The Newborn Phase Was So Hard I Blacked It Out
There isn't much I remember between giving birth to my daughter and going on our first family holiday four months later. The latter is a weekend I'll always cherish: Just two days away in England's Lake District, only a couple hours away from home. Luna, her dad, and I stayed in a gorgeous yurt where we shut off our cell phones, cooked sausages on an open fire, and took slow walks on the hills. These are my first concrete memories of parenthood. As I've come to realize recently, the newborn phase is so hard I essentially blacked out the first four months of my kid's life.
When I think back to those earliest days of motherhood, what I recall most are the feelings I was experiencing. I remember the absolute exhaustion bred of labor and delivery, followed by the panic of taking home an entire human we were suddenly expected to care for. My baby never slept well, in part because we were told to wake her every two hours for a feed. She was tiny at birth. Too tiny. And I was tired. Too tired.
I remember a few other things, too: How her entire body fit on my chest; how her hands and feet wrinkled because of the extra skin on them; how the newborn-sized clothes we had collected were too big for all five-and-a-half pounds of her. The rest, however, is like a vague shadow. Even when I look at photos from that time, the only thing I truly remember is how worn-down I was.
Though I didn't realize the full extent of it at the time, I was utterly overwhelmed after having a baby.
I sometimes feel guilty about how my mind and body reacted to those months. I wonder why I couldn't have appreciated the good stuff more. I know that in the first 16 weeks of Luna's life, she learned to smile. She put on enough weight to metamorphose into an adorable, bonafide baby from a wrinkly blob. She learned to grab onto a rattly ball, which she would shake for what felt like hours on end. This is all stuff that brought me joy to witness, I'm sure. Still, I can't really remember it.
Though I didn't realize the full extent of it at the time, I was utterly overwhelmed after having a baby. Nothing could have prepared me for the life-changing shifts that occurred. Pre-parenthood, I had grown accustomed to being my first priority; to living for myself. Suddenly, there was someone else who I always had to think of first. There was someone else who was always with me, and always in need. I could no longer "get up and go." I had to first pack a bag of diapers, extra clothes, baby wipes, cream, toys, and food. I had to spend hours, for days at a time, pumping milk if ever I wanted to take a break away from the baby. She literally couldn't survive without me, which meant I was needed in a way I had never known before.
I found myself having to change, and change quickly. In order to be the best mother I could be, I needed to deconstruct all the re-learning I'd done in my 20s (that which had taught me that it was OK to be selfish; to make decisions based on my own wellbeing and no one else's), in the aid of being more present for my kid. This was all psychologically draining at a time when my actual body felt like it was going to self-combust, too.
All around me, relatives and friends were waxing lyrical about how beautiful a baby's first months on the planet are: How unique and special a time early parenthood is. Yet all the while, I felt like I was crumbling. Like the emotional and physical labor I was putting myself through would make for my ultimate demise.
Keeping track of milestones in those early months would have been impossible. Even when I was awake, I wasn't really there. I was desperately trying to keep hold of the person I had once been, while somehow trying to make room for the new person I needed to become.
We must give ourselves time to feel human again: To feel happy, or whole, or even just alright.
Despite all these internal and external battles, I was still managing to keep my baby alive, and safe, and happy. Somehow, I became a mother. I became the person that little girl could rely on unconditionally. I became her source of comfort. I know these things to be true. I know that there isn't a single photo of Luna's early months that would suggest otherwise. I know that in the here and now, a year later, I am still these things for her — so I must be doing something right.
This is why I'm trying to cut myself some slack. There is so much pressure put on first-time moms to soak up the wonderment and beauty of having a newborn. There is so much messaging along the lines of "these are the best days of your life." In some respects, they are certainly magical days. In others, however, they are anything but.
We must give ourselves room to grieve for the "anything buts." To grieve for the people we once were, before we met our children. We must give ourselves time to heal, from both the physical and psychological traumas of labor. And we must give ourselves time to feel human again: To feel happy, or whole, or even just alright.
Those first few months of my daughter's life were the most challenging of my own. Perhaps it's OK that I blacked so much of them out. Perhaps this is my mind's way of keeping me sane and safe. Of looking forward, and focusing on how much better everything is now. Of letting me grow into whoever I need to be, as she keeps growing alongside me.
Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.