Wait. Don’t shake your head just yet. And don’t judge me off the bat. Hear me out.
My whole entire life, I’ve wanted to be a mom. I remember when I was in high-school and even into a college starting a family and having kids would come up in conversations with friends. Some would say, “God, I don’t want kids. Ever.” Others, “I’d like a couple at least.” Me? “I want a soccer team.” It wasn’t really ever a question as to whether I wanted kids or not. It was just worked into my loosely-knit life plan. Go to college, get a masters, get a job you like enough to go to every day and not hate your life, fall in love, get married, have kids. I feel the need to preface this post with this information because I absolutely adore my daughter and can’t imagine my life without her…now. But its only fair and honest to admit that it wasn’t always this way.
I was completely and utterly unprepared for my first week with a newborn. I remember at my baby shower feeling swollen, massive, and exhausted listening to mother’s in the room jest with me about the lack of sleep in my future. Or about the number of poopy diapers I’d be handling. I’d politely laugh and nod in agreement. Other women would approach me and ask, “So, are you ready? You must be so ready.” “Oh my god, yes,” I’d say. Wrong. Wrong, Courtney, so wrong.
Our first couple days with Ellie at the hospital were difficult, but manageable. Sure I hadn’t slept in 48 hours. Sure, she cried and pooped a lot, but none of it seemed beyond the scope of my capabilities. I call this the honeymoon phase. Exhausted, pumped with adrenaline, and cocooned in the safety net of a labor and delivery unit armed with 15 nurses, you perceive that this motherhood thing will not be all that bad or that difficult. It’s easy to feel this way when you have a call button and Percocets at your disposal. Then you leave the hospital and weight of reality washes over you like a tidal wave, dragging the remnants of the life you had before with it. Our first days home alone with our baby were a nightmare.
We left the hospital on a gorgeous, sunny Thursday afternoon. Matt and I were extremely eager to go come and settle into our new normal. And then Ellie screamed and cried all day and night for her first five days home. I wish for a second I was over exaggerating. She thrashed and shrieked and hardly slept. We called it the “Donald Duck Cry.” You know Donald Duck’s scratchy, throaty, raspy voice? That was the basis of her ear piercing cries. The only way to soothe her was to have her attached to my boob or to walk and bounce with her. My nipples were cracked, bruised, pussing, and bleeding. And my husband would walk around our house hours per day with her until his feet were aching, raw and covered with blisters. This was just while we were waiting for my milk to come in. When my milk finally made its long awaited arrival, she refused to eat for 8 hours. It was like she was so pissed at me for not giving her enough food for three days that she decided to go on a hunger strike. After not sleeping whatsoever our first night home with her, we spent the next night on the phone calling our pediatrician’s office all night. Naturally, I was terrified that she would starve to death. The whole goddamn thing was a fiasco. What was most difficult was the not knowing. Why was she crying? Is she getting enough food? Should we wake her when she’s finally sleeping to eat or let her sleep? I am a planner and having no concrete answers or a routine was scary. It was hell on earth, the stuff nightmares are made of really. And no one prepares you for that.
To add some gasoline to this blazing fire, your family and friends are just dying to visit. In a sweet gesture, my whole immediate family plus my sister’s long term boyfriend decided to come visit our third evening home with the baby. My mother was bringing a big dinner and everyone was going to meet our little cherub. I was excited to have everyone ogle her and to be able to pass my newborn off to other people to give my arms and nipples a much needed break. I had it all worked out in my mind. I would be so excited to see my family. Ellie would sleep the majority of the time. She’d maybe stir every now and then as family passed her around commenting on how perfect she is. I’d finally get to sit and taste a meal instead of shoveling food down my throat in fear of her waking or to rapidly finish eating so my husband could have some relief.
And not a single part of this was reality. Within five minutes of my family being in my home, I went into a full blown anxiety attack. The amount of people in my home during a time of maddening uncertainty had me spinning. Ellie was awake their entire stay. Not only awake, but doing her full dog and pony show. Donald Duck screaming everywhere. My mother and sister each took stabs at soothing her to no avail. I don’t even remember what my meal tasted like. I inhaled food faster than I had ever in my entire life because I knew Matt was in the nursery shushing and pacing with her.
I remember at one point, I went upstairs to nurse her and started crying. I just wanted it to be our little family. I was embarrassed at how much I did not have my shit together and I wanted to click my heels three times and make everyone and the entire night go away. I kept apologizing to the family and saying, “I’m so sorry,” and “This is not how I wanted tonight to go.” As if my newborn could live up to the completely unrealistic behavioral standards I set for her. And everyone was responding in the ways I should have been responding. “She’s a baby Courtney, its fine,” or “Courtney we wouldn’t expect things to be perfect.”
Everyone left that night and to my chagrin decided to come over for breakfast the next morning. After another sleepless night, the family was knocking at our door by 8:00. I came downstairs in the same pajamas I had lived in for the four days we had been home and after having my spawn suctioned to my bleeding nipples for an hour. I sat with my sister, her boyfriend and my father eating breakfast and lethargically chugging a massive iced coffee. My sister turned to me and said, “She is so perfect Court. I’m so in love,” and her boyfriend Tom says, “She’s adorable. Congrats to you both.” I lifted my head from my cereal bowl and said, “Let’s be honest here. She fucking sucks.” And the whole table started laughing. Myself included. I laughed for the first time in five days and almost forgot what it felt like. I had been so consumed with worry, self-doubt, and stress that I hadn’t found anything funny in almost a week. I also said what every mother has thought in the first week of their child’s life. And if you haven’t thought that at least once, you’re a dirty liar.
More importantly than getting a good laugh, I realized that my baby really doesn’t “suck.” She’s a fucking baby. She’s going to cry, and fuss, and be miserable sometimes and there will be nothing I can do about it. It’s completely unrealistic to expect that she will be perfect…ever. I needed to stop getting frustrated with her and with myself. She’s still adjusting to the world and I’m still adjusting to her. I’d like to say that this frustration ended with this story, but it hasn’t. Its something I have to continuously work on daily. I expect myself to be a sage in motherhood already and get pissed when I can’t wave a magic wand to solve her problems. Just this week she developed her first cold. She’s absolutely miserable. And still, I sat on the couch crying to my husband saying, “I feel like I can’t do anything right. Why can’t I fix what’s wrong.” I’m slowly but surely understanding that motherhood has zero to do with being perfect. It’s about doing the best you can with love.