My idea of “exhaustion” had been completely redefined — but I was also engulfed by a depth of love I had never known.
As a first-time parent, I expected the worst.
During my pregnancy and right after birth there were a lot of “warnings” about the havoc my little monster would create.
How I wouldn't be able to function without sleep, how she would suck the life out of me (literally), how this whole parenting thing would demonstrate that every challenge I've had in my life up until now was a joke. How I would have to recalibrate. How I'd need to discipline.
Heaps upon loads of advice on how keep the baby from inconveniencing my routine, at any cost.
First off, the baby arrived without any drama: no labor pains, no induction — just a major surgery I chose of my own volition when she was overdue by 10 days and stopped moving.
There were a lot of sympathetic notes when the birth announcement went out:
So sorry you missed out on the whole birth experience!
The recovery after a C-section is a bitch!
Hopefully the second one will be better.
A few things: Well, a human being was pulled out of my uterus, so I actually did have the whole birth experience. My recovery involved being judicious about my meals, not taking pain medications unnecessarily, and resuming my walking regimen slowly but faithfully. In other words, it was easy. And that last bit about a second delivery... I thanked folks for being presumptuous.
A month into the parenting thing, I had witnessed poop explosions, cluster feedings, gassy wails, and GERD. My idea of “exhaustion” had been completely redefined, but I was also engulfed by a depth of love I had never known.
Even through spit-ups and leaky diapers, I felt affection oozing through my pores.
Nothing felt overwhelming: not the initial cracked nipples or sleepless nights, not the constant baby-wearing or lullaby-singing, not the occasional cravings or muscle aches. Through hormonal changes and physical transformations (muffin top and lopsided breasts included), there was always her constant reassuring presence. She made it all worthwhile.
So it was surprising and disconcerting to me when I resumed my social life and heard nothing but negativity: Clingy infants not sleeping through the night, overly-picky toddlers refusing to be social, pre-teens wanting complete privacy.
It seemed like children, for these folks, were little adults that needed to grow up, pronto.
I kept my thoughts to myself, though. After all, everyone parents differently. Who am I to judge?
At a recent social event, a mother told me, “It's OK to vent.” Thing is, I don't have anything to complain about.
Unfortunately, other parents didn't seem to have the same philosophy.
They began interrogating me about my parenting choices, and the more they asked, the more it became apparent that they were trying to catch me “failing.”
They started asking me, “Why are you giving her diced fruit?” and telling me to “start with mushy foods.” I said I was following baby-led weaning, which was immediately dismissed as a fad.
They asked if she was a good sleeper. I didn't know what to say. I wasn't being smug — I just honestly didn't know. Since we co-slept and she nursed while I was lying down, I really had no idea when or how many times she woke up. I was too exhausted to keep an Excel spreadsheet.
I got comments about making her clingy by adopting baby-wearing, a practice I'd started when my colicky baby didn't get relief from anything else. (Also, it made doing household chores and hauling groceries so much easier!)
They snickered when they asked me what her favorite mealtime video was; I said we talk about the food we are eating during meals.
I was asked on numerous occasions what my parenting philosophy was. My response? “Respecting my child.”
I got laughed at. I was asked how I was “dealing with parenthood,” and when I said, “I'm loving every bit of it,” I was told, “Wait until she becomes a three-nager!”
Many of them not-so-secretly rejoiced when we found out that my daughter had nut allergies. “This will show her!” I overheard one parent saying at a party when she learned of the diagnosis.
It was pitiful and revelatory.
I formed a support group when I didn't find any local chapters for moms of toddlers with nut allergies. I combed through all the literature there was. I got us the best allergist in the area.
I had it covered the best I could.
And then her teeth started decaying. “Weren't you feeding her all-organic everything and no sugar?” some of these so-called friends questioned. “So much for all that night nursing!” others exclaimed.
I watched her teeth crumble as dentist after dentist advised I put her under general anesthesia and get her teeth capped. Again, without any support, I found ways to remineralize her teeth and ultimately found a holistic dentist who told me about amelogenesis imperfecta.
At a recent social event, a mother told me, “It's OK to vent.”
Thing is, I don't have anything to complain about.
I continue to be in awe of this little human being.
I understand that moms often need to commiserate, that in some ways it eases their “burden,” that it takes a village to raise a child. I also understand that some parents face particular challenges that I don't.
But why, when we have the choice to do otherwise, should we fixate on the negatives?
Why not rejoice in the laughter, the love, the sunshine these children bring into our lives? Why not celebrate the changes they introduce into our routines? Why not focus on the opportunity to learn, relearn, and grow?
Why does my having this parenting shit together have to be a case for social martyrdom? I know not everyone can cook a meal in under 30 minutes while entertaining their little ones. I know laundry loads can get menacing and tiring. I know what a house full of dirty dishes looks like. I know being a stay-at-home-mom is a luxury.
But parenting needn't be a chore. And just because I find it easy, doesn't mean I should be ostracized. Just because my choices don't conform to the social norms doesn't mean I should be crucified!
As a first-time parent, everyone had prepared me for the worst, when I should've expected the best.
My daughter is a testament to everything that's right with the world, everything that's beautiful.
I've lost many friends in the last two years, but I am grateful for the ones who understand and appreciate this beautiful journey. I am also enjoying the relationship my daughter and I have. We enjoy our hikes and lunches, we paint, we cycle. We have recently started having conversations that would make you laugh till you cried.
I continue to be in awe of this little human being. She isn't potty-trained, she continues to nurse on demand, she eats whatever whenever, she's quirky and intelligent and stubborn. She's so much more than "those terrible twos" everyone keeps asking me about.
She isn't perfect, and I'm well aware of her moments of unexplainable meltdown. But I do my best to take it all in stride. It's what being a parent means. It's what parenting means.
You may see me as snarky, opinionated, judgmental, and a wise-ass — that's your prerogative.
But I'm loving this parenting thing, and there's nothing anyone can do to take that joy away from me.