On surviving the first year
As the mother of a newly minted TODDLER, I’ve been reflecting a lot on this past year. Wondering what it is I would’ve liked someone to say to me as I was muddling through the thick of it (only if I’d asked, of course, because unsolicited parenting advice is the devil’s work).
The days leading up to Everett’s birthday were emotional for me. I found myself irritable and almost sad in a way I couldn’t really figure out. Everyone tells you to cherish every moment because it goes by too fast and I felt this intense sense of anxiety that maybe I had wished away too many of the difficult moments. I vacillated between these unhappy heavy feelings and the clear understanding that having a healthy, growing child is nothing short of an actual miracle and the passing years should, in fact, be celebrated. Such a bittersweet and twisty set of emotions.
Of course, this wasn’t my first attempt at surviving a baby’s first year. But Grace’s babyhood was so different than Everett’s. Not lesser in any way just...different. More crisis management, fewer contended sighs of gratitude. I always describe Grace and I’s bond as forged in fire. It is strong and sure, but it was not a gentle process. There is a layer of guilt about the stark difference that nags at me… especially in those frequent moments of simple joy, where there is so much less interference and noise. I have the space and support to be present and just marvel at Everett, a luxury that was a bit lost with Grace. This difference has also created a distinct sense of internalized pressure to have it all figured out the second time around (Spoiler alert: I definitely don’t).
Everett is also a much different kid than Grace. He is busy where she was relaxed and he very much enjoys mischief. I never even had to baby proof for Grace but a few weeks ago, Everett ate an entire cilantro plant in less than five minutes. Grace always napped and slept soundly and her brother has the ultimate case of FOMO. In so many ways, it all feels brand new.
I had naturally forgotten how intense the fog of those first few months is. It’s not just the lack of sleep or the crying baby or the deflated, unfamiliar body. You feel raw and exposed and uncertain. Every single decision feels absolutely critical. Every one around you expects you to be blissfully happy (which you are, of course) but also everything sort of hurts and suddenly you are the sole provider of life for this teeny tiny human who, if we’re being honest, is pretty pissed off about life on the outside. It’s almost as if you’ve been given some sort of visa to visit this beautiful new country- but you don’t speak the language or understand the landscape. And you’re also really REALLY tired.
Even harder for me, though, was the time after the “fourth trimester”. There was no magic switch that suddenly made me have my act together which I felt was kind of expected of me. I was still a mess. I was still tired. I was still figuring out Everett and this new world we created. I felt sort of...defective.
And sure…one day, the fog starts to recede. Suddenly, a trip to Target doesn’t require the mental preparation of an Antarctic expedition. You can breathe a little deeper. You shower more often. But then the baby starts to crawl. Or get teeth. And just as suddenly, you’re back to square one. You have to figure it out, all over again. And this pattern of feeling okay and then having that confidence pulled out from under your feet, ad nauseam— it’s not so great for morale, but it’s a universal truth of parenting. Turns out, it is not only in the first few weeks during which we should be kinder and gentler to ourselves. This entire past year, I have been practically drowning in self doubt. It has challenged me and changed the way I view myself as a mother. I have decided that it is okay to worry that you are not enough for your children. Amidst all that worrying, you are a warrior...showing up and doing the best you can.
Here’s what I would want to say to myself, if I could go back in time to one year ago: You are fiercely adored and desperately needed. You may feel alone and even unnoticed, but that could not be further from the truth. There is so much beauty in the minutia, but it is ok to feel exhausted within all the monotony. You will sleep again…but it won’t be for a long, long time. This is partially your fault. Your body is never going to look the same, but it is strong, miraculously capable of surviving on the tiniest amounts of sleep, and grew another actual human. Don’t make any sweeping generalizations about how you’re going to parent, because you’re going to feel pretty silly when you inevitably contradict yourself. Be kinder to your husband, he’s always on your team (even if he has no idea what you’re freaking out about). It’s true that your baby is only going to be this little for this one fleeting moment, but don’t panic about savoring and remembering it all. You will remember those moments that are the most important, I promise.
For me? I will remember in Everett’s first week of life when our bed frame collapsed at 3 in the morning and Shawn and I had nothing left to do but laugh hysterically while Everett regarded us with a very skeptical and unimpressed side eye. I will remember the weeks where Everett would scream and scream and SCREAM until he was nestled safely in only my arms and how wonderfully and terribly exhausting and overwhelming it felt to be needed in that particular sort of way. I will remember watching Grace become a big sister so immediately and effortlessly and how all of the hidden dreams held tight in my heart unfurled themselves to soak it in. I will remember turning on the shower in my bathroom so I could cry loud, hot and urgent tears because sometimes it was just really really hard. And I will remember watching Everett’s personality begin to explode into the world. From that very first smile that I waited so impatiently to catch a glimpse of, to listening to his tiny sweet voice stumble over brand new vocabulary. What a gift it is to bear witness to a person becoming an PERSON, you know?
I’m not here to say it gets easier. In many ways, it does. Sleep returns. You eventually stop obsessively checking to see if they’re still breathing. But the things to worry and wonder about multiply and shift and stack up on top of each other. It is possible to feel like the best mother in the world and then the worst, in the same five minutes. But you will survive and that miracle you willed into existence will somehow thrive through all of your uncertainty. I always say a first birthday party is as much for the parents as it is for the baby because honestly, what a victory it is.
So I think you should celebrate, eat an extra piece of cake and buckle up...the fun is only just beginning.