake the feeling as I went to bed that night.
It’s true that my introduction to motherhood was not necessarily what I expected. I was always the cool aunt, the fun friend without kids and the energetic Godmother with tireless energy for playing active games, singing goofy songs and laughing at endless jokes. Once I had my own child, I was, to my great surprise, quickly overwhelmed by the amount of work it was to take care of him. My once bountiful energy seemed to be waning in those early weeks and months.
Now past the initial four months of our son’s life, I’ve concluded that it’s probably not fair to ask a first-time parent about their experience within AT LEAST the first three months of their child’s life. At three months, we were just getting to understand what our child wanted and needed, sometimes by his cry, sometimes by the time of day or night and sometimes just because we knew from experience what came next. At three months, I was just able to take my son out for longer periods of time, to stores, on long walks, on the bus or on the subway without feeling completely panicked about the unknown situation or emergency around the corner. For me, at three months, I was just able to value myself as a parent and celebrate not only taking care of our son, but nurturing my relationship with my husband, paying attention to our dog and generally returning to running the household.
In the early days of motherhood, I told a friend I was taking it one day at a time. Literally. When things were tough, I would say to myself “this day.” In other words, urging myself to get through just this day. My friend, a veteran mother of two, knew better. “It’s not ‘this day,’” she said, “It’s ‘this moment.’” So that became my mantra during the difficult moments. Now at four months, it’s still my mantra, but the meaning has changed. Tonight, as I held our son close to my chest as he fell asleep, I said for the hundredth time, “this moment.” But as I smelled the top of his head and felt him breathing against me, I realized that it’s this precious moment I want to hold onto, especially as I reflect on how quickly these days and moments are passing now.
Things change. Our son is almost five months old and sleeps eight hours straight at night. These days, I’m feeling less awkward about my friend’s comment, and if someone asked me now, I’d say this:
- When you have a child, your life will change. This is natural and necessary.
- Being a parent- certainly for the first (and probably for the second or third time), I imagine- is hard. Whether you’re a stay-at-home parent or a working parent. It’s hard. With or without a nanny or someone else to help you. It’s hard. Period.
- Being at home with a child can be isolating, but it also has the potential to expand your social circle. You will start to look for parents with children your child’s age as you walk around your neighborhood. The children give you something in common, not to mention plenty to talk about.
- When you are a new parent, you will miss out on some things. You will gain so much more
- Accept whatever help is offered to you. If it’s not offered, you may need to ask.
For me, inasmuch as there have been teary days, lamentations of lost activities or parts of myself, and overwhelming exhaustion and loneliness, something else has evolved. I can’t kiss our son or smell him or hug him enough times in a day. I fall into his eyes every time he looks at me. I think his crying face is almost as adorable as his smiling face. I have literally taken 807 pictures of him in four months. I miss him when he’s asleep. I have a hard time thinking of what I want for myself anymore without first thinking of what I want for him. I feel like something is missing when I’m not with him, even if I’m just away from him for an hour or two.
Yes, if you ask me now, I’d say, we’re doing just fine.