Figuring out what I wanna be when I grow up.
Oop..I AM grown up...

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Dear Struggling Young Mother...

Those baby books that you read when you were pregnant?  When you were sitting in the glider chair in the muted sunlight of the peaceful baby nursery you'd created?  There you were, with all the beautiful washed blankets and tiny clothes and undershirts and clean soaps and shampoos arranged all around you, and that feeling of happiness and anticipation glowing softly right in your core.  The books told you that you were about to embark on a wondrous, magical journey.

It didn't tell you that you might push for three hours, ignorant to the fact that your baby had the cord wrapped around his neck,  and that you would push so hard just to get him into this world that you would actually give yourself a puffy, bruised eye.  It didn't tell you that your ankles and feet would be so swollen you'd be wearing your running shoes for those last few weeks, laced as loosely as possible, and that you'd be wearing your husband's winter coat because it was the only one that would do up.

And, oh my god, it didn't tell you about that first night you brought that new baby home.

When my son was born, I didn't get to hold him right away.  Thanks to being slightly strangled with each push, he got to go straight to the NICU.  When I'd come in to feed him, I would be face to face with this beautiful stranger, who I was terrified of.  The first few times I held him, and fed him, he was attached to enough wires and monitors that if I bent one wire the wrong way, things would start beeping.  As I fumbled to find the right way to get my breast to his mouth, he would be SHRIEKING with rage and desperate need for food.  Then the dear, kind nurse would matter-of-factly grab my breast and shove it in the kid's mouth.

It was daunting, to say the very least.

Finally on the 5th day, we brought him home.  We thought his breathing sounded wheezy.  We freaked.  Then my inlaws came over and assured us he was just fine, and sounded like a new baby should.  Nana was calm.  She was in love with the new baby.  She professionally, effortlessly swaddled him tight and cozy in seconds.  She patted him and rubbed him and got all the bad air out of him.  I barely even wanted to hold him.

I wanted to see other people hold him, so I could look at him and bask in his beauty, but oh--how scary he was.  Then, that first night, with my bedside lamp on, our new baby was sleeping in the bassinet RIGHT BESIDE ME.  He was making all those little baby noises that a new mother quickly becomes accustomed to if she gets to have her child in the hospital room with her.

I did not get to learn these noises, so I lay there, listening, making sure his breathing sounded okay, making sure he was going to be OKAY.  And then I heard The Man start snoring beside me.  He was able to fall asleep and I was lying there freaking out.  I suddenly realised;

MY GOD, IT'S ALL ON MY SHOULDERS.  It's up to ME to make sure this precious little soul is safe, is fed, poops when he should poop, pees enough times to produce the daily requirement of wet diapers, gains enough weight per week, is healthy, is not jaundiced--it's all up to ME.  I'm THE MOTHER now.  I'm not just karen any longer. I'm not just some girl.  I'm a mother, and my stomach is an empty shell, and I am very, very tired and sore, but I have to get to work RIGHT NOW.  THIS MOMENT.

So if you're a new mom, and you're shitting yourself, take heart:  I know how you feel.

Time passes.

And maybe, enough time has passed, and you've decided it's time to have another baby!  But, your first child is still young, and so needy.  And your NEW baby demands so much of your time.  And your husband?  Well, he had to go back to work.  Everyone on your street is at work.  You are all alone.

But, you are not.  And things won't always be so difficult (hopefully!).  When I started writing this blog at the end of 2009, I had WAY more angst.  Things were far more stressful, and tumultuous and AUTISM sat at the head of the table.

Now we still have meltdowns and anxiety and other challenges to deal with, but my kids are older and they are sweet, and so lovable and we have wonderful times every day, not just once in a while.  Oh, I still have "screaming idiot mom" days.  But a few years ago?  Hoo...them's were some hard times.

I wrote a book when my son was 3 and my daughter was mere months old.  It was the year my son was diagnosed with "Autism Spectrum Disorder."  It was a very, very hard year.  I'd like to share a few excerpts to show that even though sometimes things seem very, very, insurmountably difficult, the old adage is true:

This too shall pass.

 *          *          *

Thursday August 8th?  Or 9th?  2007

I'm tired.  The past few days have been horrendous.  Let's face it, the past almost two weeks have mostly been terrible.  This is because Jack's nana has not been able to come around at all while some relatives from England are visiting.  Jack spends at least one day a week with his nana, which let me tell you--and I'm not religious--is a blessing.  

Of course that's not the whole problem.  The other misery factor is that it's been absolutely freaking hot for the past two weeks--extreme heat alerts most every day, and so for the most part we have been trapped in the air-conditioned house.  Let's also add in Ella's continuing teething fun, which has made her naps very erratic.

