I Wasted So Much Of My Sons' First Year Trying To Be The "Perfect" Mom
All new moms have their insecurities. No matter how many kids you babysat as a teen, how many baby books you read in preparation for parenthood, or how much you wanted to have a baby, when you strap your baby into their car seat and head home from the hospital there's inevitably a moment where you're shocked that you've been entrusted to the total care of another human being.
Most moms find their parenting stride eventually, creating a balance over the things they worry about and the times they let go of all the what ifs and just enjoy watching their little one grow. But not me. Were it not for Facebook and the fact that one of my best friends just happens to be a photographer, I would have no idea what happened during the first year or so of my twin boys' lives. It's not that I was so sleep deprived that I don't remember that time (although that might be a small part of it). Nor was I suffering from postpartum depression. I was very present when my kids were born. In fact, I was so invested in nailing this parenthood thing that I overthought it. I tried so hard to be the perfect parent that I let all my fears and worries overshadow the best part about having a baby: watching them grow and discover the world around them.
I came into motherhood like a wrecking ball, way earlier than I thought I would and not at all prepared to care for teeny, tiny sick babies.
I like to think at least some of my paranoia was justified. After all, my boys were 33-week-old preemies and even though they don't have any long-term issues now as a result of being born far too soon, at the time it was really scary. They both spent time in the NICU before coming home. When they came home, they each weighed around 5 pounds, and Lolo had a heart condition that needed to be monitored (it self-resolved when he was around 6 months old). We didn't know if they would have eyesight issues like many preemies (so far, no) or other sensory issues and delays.
I didn't slide into motherhood with a sense of joy and love after a full-term pregnancy and easy delivery. I came into motherhood like a wrecking ball, way earlier than I thought I would and not at all prepared to care for teeny, tiny sick babies. Even after they were out of the woods and came home, that high-alert mode became my default setting. I was so worried about what could go wrong with my babies that I missed all the things that went right.
Since the boys were already underweight, our pediatrician said they couldn't really afford to lose a single ounce, so he recommended we feed them every four hours until they reached 12 pounds, even if that meant waking them up for a bottle. Both of the babies had reflux, so they had to be fed almost sitting up. That meant either both my partner and I got up together for every middle-of-the-night feeding to each feed one baby and get back to sleep faster, or one of us fed the boys one at a time, which could take up to 90 minutes, not including the time it took to get the boys to fall asleep again. We were obviously exhausted and very, very addicted to caffeine. When the boys finally reached that magical 12-pound mark around 4 months old, their doctor said we could let them sleep all night if they wanted, but the boys were snoozing during their check-up and missed that memo. They continued to wake up at least once during the night for the next month or so and I resigned myself to the fact that my under-eye area would always look like the Scream mask.
I was so worried about what could go wrong with my babies that I missed all the things that went right.
And then the morning finally came when I awoke not to the sound of a baby crying over the monitor, but to this weird, warm glow in the room. I sat up straight, thinking I was about to be abducted. Then I realized the strange light wasn't a UFO outside my window — it was sunlight.
The boys had slept through the night for the first time ever. While I wasn't exactly well-rested, I could form a coherent sentence without drinking a shot of espresso first, so it was a definite improvement. But instead of being pumped that my days of looking and feeling like a zombie were over, my first instinct was to panic. Why didn't they wake up? Are they OK? Are they still in their cribs? Did the mobiles fall and smother them? Did that chick from The Ring crawl through the baby monitor and get them? I'd better go check on them just in case.
Of course they were completely fine and sound asleep, and of course they woke up as soon as I entered their room. I should have rejoiced at the ability to take an unhurried shower, but instead I let my parenting fears rob me of the chance to shave my legs.
I was obsessive over their developmental milestones to the point where I nearly missed the first time Lolo laughed. Because the boys were born prematurely I was constantly on the lookout for signs that they had developmental delays or that something was going to go wrong.
Lots of moms cry the first time their baby rolled over. I did too, but not because my kids were growing up so fast. The boys were around 6 months old, laying on their exercise mat while I tried to engage them in looking at themselves in the mirror or batting at the dangling plastic monkey, but they were having none of it. Suddenly, I really had to pee. I thought a good mom would never leave her kids alone, so up until this point I either waited until they fell asleep or took them with me to the bathroom, but this was a call of nature that had to be answered right away. They looked like adorable but immobile blobs, so I decided that it would be OK for me to run to the bathroom in the next room, just for a minute. I left the door open and didn't even take the time to wash my hands (antibacterial was a fixture in every room back then). Still, even though I went as fast as I could, I came back to see Remy a good two feet away from where I'd left him.
