The second half of this adage is that the years are short. But man, in those early days, all it feels is L O N G.
Bean was born at 10:30a, and I remember even that first night in the hospital being exhausted (perhaps the labor bears much of that burden). He was nursing incessantly, his tiny blue eyes rarely closed and instead of feeling blissful, peaceful, overjoyed or any of the millions of adjectives I expected to define that day, I mostly felt tired. And scared. And alone.
This was the day I had waited for. The day I had dreamed of, especially when my belly started showing and the bedroom was transformed into a nursery ready to embrace our son. And yet, it was hard. I felt so unprepared and completely incompetent. It didn’t help that I could barely pee without wanting to cry or make much progress towards leaving our very tiny room, which seemingly grew smaller by the hour.
I remember finally leaving the hospital, our tiny bundle looking impossibly small in his infant seat and feeling totally adrift. We were going home, alone, with him?? Apparently that is how the whole process is supposed to unfold. As we were driving away, I got a call from the bank. Why were they calling me? Didn’t they realize my entire life had just changed? That was the thing, though, my world had radically changed, but life was just marching on.
And so, that’s what I tried to do. I tried to pretend like I could do ALL of the things I’d always done. The laundry was always done. I took a shower (and shaved and dried my hair) every day. We left the house each morning. I went back to working out at 6 weeks. I met friends for coffee. I cooked dinners. I called people, I made plans, I read the news.
What a mistake that was.
See, I couldn’t actually do all of the things I’d always done during this particular season, because there was also a baby that demanded to nurse with a high level of frequency, slept in 10 minute increments, had colic and, as newborns are want to do, just wanted to be held. And so trying to fit everything in meant there was no room for rest. No room to give space to my feelings about the massive changes, no time to process my birth experience, soak in the small moments or just be. Mostly, there was no space for me.
And so it probably doesn’t surprise you that about 6 weeks into this new gig, I broke down. Like the energizer bunny that forgot to replace her batteries, I lost it. I’m not sure that I ever could have avoided the post-partum anxiety/depression that settled over me like a heavy fog, but I certainly know that my choices exacerbated it. And yet, it became a cycle. Even when I started to struggle — maybe even MORE when when I started to struggle — I felt the need to be Superwoman. To prove that I could do it all, that I hadn’t changed, that the world in which I existed wasn’t radically different. These were my expectations of myself, no one else’s. So, I slept less (like, maybe 3 hours total every 24 hours), cried more, felt panicked often and believed the dark tunnel of feelings was never going to emerge into sunlight again.
And in the middle of it all, was also this crushing guilt, because I had this amazing little baby who was perfect and innocent and all I’d ever wanted, so surely all I had the right to feel was happy?
In the middle of all of this, I had to somehow return to work. Thankfully, my amazing parents and incredible husband stepped in, took over and made sure I got the help I needed. Meds and therapy helped the sun start to peek out of the clouds, and finding a way to get 4 hours of uninterrupted sleep each night was the true panacea. Slowly, I felt myself starting to feel more grounded. I was smiling and engaged. I was able to sit still, to relax, to savor.
The days that felt dark and long started to feel less dark and less long (sleep training so that my son got the rest he needed was also a touch of magic). The weeks did start to feel like they were flying by. And I started to finally see how it’s possible that the years are too short.