Yesterday was a truly horrible day.  Jack pushed my buttons and I reacted because I was just so damn tired. I don't even know what we fought about--everything and nothing.  My heart, too many times, was just pounding with pure rage.  I had to say aloud; "I will NOT hit him.  I will NOT hit him.  I will not hit him.  I would like to hit him, but by god, I will NOT hit him."    Tantrums, meltdowns, trying to hurt his sister...endless. 

Whenever I've had some spare time lately I've been futilely working to put Jack in a nursery school, which I will explain.  In the meantime, he listens to the same cd over and over again and bounces ENDLESSLY against the couch.  * Bounce*Squeak!* Bounce*Squeak!*   until I just want to cry.

Yesterday was bad, bad, bad.  The low point, or one of them rather, was me sobbing beside the washing machine as Jack peeked through the basement stairs and laughed at me.  So then I screeched "GET OUT!"

As I see it, I had three choices yesterday:  I could have smacked the crap out of him, which horrifies me, I could have swallowed an entire bottle of tylenol, or I could have a whisky.  So I had the whisky-- a nice strong shot mixed with cola.  As I drank it, I could feel the calm washing over me.  Without the rage though, all I felt was sadness.  Every day I fail as a mother.  Every day.  

August 15

I've been thinking lately of a girlfriend who is pregnant with her first child.  We lost touch for a while when I had Jack, one, because she and her husband live almost an hour and a half away now, and two because we'd temporarily lost that common ground.  

I totally understood:  she was still thin, pretty, going out to bars for cocktails with her man, valuable in the working world, and I was racing around cleaning poop and puke off everything, and following the rigid breastfeeding clock.  And if that sounds bitter, I didn't mean it to be.  

So yeah, now she's pregnant, and I dare say she's just as "green" as I was then.  I had never diapered anyone before, and the closest I came to knowing babies was probably something like; "here, hold the baby while [your aunt and I] have a cigarette."  

I wasn't even the girl who wanted to hold the babies when they happened to arrive for a visit, which, if I look back now, seems pretty A-typical.  

So, she'll have the baby in less than 4 months and already she's wondering when next she and her husband will go on a vacation sans children, and she's concerned about not eating too much so she can lose the baby weight as fast as possible.  I just smile--and not with contempt, but I smile anyway because she's clinging to the last shreds of a life that will be gone.  

My mom said it best and let's see if I can get this right:  the first baby is a huge culture shock because it changes your whole life, and the second baby is much easier because that life is gone.  Isn't that cheery?

10:50 PM

Something magical has happened tonight:  I was standing outside saying goodbye to my parents, my sister and my niece.  I picked up my boy and he actually put his little arms around my neck and rested his cheek against mine.  He never does that sort of thing with me--almost never hugs or kisses me voluntarily.  

That little cheek against my cheek!  Oh, just thinking about it makes me feel so full.  It makes everything, everything okay:  all the lonely days, my wreck of a body--it's all okay.  If I can just conjure that feeling in my mind every day, I might just make it out of this life okay.  


  1. I don't have children. There are many reasons, physical, etc, but a very large one on the list is terror. My family isn't near me, my husband would be just like yours, snoring away while I freak (and I don't mean that to sound badly, I think it's probably typical). And honestly, I just don't know if I could handle it. But. But...reading your posts often make me question our decision, and wonder what I am missing.

    You are a wonderful mother, Karen, and an inspiration.

    1. Vesta, your honesty is admirable. Why shouldn't we be terrified? Kids ARE terrifying! One little funny lump on them and we shit ourselves on the spot.

      We are always going to wonder what the other side of the coin is like. It's just in our nature, I guess.

      And thank you, by the way.

  2. i would never want to be a new mom again. ever. having a baby after being infertile was a dream come true, but the reality felt anything but dreamy when it arrived. thankfully, years pass and things get better. and we get tougher and the kids eventually take care of themselves. seems like it'll never happen in the moment, but then suddenly you look back & realize that you haven't wiped anyone's bottom but your own in a bunch of years. and you realized that you and your kids made it out alive.
    it can only get better from here.

    1. Sherilin, you've made a very good point: just because we wish so hard for something doesn't mean it can't be scary and daunting when it arrives!

    2. sometimes when i complain about something motherish to my husband he says, "you're the one who wanted to be a mom." as if just because i don't love every aspect of it, i shouldn't have wanted to have a kid.
      so i've started reminding him that he's doing the kind of work now that he's wished for, for years. but he still has bad days as work. and he still complains. it doesn't mean he doesn't want his job and he's allowed to complain sometimes. so am i. he needs to shut it.

    3. yeah! It's not ALL peaches and cream! Wait...I haven't had peaches and cream in years...

      So funny: "he needs to shut it." It's true though, it's tiring work!

  3. Lots of scariness when the future seems uncertain.
    I'm very cynical as you know. I'm under the impression that most of us live boring uneventful lives sitting around waiting for tragedies that never happen, and when (if) they do; we usually handle it pretty well.