He'd managed to roll himself over and off of the mat. I sobbed. Not because I missed seeing it happen (though that may have been a part of it), but because I thought of all the dangerous things that could've happened to him while he was unsupervised. What if he had rolled into the curtains and suffocated? Or hit the baby chair and it fell on top of him? Did he have a concussion from hitting his head on the wood? What if he didn't actually roll; what if Lolo pushed him because he's the evil twin? I snapped the picture and sent it to my partner at work with an explanation about how I was the world's worst mom because I had to pee.
It was months before I went to the bathroom without turning it into a mandatory field trip. Even the cat would join us to see what all the fuss was about. Nowadays going to the bathroom still draws a crowd but rather than an audience they stand outside the door and beg to see me. It makes me feel like Beyoncé, and they're my fans. I don't hate it.
I was looking the big picture rather then enjoying the moment with the babies I had right in front of me.
I was obsessive over their developmental milestones to the point where I nearly missed the first time Lolo laughed. Because the boys were born prematurely I was constantly on the lookout for signs that they had developmental delays or that something was going to go wrong. The problem is that all babies develop at their own pace so friends and random internet sources varied wildly as to whether my kids were doing things that were right in line for their age, way behind schedule, or super advanced and ready for calculus. I took the recommendations that babies should be read to very seriously and would set my phone every afternoon for our mandatory recitations of The Very Hungry Caterpillar, a fabric sea animal book and the terror that is Goodnight Moon.
While I recited the books from memory, I'd watch them closely for signs that they were understanding the plots. I got frustrated when they looked away from the pages and wondered if their inattention was a sign of a developmental issue instead of just babies being babies. The ocean animal book wasn't a storybook, it had sensory elements in the pages, like a built-in squeaker or ribbons to play with. The cover made a crinkle sound when you wrinkled it.
One day as I pointed to the turtle on the cover and said with all the enthusiasm of a former cheerleader, "Look, look at the turtle! See the turtle?" Lolo looked at his brother and giggled. I was so annoyed that he wasn't paying attention and worried that I was missing some secret trick to reading to babies that I almost didn't catch the happy noises he was making. He wasn't ignoring the book, he was trying to make sure his brother heard the crinkle noise too. Luckily I managed to tone down my irrational brain long enough to catch that awesome moment, but I almost missed it because I was looking the big picture rather then enjoying the moment with the babies I had right in front of me.
I saw their attempts to stand alone as the potential for a nasty fall. Instead of being excited about the possibility of getting to eat my own food first for a change, I worried about them choking as they started to feed themselves.
I had plugged up all the electrical sockets, anchored all the furniture, and hid all the wires before the boys were born so I thought the house was pretty well baby proofed, but when Lolo first started to crawl he managed to back himself under the ottoman like the world's cutest bridge troll. My husband laughed and praised his ability to finagle his way out. Rather than realizing how amazing it was that my little dude was cruising around, I was scared he would somehow trap himself under there forever, and so I got rid of the ottoman I adored so much.
It was like that every time they learned a new skill. Rather than take even a second to marvel that my babies were doing something new like pulling themselves to a standing positions or feeding themselves cereal, I immediately focused on the negative. I saw their attempts to stand alone as the potential for a nasty fall. Instead of being excited about the possibility of getting to eat my own food first for a change, I worried about them choking as they started to feed themselves.
I'd be lying if I said I've completely calmed down in my quest to do everything right as a mom. There's still plenty of times when I find myself comparing myself to other moms to see how my skills stack up or worse, compare my kids to others. But as my kids get older and I realize how I'll never get that first year back I try to slow down and enjoy the moments I have with them now. I'll get down on the floor and do a puzzle without looking up online to see if their puzzle skills are average for their age or color with crayons without trying to help them stay inside the lines.
I'm mad at myself for clouding that first special year with all my self-doubt. Thanks to social media, I have the pictures from that time but not the memories, and I'll never fully forgive myself for that.