Friday, January 24, 2014

Baby Hazing

I have suddenly found myself surrounded by friends and acquaintances who are having babies, and as pregnancies progress and babies tick off milestones in their first year I have often pondered motherhood hazing. But before I ramble about why it happens and whether there's any way to actually make it not be a terrible thing, a few important points:

  1. New fathers have a hazing too, especially if they are equal or primary caregivers. I in no way mean to be dismissive or ignoring of this fact, I simply lack a good foundation to commentate on it further beyond recognizing it's existence. 
  2. It gets better. I promise you, it does. It may get worse first, and it may take years to actually get good again, but it will get better. This baby will not define the rest of your life and your existence will grow past changing dirty diapers and 2am feedings. In 6 months, everything will be different. 

Baby hazing is the part of new motherhood where suddenly you find yourself wearing the same disgusting pair of sweatpants for the third day in a row and ready to sell your soul for 6 hours of uninterrupted sleep. It's the part where your house is covered in piles of laundry and you can't remember what day of the week it is and whether you need to take out the trash and dear god why are there so many dirty diapers? It's the part where you are lonely and overwhelmed and absolutely certain you have no idea what you are doing and that somebody messed up big time by putting this baby in your care.

It happens to everyone.

Some are exceptionally stoic and manage to keep their shit together through the first infant, and it's not until the second or third one comes along that they really find themselves in this place.

Some are convinced they made a huge mistake somewhere along the line by the time they get home from the hospital.

Some have good support systems around them, and can get the help they need before they even realized they needed it.

Some spend years just trying to survive today.

There are many factors that pile on all together at the same time, and make the transition into motherhood one hell of a ride.

Unknown ignorance and subsequent reality check (aka baby sticker shock). Generally, families are much smaller and much more isolated these days. Most people really haven't spent much time of their remembered life living with the daily rhythm of a baby until they end up with one of their own. And it is so incredibly different than what you imagined it would be.

I worked in a childcare center before having Kristina. I totally thought I knew what I was getting in to, and how to handle having a baby of my own with grace and poise.

(I'll pause here for the mommy veterans to stop laughing.)

(You done yet?)

(Yeah yeah, it happens to the best of us.....)

Turns out already knowing how to mix a bottle of formula and change a diaper doesn't actually do that much to prepare you for the mommy hazing. For starters, I had no idea how hard it is to be Mommy 24/7. There is no end of the work day, there is no calling in sick, there is no lunch break, no sleep, no respite from being on duty. It is this all consuming factor of your life, where every single decision you make and thought you have is somehow centered around this tiny little creature. Simple things, like taking a shower or preparing a meal, are suddenly a juggling act of squeezing them in to nap times or when somebody else is around to watch the baby. Anywhere you go, you go with the baby and the 50 pound diaper bag (for the love of your sanity and any scrap of personal dignity, try to remember to squeeze an extra tshirt for yourself in there somewhere).

And it takes a while to adjust to this demanding and immediate change of priorities in every single thing you do.

Losing yourself and known identity. It is hard to suddenly no longer be identified as yourself, but as [insert baby's name here] mommy. The things you used to do during your day are suddenly no longer yours, as they must be scheduled around the baby or done with baby accompaniment (see above).

Even the most basic things like your relationship with your significant other have suddenly been altered. It is hard to get your sexy on when every time you take off your bra your boobs spray milk everywhere. Your stomach is saggy and pouchy and covered in stretch marks, looking nothing like the body you know as yours from the life up to this point. None of the clothing you own fits you right, and you end up resorting to oversized tshirts from his side of the closest because half of yours you cannot physically get on due to your boobs growing about 8 cup sizes seemingly overnight and the half you can get on you certainly cannot leave the house in because you got over the looking like a hooker fashion statement back in high school.

And I am not even qualified to discuss what happens when you have a c-section beyond what I have heard about how you didn't really want to be able to do stuff like bend over or pick up your own baby anyways, right?

Your hormones are still raging every bit as much as they were during pregnancy when that stupid iphone commercial made you start crying. And you just want them to stop. You just want to feel like yourself again, the person you were before this whole mess started, and you're terrified you'll never be able to be that person again.

And your friends.... you have suddenly had this huge life altering thing happen to you that makes everything different, and they think they're being supportive because they got you some cute onesies and made plans to go out for lunch next month. They have no idea what is happening to you, because it hasn't happened to them yet, just like you had no idea it was going to happen until suddenly BAM you're living it.

I won't even say much how hard it is to keep doing activities for yourself, because you are so tired and worn down and don't even want to do it anymore because it requires something more from you than sitting on the couch which is all the energy you have left over these days, and that's without even considering the logistical challenges of (you guessed it!) childcare.

Being human. Some of the biggest problems come from the fundamental flaw of you yourself being human. Like sleep deprivation. Oh my god does long term sleep deprivation suck. It's not that the baby was up a little or a lot last night. It's that you have been chronically woken up every 2-3 hours for the past YEAR. It's that even when you are sleeping, you are no longer deep sleeping because you are listening for the baby, for her to cry, for her to breathe, for her to... be.

I ended up sleeping with both girls in bed with me a fair amount their first year, not because I had any big ideals about family bed sharing or co-sleeping (in fact, I actually really like having MY bed and MY room that does not contain either of them in it), but simply because laying down to nurse was better than sitting on the bed to nurse which was better than getting up to sit in the rocking chair to nurse when I was tired in the middle of the night. And it turns out, you can doze off in all sorts of odd ways when you are sufficiently tired. But that's just it, it was dozing off, and yes, dozing off in bed with a baby was significantly better than being wide awake with a baby, but it wasn't the same as getting deep restful sleep. And the long term effects of how that treats your body are real.

Some people are a little better at coping with sleep deprivation based on things like age and natural temperament. Some babies are a little bit better sleepers than others. Some families are able to share nighttime feeding duties so both people get a little bit more sleep out of the deal.

But it still comes down to a whole lot of shitty nights that first year.

The other part that makes motherhood incredibly hard is when you get sick. It will happen, and if you are unlucky you will still be the primary care giver for this little baby regardless of whether you have the flu or strep or a miserable nasty cold. The baby still needs it's diaper changed. The baby still needs to be fed often. The baby still needs your love and attention, and is completely oblivious to how you happen to feel like you're on death's doorstep right now because you can't even take any of the good drugs like Sudafed that might even actually help your sinus infection a little because you're nursing! 

So it is hard when your body fails you by it's simple human limitations.

All of these things, and more, combine into a really nasty cocktail of life that gets dished out to new moms. Coping with it is easier if you have supportive family with you (some days, you still want to be able to call YOUR mommy and ask her to come over and make everything all better) and a supportive, present co-parent. But it is never easy.

It does get better though.

You lower your expectations on things that don't matter. You find ways to juggle life. You learn who you are as a parent, and that it's ok to not be who you were before.

And your baby grows.

In 6 months, everything will be different.