Today marks four weeks since our baby, Noam, was born. It's a surreal feeling to know that nearly a month has already passed. It's been a whirlwind - full of emotions and thoughts and experiences that took me completely by surprise - one that no one could've prepared me for.
When Jason and I decided to start a family last October, we knew our lives would change dramatically. No one ever claimed having a baby was easy - and for good reason (easy is literally the last word I'd use to describe it). But frankly, I don't think I've ever heard it adequately described - the good, the bad, the very, very ugly - either. So, as I sit here next to Noam who is napping in his mamaRoo, I'm going to try to do just that. Of course, every mother's experience is different, so I wouldn't dare attempt to generalize, but I also have to say these are probably pretty universal thoughts and feelings for any woman after she has a baby. And, of course, as someone who has been a mom in earnest for only 4 weeks, I won't (and won't claim to) do it justice, but I'll offer my sincerest attempt.
At the risk of sounding arrogant (hear me out), being a mom comes extremely naturally to me. I have always been very maternal and felt like I was meant to be a mom, that this was what I was supposed to do with my life. That said, being a mom is without a doubt, the most challenging experience I've ever had and, I'd venture to say, most mothers would agree and fathers would have absolutely no way of knowing. To be fair, I would never discredit fatherhood. But - BUT - women in particular (in general) bear the brunt of parenthood initially, and (at the risk of sounding condescending) motherhood is something no one can really, truly understand unless they experience it. (I hope that comes across as honest and heartfelt and not patronizing.)
Motherhood so far has been full of extreme highs and extreme lows, and they started in the delivery room. (To be frank, I believe a version of motherhood began as soon as I found out I was pregnant but I would call this Motherhood Lite™ because the concerns and fears and joys pale in comparison to those I felt when he entered the world outside of my body.) Anyway, as I mentioned in my last post, during my delivery, the delivering doctor noticed a deceleration of Noam's heart rate. Cue my first deep fear as a mom. Was I not pushing hard enough? Was I hurting my baby? The mom guilt, even before he was born, was very real. Luckily, everything turned out alright and Noam was born very healthy. But those fears weighed heavily on me throughout delivery. My next bit of mom guilt? Since the doctors has to take Noam away to be checked and had to stitch me up, I wasn't able to do skin-to-skin with him immediately. For the first few weeks postpartum, I cried about this. Even as I sit here now typing these words, I'm tearing up. This is all to say - my first real mom lesson was this: when it comes to being a mom, things will not always (and, in some cases, rarely) go as expected. Adapt. Adjust. And don't be too hard on yourself. The most important thing is that, at the end of the day, your family is healthy.
I spent two days in the hospital and by the second day, I was ready to go home. I couldn't wait to get home to our house, settle in and return to our normal lives plus baby. But the moment we left the hospital it really hit me: how did they just let me walk out of here with a brand-new human? And what was I walking into? From pretty much the moment we walked through our front door, challenges abound. Childbirth is incredibly taxing on your body (for posterity's sake, Jason took photos of the delivery room post-delivery - I won't share these but suffice it to say it looked like a veritable war zone). And the recovery process for me was far more intense than my pregnancy and more unpleasant, I'd say, than labor and delivery. It's been defined by prolonged pain and discomfort - so much so that for the first 10 days postpartum I was taking Percocet and ibuprofen regularly and still experiencing a lot of pain. On top of this pain, I was sleeping very few hours a night and trying to navigate breastfeeding, another very challenging part of taking care of a newborn.
Aside from the postpartum pain and discomfort (extreme pain, contractions, bleeding, engorged breasts), which was difficult but something I was able to handle, breastfeeding was and has been the biggest (and most emotionally tolling) challenge I've experienced. My milk didn't come in in earnest until 5 days after Noam was born, which meant I was constantly concerned that I wasn't feeding him enough. On top of that, we discovered that Noam had become jaundiced and the best way to remedy that was to make sure he was eating (and therefore pooping) enough to get it out of his system. The jaundice lasted for several days and required us to make a trip to the ER with our 5-day-old baby to get his bilirubin levels checked (I've never been so scared of a hospital before). Luckily, his levels were low enough that the jaundice would go away on its own with some vitamin D (in the form of doctor-prescribed sun exposure) and increased eating. While this was really best-case given the situation, I'd never felt so nervous or helpless and couldn't help but feel responsible for his having jaundice (I was told it was possibly caused by bruising he experienced during delivery). My second real mom lesson: it's not your fault. Give yourself credit when credit is due and don't beat yourself up when things get tough.
I've shared a lot of personal details - details that have, in part, defined my first 4 weeks of motherhood - but my real intentions for writing this post are to share the big picture that's come into focus for me throughout these past few weeks.
Here's that picture: being a mom is incredibly tough (go hug yours, call yours, write yours a letter if you're lucky enough to have her in your life) and simultaneously immensely rewarding. There are higher highs and lower lows than you may have ever experienced before and they can happen within a few hour time span sometimes. It'll get easier. And then it'll get more difficult. Then easier again and then more difficult than you could've ever imagined. And that'll probably continue for several decades. Things will happen that you cannot control, that you cannot change and that you think you cannot handle. Waking up every two hours in the middle of the night is not fun. Constantly worrying about strangers' proximity to your baby is not fun. Trying to soothe a seemingly unsoothe-able baby is not fun. And trying to recover from a major, very painful procedure while doing all of this is not fun. But as difficult as this all is, it can be done and, as a mom, you are uniquely positioned to kick ass at getting it done. And, most importantly, the joy that comes from all of this - the indescribable joy that you think peaks when you meet your baby but proves to only increase at rapid speed over time - that joy is worth every.single.minute. of everything else.
I've learned a lot over the last few weeks - about myself, about babies, about family - but the most important thing is this: I am enough. I wish only that I knew it sooner.