THE NEW “NORMAL”
We’ve finally exited what’s called the fourth trimester, and our son is now much more “alert baby” and much less “confused squishy thing.” With this comes a sense of relief that 1) we’ve kept him alive and well four whole months and 2) there is more we can do for him and with him—as opposed to the newborn stage, where all professional advice essentially comes back around to “just wait it out, because there is nothing else you can do.” Mingled with that relief, though, is a good helping of anxiety as I try to figure out how to move forward in a life that sometimes feels so foreign.
Having a new baby is hard. Having a new baby and grieving the sudden and unexpected death of your father (who passed away within weeks of me giving birth) is downright cruel. When someone dies in the South, folks show up. They bring casseroles and cakes. Necks are hugged and tears are shed. But life eventually goes on. For the people left behind, though, it’s never that easy. The home-cooked meals and daily check-ins are gone. And you’re left to pick up the pieces and try to put together some facsimile of a new life without this person who was a part of you for so long.
I’m doing all the things I’m supposed to, though. I see a therapist every other week and talk through my feelings. I faithfully swallow a little oblong green pill every morning to keep my brain chemicals in check. I let myself cry when I feel the need to. I call my mother every day.
And yet, despite all of this, I find myself lying awake at night. I know I should be sleeping because my son will be up any minute needing me to nurse or soothe him. But instead I stare at the ceiling in our pitch black room, listening to the sounds emitted from the white noise machine—imaginary waves crashing into a fake beach—and I think of my father.
I fixate on our last visit and our last phone call, holding his big, rough, warm hands in the hospital bed and feeling like a little girl again. Or the bittersweet memory of laying my head on his chest for the very last time, just before they came to take his body away. I work hard to hear his voice and sketch all the details of his face. It’s like I’m worried if I don’t do this every day, he’ll slip away and I’ll never get him back.
Some nights I weep quietly so I won’t wake Emmett up in his bassinet beside our bed. Some nights I get so angry I feel like I could take a Louisville Slugger and bust every inch of glass within a ten mile radius and not feel better. I guess this is just the reality of grieving, but I’m starting to wonder if it will ever get easier.
I never wanted to be a stay-at-home mother. It’s not that I look down on those women who do, but I just never saw it in my future. I think it’s complete crap that women are often forced to choose between career and family, and as a society we’ve got to do a better job supporting women so that we can do both if we so choose.
It just so happens that I quit my full-time office job a few months before I got pregnant and the part-time job I took up to feed my passion for baking didn’t pay well enough to even begin to cover the cost of childcare. It was a dollars and cents decision that I would stay home with our son, but that doesn’t mean I was really ready for what that meant.
Technically I’m a “work from home mom” because I still have freelance writing to do every week. But being that it is all deliverables-based, I have no real structure to my “work” day. Therefore, my schedule is built around my son. Nursing and napping and playtime are the building blocks of every day. And while some days are a joy, other days I find myself wondering what I’ve really gotten into here.
There is a loss of freedom and a certain loss of identity that comes with spending all day at home with a baby. I was prepared in some ways for how this would feel; but like much of parenthood, I couldn’t truly understand until I was in the thick of it. I don’t for one second regret having my son. But I do occasionally mourn the life I had before I got pregnant. And I worry that I’ll never have a chance to really build the career I always dreamed of and worked so hard for.
I think it’s all a part of the process, so I refuse to feel like a bad mother for it. But I can’t help feeling twinges of guilt when I think about things I used to do and how sad I am that I can’t do them anymore, all the while knowing that I have friends who would give anything to have the blessing of a child. I know those who have tried and tried with no luck, as well as those who have suffered heartbreaking losses. I am eternally grateful for my healthy child, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t struggling to really find myself in this new role.
A MOVING TARGET
There is one constant you can count on with a baby: nothing sticks. Whether good or bad, whatever your kid is doing today, he probably won’t be doing it in two weeks. From a developmental standpoint, babies grow and change so much on a daily basis that as soon as you think you’ve got something figured out, your zig will zag. There are growth spurts and “leaps” and sleep regressions and teething and the godforsaken hell that is Daylight Saving Time, all waiting around the corner to sock you in the stomach the minute you get cocky.
I’m a Capricorn. I crave structure and order and organization. I need to control things. It’s an achilles heel that I’ve been working on for years. I have not one, but two tattoos—permanent reminders—that tell me on a daily basis to LET GO. Pregnancy certainly helped to loosen my iron-fisted grip on the steering wheel, but parenthood has gone ahead and thrown the steering wheel right out the window.
That’s not to say that I’m suddenly an ultra laid back person; but eventually, even the most rigid among us would be forced to loosen the reigns in the face of the unpredictability that is life with a baby. I indulge my need for control by keeping a daily spreadsheet of my son’s sleep habits. My husband jokes that he can’t wait to put my data points on a graph for interpretation and analysis, but it honestly does help me.
It reminds me that we will have good days and bad days, but that the bad won’t last forever. He may nap like garbage for three days, but eventually it levels out. We may have a few rough nights, but he always finds his groove again. I still read plenty of parenting advice and talk with my friends about their experiences, but I’ve also learned not to obsess over making him fit into some ideal box of the “perfect” child.
I am eternally grateful for my healthy child, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t struggling to really find myself in this new role.
I’m a mess. He’s a mess. The house is a mess. The dogs need a bath. My husband still can’t seem to wake up early for work or stop falling asleep on the couch watching Netflix at 2 a.m. But we’ve got lots of love in these four walls. One day we’ll finally put all the Christmas decorations in the attic and clean the random crap off the dining room table. We’ll fix all the broken lamps (there are two) and finish this huge stack of thank you notes. But the world won’t end if we don’t get it done today. So we’ll all pile up in the bed and make faces at each other and we’ll sing made-up songs as we dance around the kitchen.
Because if the last few months have taught me nothing else, it’s that this won’t last. He will grow and change so fast. And so will we. And one day, we’ll be gone. When we are, will he lie awake, recalling the features of our faces and the sound of our voices, his heart aching with loss but also with gratitude for having enjoyed a love so strong? I hope so. So I will take my foot off the gas. I will relax and try to breathe through every tough moment, understanding that behind it lie a million amazing ones
ERIN HALL | firstname.lastname@example.org
illustration VICTORIA ALLEN