No one tells you what it's going to be like to have a baby. Well, one person did when I was six months pregnant (my OB, of all people), but I didn't listen to her. I had too many visions of lovingly gazing down at my precious, sleeping little one, too much optimism about my optimism being able to trump any newborn behavior, and too much biology demanding to be reproduced to be able to fathom how challenging and exhausting on so many levels it can be (and certainly has been in our house).
That's not to say it hasn't also been wonderful. It is. By far, having a baby is the best thing that has ever happened to me and I wouldn't trade it for the world. I am helplessly and hopelessly in love with my son, and would fight and die for him. Which is by and large what most people say when asked what it's like to have children, or when they hear that you're expecting.
Until, that is, you have a child, and then many of those same people quietly tell you to hang in there through the exhaustion and frustration (as well as the helplessness and hopelessness). That the good times are coming... eventually...
Why don't parents talk about how hard and even awful having a baby can be? And yes, it can be awful! The sleep deprivation, the often unending crying without knowing why, the never having a single moment to yourself even to pee, much less take a shower and wash your hair... it is relentless.
Everyone says the gurgling good eventually does outweigh the exhausting bad, which we're starting to see now at the four-month mark. And while I can't imagine forgetting how trying the past few months have been, the passage of time does seem to morph the confusion and heartbreak into a happy nostalgia for many, based on the constant mantra of older friends and family to "enjoy every precious, wonderful newborn moment... it goes by so fast!"
Forgetfulness may cause some to stay silent on the subject, yet for us newer moms, I tend to think that pride and embarrassment are what keep us from discussing the un-glorious aspects of parenthood. After all, no one else is talking about them. Even in the new mom groups I've been to where people are encouraged to open up and share what they're going through, it takes a while before we all drop the façade and cry out: "It is so damn hard! Why didn't anyone tell me?!"
We feel guilty, and who can blame us when it seems we're largely alone in our experience? Not to mention how rude it is to talk about the "burden" of being a new mom when so many don't have the opportunity to have a family of their own. How dare we complain about what is universally acknowledged to be perhaps the greatest blessing, opportunity and gift that life has to offer?
Yet, by not talking about what parenting is really like -- the good, the bad and the ugly -- we're actually doing a disservice to new moms and dads who are wholly unprepared for what they're getting into. My husband and I were marveling the other day that we took an eight-week course about our delivery, yet had absolutely no preparation for what really comes next.
It's like running a marathon without knowing about the inevitable pain that is sure to come. How can you ever get into the zone of such a tremendous experience -- much less enjoy the runner's high -- when you're utterly shell-shocked by the enormity of the challenge?
The same is true of parenting. I'm not saying that the minute we hear that someone is pregnant we should follow our congratulations with, "Now, let me tell you the hell headed your way!" (much as we may want to).
We should tell the truth, though. Because by not knowing about and preparing for what lies ahead, there's nothing to cushion the blow. And therefore, no room to welcome the beauty and joy that are also inherently intermingled with the experience.
I'm still trying to work out the math on how I used to get eight hours of sleep a night, yet now with a son who sleeps 14 hours a day, I'm somehow down to five. It's one of the many mysteries I'll never quite understand.
Thankfully though, enough time has passed that I'm growing accustomed to things, including accepting the enormity of all that I'll never understand or be able to control. That's one of the gifts of being a parent.
And there are many. Layers of selfishness you never knew you had disappear. A love unlike one you've ever known cracks even the most open of hearts wider still. New and deeper meanings of the words patience, resilience, sacrifice and perspective confound your earlier understandings, and the meaning of life smacks you upside the head and brings you humbly, reverently and eventually, gratefully to your knees.
I'm certain that I wouldn't have learned these things had I not had a child. Yet it is also a tremendous, difficult and terrible challenge. One doesn't come without the other; let's do every future mom and dad a favor and be sure to talk about both.
In my friends' words...
"I really do think it's impossible to know how exhausting and challenging a newborn can be unless you've had one yourself." - N. S.
"I was in a fog for a full five years after my son was born. I felt like Inanna going into the underworld." - D. G.
"To me, there was nothing fun about the newborn stage. Sure, I was in love with my little man, but there were moments when I wondered why we decided to have a child. No one could ever have prepared any of us for the instant life change that happens the moment you bring a baby into this world. It is such an insane time of life." - L. O.
"Unbelievable how little people talk about the challenges. It can feel so lonely. Oh, and the guilt!" - J. B.