Perspective is so important when supporting other parents in this crazy journey. What feels hard to a brand new mom might not feel hard to the veteran mom of 5, but to that new mom it is just as hard because it’s so new. In fact, I would venture to say that the first year or so of having your first child is the hardest year yet.
No amount of books, friends’ advice or babysitting can prepare you for your first baby. I remember having Grace’s room set up so perfectly. The crib was the right height, there was nothing else in it, I knew back was best, I had a tight fitting, cute, organic cotton sheet. The changing table was fitted beautifully with a changing mat and cover, the diapers and wipes were neatly set out within reach. The rocking chair sat nicely in the corner ready for me to rock calmly with my sleepy newborn and ease her into sleep. Everything was perfect. I was so ready.
Then I got home with my newborn.
I remember getting into the car from the hospital with my husband and newborn and thinking, we are not ready for this. We need those nurses to come home with us. This is ludicrous. What if she cries? What if she does something we don’t understand? What if I can’t nurse her on my own? We are not ready for this.
We got home from the hospital in the evening because our baby, Grace, ended up having jaundice badly enough to need phototherapy and they thought she wouldn’t be able to go home with us, but at the last minute they decided she responded well enough to the lights that she could go home with us that night as planned. So around 9pm we packed up, put our newborn in her car seat and when we got home it was bed time. Right? I mean, in a normal world, 10pm seemed like it wasn’t too early to get our 5 day old to sleep for the night.
I had a bassinet set up beside the bed in our bedroom and my plan was to let her sleep there for the first few weeks and use her perfectly set up baby room for naps and changing diapers and if I ever needed to console her sweet, soft cries, I would scoop her up and walk the five feet over to the nursery and rock her in the perfectly set up rocking chair.
Well, Grace was in our bed at hour two of night one because I could not imagine getting up out of bed every time I needed to feed her, which, as it turns out, was often. Aside from just general exhaustion, I was also recovering from major surgery, a c-section, so having baby Grace in our bed worked for our family. I vaguely remember falling asleep after she did and thinking, this wasn’t so bad. Then, I even more vaguely remember that five foot walk to the nursery was five feet too long and I lost count how many times I went in there.
I remember waking up that morning, for the fifth or sixth time at this point, but this time it felt like a reasonable hour to actually get out of bed and start the day. I could barely remember the night. I knew it was long, I knew I got up alot, but I didn’t remember enough to be able to tell you what I did each time I got up or why.
So, around 5am I stumbled into the perfectly set up baby room to grab a diaper and was shocked by the shambles in front of me.
More specific memories from the night flashed before me. Diapers being thrown, wipes being grabbed, dropped, lost, grabbed again. Changing tables be damned, I used the floor, the bed, the bassinet. The rocking chair was in the middle of the room and looked as though it could tell a story or two about the stress rocking and manic lullaby singing it endured. I didn’t even realize I had gone in there for more than a moment to grab a diaper…
We eventually found our rhythm, but man, I remember the emotions from those first few nights like they were yesterday, and boy were they hard. I’m not sure anything has felt as difficult or as scary as when I had our first baby at home.
We are currently three kids deep with one on its way and I still feel so uncertain. I don’t think that ever changes. I’m sure the questioning and the uncertainty is good in some ways because it means we care, but it can be exhausting in and of itself. So, new parents, old parents, every season of life has its challenges and I know that no parent has it easy, no parent is sailing through parenthood without challenges. But, without a doubt, that new parent, that first time parent….check on them. They’re not ok. (even though, of course they’re ok!! But they don’t think they are!)
The next time you see that parent pushing a stroller with one young babe, probably well dressed, cute, smiling (both mom and baby) stop yourself from thinking “those were the days….just one newborn baby, so easy.” Instead, go ahead and give them a smile of solidarity, a wave, or a nod, because you can bet she’s endured some tough nights. We all have, and we are all in this together, whether it’s our first or our fourth!