    When I'm bored I think of something dirty, and completely random that makes me laugh.

    I've worked on many outdoor construction jobs with mostly men, and the occasional big bosses riding through in limos with tinted windows. It is those moments when I imagined some sort of freakish spell occurrence when suddenly all of the men became stripped naked, high on acid, or speed and ran off the job all at once. The bosses in the limo, look in horror as their limo is plummeted by hundreds of naked men with some of them accidently smashing their peckers into the tinted glass.

    Boredom makes me think of crazy shtuff.

    1. but the way your brain works is interesting, Bennet, even if it does torment you. And we all have to get ourselves through the days :)

  4. It scares me beyond belief. I can handle snakes and cheetah and I love my niece and nephew... but the responsibility of my very own child... terrifying!

    You rock the frickin casbah, Karen.

    Sarah xxx

    1. thanks Sarah--anyhow, you have to be OUR LADY OF FABULOUS FASHION, and that's a big enough job!
      You rock too!

  5. So well said. No one is ever 'ready' for a child. I remember the day I was induced, looking at hubby and saying,'Do you think we can postpone this? I'm just not ready.' We had a similar experience with Rowan going into NICU for a week because his heart wouldn't beat regulary.And that first night home, I barely slept. And for the first 2 months, I slept with my hand on his chest to make sure he was breathing!Motherhood is an act of bravery.

    1. I love this statement sooo much, Leanne:

      Motherhood is an act of bravery.

      That image of you sleeping with you hand on your son's chest, so poignantly sums it ALL UP.

      Makes me think of me sleeping on the hard floor beside Jack's crib after he had his very first vaccination.

  6. What you went through is very similar to our experience over here. Alex was our first kid and I just thought all kids were as hard and screamy as mine. I was all confused when I met up with other moms and they were sleeping and had giggly happy babies. I had to have my sister move in with me just so I could get some sleep. Sigh. I figured things out pretty quickly after that but oh man there is no way I'd go back in time willingly. Well, I would but only if I knew what I know now. Hindsight is 20/20, isn't it???

    1. It sure is, Lizbeth! I think you and I have lived a lot of similar things, and there's a lot of comfort in that really.

      Luckily, Jack slept really well through the night, and from a very young age. He was always a good sleeper. At least I had that, whereas you didn't, you poor thing.

  7. As a new mother I SO APPRECIATE this post and I completely get it and I love your honesty. I admit that sometimes when she is laughing and smiling I feel the need to have another one but we have already decided not to so she is my one and only. Its SO HARD being a parent, so much harder than anyone can ever, EVER prepare you for. You have to experience all the horrors and all the joy to understand. You rock Karen. Thanks for writing! :)

    1. thanks Jd. I often think of you and the new itty bitty girlie at home. Well, let's see how your decision goes in about 2..3 years time :)

      Wait..was that a dick thing to say? Great, now I sound like every other old biddy.

  8. What an amazing, honest, heart-breaking, inspiring post, Karen. I shared many of your thoughts and feelings when I had Nina, even though she was my 3rd child so allegedly I knew what I was doing...
    But I wasn't prepared for a child with health issues, who cried ALL the time, whose ongoing treatment made her cry EVERY time we put her cream on her, changed her nappy, did anything with her really.
    God it was hard. And I tried to share a bit of how I felt at the time but seriously, no one seemed to want to hear it. I kept thinking there must be other mums who felt as despairing as I did about my inability to cope and not being at all sure I could do it and not really knowing if I loved her... But when I tried to say some of that stuff, friends seemed blank and bemused, so I stopped saying it.
    YOU are brave enough to tell your story, and that's what I LOVE about you.
    You (in case you haven't heard) ROCK!!!
    PS. And yes, it did get better. xxxxxxxx

    1. it's frustrating to feel like you're a) all alone, and b) some weird ALIEN, doesn't it, Curtise?

      That's why the online community is great. I was out at the parks and other children-related centres a lot when Jack was a baby, and they often moved away from us like we had the plague. Probably why I'm extremely protective and defensive now!!

      Oh well, we have each other, don't we! SNIFF!

    2. having the internet community makes life better, doesn't it?

  9. Wow. What a beautiful post. And I can totally relate. I was like your friend wondering when I would lose the baby weight and be able to have a night out with friends. I found the excerpts from your book particularly touching. "Every day I fail as a mother". Whoo, those are some difficult words to think. I still think them a lot, but as you said, things are gradually getting easier. Thanks for sharing this post. I really mean it.

    1. well thank you for reading Marsupial Mama! There are all kinds of these "secret thoughts" that are in each of us that we don't want to say out loud for fear it makes us look like we're not grateful or that we're selfish and self-centred, or uncaring. That's not it at all though: we are fallible humans. That is all.


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