March 3, 2011

A Whole Bunch of Stuff I Didn't Know a Year Ago.

Tessa Jean, one day old
I've been writing this post in my mind for about a month now. This month Tessa turns one so I am planning to do a lot of posts about her and how this last year has changed our lives. I want to get around to posting her birth story as well.

This is a letter I've written to myself -- specifically it is written to the person I was a year ago. The woman with the swollen stomach who felt like life was either about to end or begin but wasn't sure which. Some of these things are insights that I wish I had known beforehand; other things were better left to be revealed in time:

Dear Ellen,

You will worry that you won't like being a stay-at-home mom because you are a feminist and because you've always had such a strong work ethic and derived so much self-worth from your career. But you will love being a stay-at-home mom. You will like it way more than any of the other jobs you ever had. And you won't miss going to meetings. Or being berated across boardroom tables.

On the day she is born you’re going to think your baby is truly the most beautiful thing that you have ever seen. You shouldn't have lost so much sleep when you were pregnant worrying that you might miscarry her or that she would have the world's most inoperable hairlip or six legs or that you wouldn't love her. She is perfect and you love her immediately. And she has your blue eyes, which is a surprise that takes your breath away.

A week after you come home from the hospital, you will stop sleeping. At all. You won't sleep a wink for almost four days. It's the hormones and the demands of a baby who wants to eat every hour and it's the fact that you are losing your mind a little bit. It will scare the shit out of you. But the doctor will prescribe something and it will all be okay.

You will breastfeed her for only six weeks because you are being assaulted by several logistical, medical, and emotional issues that make it a near impossibility. You will switch to bottle-feeding and it will help immensely. Still, you will feel the worst shame of your life about this.

You will lose a lot of sleep, especially in the very beginning. It will mostly be your fault and not your baby's. You will worry the night away while she snoozes. You will lose whole hours of sleep imagining that she's kicked her socks off and that her feet are cold.

In the mornings, if you haven't already heard her babbling or rustling around, you will hold your breath when you walk into her room. You will always be afraid she has died in the night somehow and so when she smiles up at you from her crib, you will scoop her up and hold her tight to your chest. It will be the best way to begin every morning -- with joy and great relief.

You will be disappointed to realize that babies don't cuddle, unless they're newborn. This was all just a fantasy you had. They just wriggle, squirm, and kick you; pull your hair and yank your lip back to examine your teeth and climb you like a jungle gym. 

You will worry that your relationship with your husband will go up in flames or just burn away slowly. You will worry that you'll have significantly different ideas about parenting. It won't and you won't. Somehow you will manage to have a date almost every week, just like you always said you would do before you had the baby. Somehow he will agree with almost all of your ideas about parenting and make you feel like you are the world's greatest mother. He won't think less of you when you tell him that you yelled at the baby in the car because she wouldn't stop screaming or when he comes home from work and you're sitting on the kitchen floor crying with the dinner burning on the stove. He will take over. He will help.

Some days you will come home from running errands, swing the door open with the baby on your hip and think -- for just a second -- that you've been ransacked and robbed. But then you'll realize that you just didn't pick the baby's toys off the floor before you left.

After the baby starts crawling, you will no longer shower or bathe alone. She will crawl up to the tub, pull herself up, yank the shower curtain back and stare at you the entire time. From here on out you will shower with one leg pinning the curtain to the side of the tub so as not to soak her. Baths are even more unpleasant, because she will stand at the side of the tub and try to fling herself into the water with you. Shaving your legs will become a luxury.

You will realize that playing with the baby is blow-your-brains-out boring. It sounds like a fun idea, but it is fun for five minutes tops. But it means so much to her so you sit there on the floor with her in your lap, saying, 'This is this and this is that.' And you will count the minutes until she goes down for another nap or to bed for the night because that's when you'll feel a little bit free.

You will memorize which floorboards in your house squeak and make imaginary pathways over the ones that don't. You will learn not to flush the toilet at night. You will do anything not to wake the baby up.

You will sometimes prefer your friends who don’t have kids. That way you don’t have to talk about
your baby or their baby and you won't secretly judge -- or be judged -- about parenting your baby differently than they parent theirs. These friends also won't hit you up to babysit.

You will sometimes prefer your friends who do have kids. That way you can talk all night about babies and get ideas and advice and leave the conversation feeling less alone.

You will learn that your baby sometimes makes an otherwise unbearable situation seem somehow pleasant and that she can also make an otherwise pleasant situation seem unbearable.

Nothing will be how you thought it would be. You won't be how you thought you'd be. This is neither the beginning nor the end.