The first 100 days of a baby’s life has sometimes been called the “100 days of darkness”. At first I was going to title this post “4th trimester” because that’s also what it is - the first 3 months of life where babies seem to hit new developmental milestones daily. But I think 100 days of darkness is a little more honest.
This baby has wrecked me, to be even more honest. I love him so much and I’m so happy he’s finally started to smile, coo and even laugh, but wow, new motherhood is like getting brained and then recovering from that. For me at least, the physical recovery wasn’t a huge deal (and that isn’t always the case for many new moms). By 6 weeks I was pretty much healed, though I had no pep in my step and barely felt up to taking walks. The emotional rollercoaster, however, has been like nothing I’ve ever experienced. 100 days postpartum is definitely better than 60 days, is better than 30 days. Yes, it’s gradually getting better. Everyone told me that by age 3 or 4 months, things would be getting better, and it’s true. It’s not like a switch by any means, but I’m starting to decipher patterns and predictability to my little baby’s behaviors. A life without pattern and predictability is madness.
For some people I suspect it’s easy to go with the flow and not have any expectations for how your day will unfold, but I was cursed with this desire to plan out my day, set goals and try to achieve them. That’s not possible with a new baby. So I was (and am still) constantly fighting with myself over feeling anxious that I’m not getting anything done, that I’m wasting my days, when in fact what other pursuit could be more worthwhile than raising a new human and literally nourishing him with my body? I feel rewarded when I’m productive, but unfortunately when my reward systems were being set up, my brain never associated childcare with productivity. In other words, I probably had a touch of postpartum depression and anxiety.
Now that I’m getting a little more sleep a little more consistently (roughly 5-6 hours a night, achieved in 3 “naps” in between nursing sessions), I’ve been able to think about what I just went through. I knew having a kid would be difficult, I just couldn’t imagine what it would actually feel like. The feeling that I’m the only person in this world that can keep this kid alive. The isolation from friends and other non-family adults. The isolation even from older family members who “can’t remember” what this stage of life was like. The absolute boredom when you haven’t left the house in days. The guilt that you did something wrong when baby won’t stop crying or fussing for hours. The anxiety over every noise, watching your baby’s chest rise and fall on the monitor. The fear that your baby is dead when you haven’t heard them make a noise for 30 minutes. The effect on your marriage. The sleeplessness all of this causes.
There’s a reason sleep deprivation is a torture tactic.
When I first gave birth I was really confused about how women could ever be convinced to have a second child. Pregnancy was not fun. Labor was the worst. The physical and emotional recovery takes months. The purple-faced crying makes you feel like you’re losing your mind. Last night I googled “why women forget the pain of raising an infant” or something, to try and answer that question. It led me to this article in The Atlantic. I suppose what happens is that over time you remember the positive memories more than the negative, and you construct a happy montage of raising your baby, because when they’re older it really is more enjoyable, and those enjoyable feelings color your recollection. And really, 100 days isn’t that long in the grand scheme of things compared to how rewarding having a family can be.
Of course I’m a little nervous about publishing this to the internet. I’m being too honest. I wish I could have read something like this before I was pregnant. Or that someone could have really told me what it was like. It wouldn’t have stopped me from wanting a child but I might have been a little more informed. I was about to type “prepared” but I’m not sure anything can prepare you. Unless you’re a live-in nanny and wet nurse. Unless you’ve already been a mom.
I’m in the middle of reading Operating Instructions by Anne Lamott and I’ve been comforted by the disturbing thoughts she had back when her baby was a newborn.
(Pause here as my breast starts spontaneously dripping milk all over).
(10 minutes later - I had to pump about an ounce of milk out since it’s been over 2 hours since I last fed my baby. You see, it took me over an hour to get him to take a nap, and I type this as he is sleeping. Actually, I couldn’t get him to nap after that hour, my husband had to relieve me and I left the house to go on a short run to blow off some anxiety/guilt caused by baby crying. Within 2 minutes of me leaving baby was asleep. When I got back I showered, and I have been sitting on my bed naked this whole time (NOT meant to be sexy) because all my clothes are in the closet in the baby’s room and I dare not enter for fear of waking him. Our house is from 1940 so they didn’t think that a bedroom needed more than one tiny closet and my husband got the one in our room).
Anyway, here are a few nuggets from the book. As terrible as they sound, I’ve had very similar thoughts, especialy in the very early days.
“I wonder if it is normal for a mother to adore her baby so desperately and at the same time to think about choking him or throwing him down the stairs.”
“When he woke me at 4:00 this morning to nurse, I felt like I was dying. I felt like getting up to pull down the shades and wave good-bye to all my people, but I was too tired.”
“We had another bad night. We finally slept for two hours at 7:00 AM. What a joke. I feel like thin glass, like I might crack. I was very rough changing him at 4:00 when he wouldn’t stop crying. I totally understand child abuse now. I really do. He was really sobbing and the gas pain was obviously unbearable, and I felt helpless and in a rage and so tired and fucked up that I felt I should be in a home.”
At this very moment, I’m watching my lovely baby sleeping on the video monitor, scarfing down a snack, typing this post and really missing him. I wish he’d wake up soon so I can feed him!
Yes, literally conflicting thoughts of “I wish he would nap”, and “I wish he would wake up because I miss him” go through my head every day. It’s fucking insanity.
Here’s a cute picture of my baby, because he’s all worth it (everyone tells you that too).