Before I had my son, I’d worked as a nanny for a little girl and, eventually, her newborn brother. So, I went into this whole parenting thing thinking, Puh-leeez, I’ve GOT this! I’m a professional. I’ve been PAID to do this job. (Not well, mind you, but paid none the less.)
I also went home at night, had weekends off and my sleep was peaceful, unbroken by such things as crying/pooping/peeing/nursing/worrying-if-baby-is-breathing. And did I mention that the mom was a doctor? Anytime there was a rash or a cough or anything even vaguely questionable, I simply passed the baton.
Essentially, what I’m saying is I HAD NO F’ING CLUE what being a new mom would actually be like.
Fast forward nine years, and I was finally starting a family of my own. I was still completely, misguidedly, confident. I knew all the right books to read, the right baby paraphernalia to buy, I was gonna ROCK this motherhood thing. I had even lulled my husband into a false sense of security.
Well. I’m sure you can guess where this is headed…
Initially, I got off easy. We didn’t have any major labor room drama, unless you count the newbie nurse who was supposed to help the OB use the suction extractor. Turned out, she didn’t know what she was doing, and the suction thing popped off my son’s head, while IT and HE were still inside me. But what’s a little light skull-fracturing among friends? I didn’t research how badly that could have turned out, brain damage or Cerebral Palsy, until he was about six. Miraculously, he suffered no lasting effects, other than two alarming indentations in his skull, mercifully covered by hair. (Please don’t go bald like my Dad … please don’t go bald like my Dad.)
We took the baby home, and he was a doll. A little dream come true! I was feeling pretty solid about this whole motherhood thing, until about day five. You know what happens around that time? That’s when babies wake up.
They WAKE. The FUCK. UP.
The little marvel that had been so hard to rouse for days was now wide awake. And he was PISSED. Nursing was not easy — inverted nipples, bad latch, yada yada. (That’s a whole other blog post.) The real problem was that he was UUUUUUPPP — all the time!
Until that point, I’d been staying up late emailing my friends, regaling them with whatever the hell I thought was of interest. But now I was working on a sleep deficit with no hope of turning it around — ever. There was no “napping,” so don’t even go there. The baby nursed for 40 to 60 minutes, dozed off for 20, and then we started over. We did this for weeks. I’d give him one bottle of formula at 7 PM each night, after which he slept until midnight. Then he was up at 2:30 AM. And 4:30 AM. By the time he woke up at 6 AM, he was up — for the day. I spent many hours each night laying in bed worrying about how little sleep I was getting, trying to strong-arm myself into unconsciousness.
Oh yes. Everything was totally going according to plan.
By the time my husband went back to work after three weeks of paternity leave, I was beyond frazzled. My confidence was shattered along with any ability to calm the hell down. I was not ready to be left alone with this child!
There wasn’t even anything wrong, I would tell myself. Sure, the baby didn’t sleep regularly and liked to scream for a few hours around 4 PM. Still, he was healthy and just basically acting like a new baby, my logical brain rationalized. But logic had long since left the building. No matter what I told myself, I couldn’t stop the rollercoaster of anxiety I rode all day long.
I fantasized about throwing myself across the threshold, barring my husband from leaving for work in the morning. One Friday night, I watched the clock from 6 PM to 7 PM while the baby slept in my lap, thinking Don’t move the time bomb! DON’T EVEN BREATH as tears streamed down my face. All because my husband went out after work “for one drink,” which of course was not the 15-minute drink I’d hoped for, it was a full-on 45-minutes. Day after day, the only thing that kept me clinging to the edge of sanity was the knowledge that my husband would come home eventually and it would not be just me alone with the baby.
That was how I lived during a three-week-long panic attack, which only ended after a very kind and intuitive breastfeeding support group leader introduced me to the term Postpartum Panic Disorder and encouraged me to call my OB and get some pharmaceuticals. And they worked! Sweet mercy, they worked! I was able to regain my footing, and eventually the baby started to seem more manageable. His naps were a mess until he was around six or seven months old. But I was getting through each day, and soon enough get through each week. Eventually, we even left the house. I found a moms group, and I adjusted to our new life.
So yes. That is me cringing insanely, sweating and terrified of my perfect little baby.
Did I mention I only have one?
PS: I did get better, and motherhood got better. Below is one of my favorite pictures from those early days, I think it sums up the chaos and the joy perfectly. See? Smiling!