Questions and Expectations...
I begin most of my prenatal yoga classes with a question.
Today's question: If this is not your first baby, what did you find was harder than you thought in the first week after birth? What turned out to be easier? If this is your first baby, what do you think you will find hard after your baby is here? What might come easily to you?
The first observation is that it is easier for people to identify what was or will be difficult than think of what came, or will be easy. I wonder if this is because we do not readily allow ourselves to be good at things?
Or maybe it's because new babies are a complex and challenging new adjustment. For everyone.
All the time.
The thing is, that no matter our expectations of ourselves or our experience, only some things turn out as expected. I have had clients tell me they thought they would rock birth - they worked out until 39 weeks with birth hypnosis affirmations in their ear buds and visions of blooming Lotus' swimming in their dreams, only to end up with a 3-day labor that ended in 4-hours of pushing and a Cesarean birth. I have had clients plan to have an epidural at first cramp and sail through labor while binge-watching Friends reruns, instead experience painless active labor, arrive at the hospital at 9 cm, and push for 20 minutes before greeting their baby who slid into the world with wide eyes and an appetite. Most people have a birth somewhere in between, but usually never exactly as planned. Birth stories tend to dwell on the unexpected - it was "faster"/"longer"/"harder"/"more..."/"less..."/"different" than I thought it would be.
The postpartum period is the same, but - muddled in newness, sleep deprivation, and confusion - builds a fog that is quickly buried under the routine of always adjusting and exciting baby milestones. By the time a child is school age, we are answering the question "what was it like?" with a shoulder shrug.
We take a quick glance at time-gone-too-fast reflected in a face that becomes more child than baby, and wishing to cherish where They began, we answer
"it wasn't so bad".
Here are some things that might be easier or harder than you can imagine:
breastfeeding, loving your baby, letting go of control, parenting with your partner, sleeping, Birth, having a healthy baby, taking care of yourself, asking for help. What else would you add?
The first 18 months of my first child's life, I handed her over to my husband every day that he returned from work as soon as he walked in the door. We didn't have family and only knew a few people. She was a gentle-tempered girl, and I don't remember being particularly stressed-out, but it was nice to have free hands! I wanted to cook, clean, or just walk around or shower by myself. Almost immediately, she would spit up on his tie and settle in to her witching hour - crying for the rest of the evening. My partner claimed that our baby did not like him almost every day for that first year and a half. He continued to take her from my arms though every day, anyway.
My second child slept like an angel overnight.
Which was helpful because he cried much of the day!
My third child was a cherub. I had a friend who was always so impressed at his calm and stillness. When we found out he was calm and still due to a motor delay, we continued to externally focus on how adorable and engaging he was. Inside, we wondered if he would ever walk or talk like other kids, and marveled at the smallest of intentional mobility. We were terrified all the time.
My fourth child had 3 surgeries for cleft lip and palate in her first year. I pumped exclusively for 6 months, while carrying her and my immobile 2 year old around and keeping track of two elementary school-aged children. Half of everything she ate came back out her nose, so she was little (but happy). Sitting in a waiting room while your baby is in surgery just sucks. Period.
These are not the stories I tell.
Bold And Messy...
These are not the stories I tell, mostly because they do not define or represent the overall Happiness that my kids have left me with every day since December 6, 2000. The bad stories indeed get lost in all the joy.
The bad stories, though, built up. They turned into anxiety because I never shared them. I did not feel safe enough, and I thought having a bad day/week/year, and talking about it, meant I was dishonoring my Baby-Gift.
I didn't know it could be GOOD
AND ALSO VERY HARD.
The challenges I had were many. They were different with each unique and amazing child, and with each place I was in my life. Breastfeeding challenges with Baby Number 1, were old news with the next ones. There are so many First Times you have to get through with the first one ... the first time their poop is green (WTH?!), the first time they bump their head, the first time they eat something brown off the floor (that you immediately decide is chocolate), the first time you Google a rash-pattern, the first fever, the first cluster feeding week, your first clogged-duct...
There are just so many things to learn and figure out, and you're just too tired for figuring!
Sometimes I am bold and messy in my language with new moms in hopes that when they are too tired to filter, they know they can find me and be BOLD and messy. I try to tell the stories of my challenging days so they know that not all my days are good, and that is Normal. Sometimes I come to class tired and I tell them, and then we melt into our mats together and send out well wishes to all the tired mothers.
So they know that when they are tired, someone is sending Wellness to them.
My oldest child ruined all of my husband's ties, AND that 16 year-old adores her dad.
My second kid cried away his baby-hood, AND he is a passionate, intelligent young man.
My third little one walks with a brace and can't hold on with his right hand, AND he loves Tae Kwon Do and never forgets anything.
My fourth baby is fierce, clever, and unstoppable. She is bold AND she is messy.
The stories we tell are full of Ands. They are stories about good AND hard days. They are about growing AND creating AND breaking AND learning AND not knowing AND being tired AND being joyful.
Celebrate the ANDs. Invite all the stories because that is all of you. Be bold and be messy.
The stories we tell are who we are, and so are the ones we do not tell. They shape our children and make us wise. They are important, and they are not always pretty or expected.
Photo Credit: Jennifer Shelhart