For the uninitiated, let me say a few words about the demands of parenthood. The early years were the hardest for me. I once heard a young friend of mine describe the first six months of new motherhood as akin to being in a coma. Before I became a parent I never would have understood the comment. After your child is born, you attempt to create some type of rhythm that allows the both of you to get basic needs met. Oh, I know there are books that tell you how to establish babies’ sleep patterns and maintain a reasonable feeding schedule. But what if these helpful tidbits don’t work? Some children are incredibly amenable to a sensible timetable (from an adult’s perspective), while others perversely resist any and all attempts at regulation that would allow the mother even time to brush her teeth. Prospective mothers may not be aware that you sometimes have to choose between taking a shower and eating breakfast because you don’t have time for both.
What about the fluids? No one told me about the fluids. For the first few months you are awash in a sea of fluids (except for the one that got you here in the first place.) Your baby and you leak from every body cavity: for a brief time blood; then milk, urine, mucous, and other substances too gross or mysterious to identify. In those early months you and the baby are so closely linked that it can sometimes be difficult to distinguish whose fluid is whose. But nobody tells you about it. It is a well-kept secret of new motherhood.
More than a little needs to be said about the physical exhaustion. It is stupefying. No one warned me about that either. If they had, I wouldn’t have understood it. The decision about who gets up with the baby almost breaks a marriage in half. Bob got up with Aaron a lot. Sometimes I don’t think I even heard him cry because I was so deeply asleep. After I got into the rhythm of motherhood, it was usually I who got up with the other children. After getting up nights with our second son, Matthew, I subsequently developed insomnia, which I had for nearly thirty years. Danny, our third, went in cycles. For two-week periods he would seem peaceful, sleep through the night and take regular naps. Then for two weeks he would be fretful and wake up every two hours—day and night. We had a studio portrait taken of our family at that time, and I look like the resident zombie.
David, our youngest, didn’t sleep through the night until he was five years old. I have heard that breast-fed children wake up more during the night, probably because they crave the closeness of the mother’s body. Breast-feeding is good for babies but hard on the mother’s sleep patterns. A wise pediatrician once told me that the issue of children waking in the night has to be a compromise between parent and child. It is not a matter one can justify by saying it is good for a child to cry. Why would that ever be good? It is a matter of realizing that one cannot meet every need that a child has. We have limits, and sometimes a child has to cry because we simply can’t get up.
When Danny was born, I had three children under four. I worked halftime at the outpatient clinic of the state hospital. Why did I work outside the home when I didn’t absolutely have to? There were many reasons. For one, I needed desperately to experience a sane and orderly world where I felt that I could achieve something productive within a limited amount of time. It was something I wanted, and Bob supported me. I knew that it would impose serious restrictions on my time, and it certainly did. (It is ironic that at the time I was working at the State Hospital!) On the days that I worked, Aaron went to nursery school in the morning. I don’t remember how he got there. We were in a carpool, I think. I had an hour for lunch. It took me fifteen minutes to drive to Aaron’s nursery school to pick him up and another fifteen minutes to drive home. I nursed Danny and talked to Matt for fifteen minutes then drove back to work. When my dentist told me that I should brush and floss my teeth after every meal, I burst into tears. I didn’t have time to eat, let alone floss. It seemed that my life as a functioning human being was really over. Did I survive? Can anyone really survive? Well, I did and next time I’ll tell you how I did it.
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Last reviewed: 29 Jul 2013