I had nannied. Twins. Overnights. Special needs. I knew babies.
I'd read the books and the blogs, from the humorous to the medical. Talked to parents. Formed opinions. I knew exactly what I wanted to do.
Then, I had a child, and it all went to hell.
I should have known I was in trouble during labor. After three days of a hospital induction the baby still wasn't coming, so we were sent home. We got there, and my water promptly broke, thick with meconium. With that, my med-free water birth went out the window as I was hooked to monitors and planted in a bed. This baby was literally shitting on my plans before I had even seen her face.
In the coming days and weeks other dominoes fell. My vows against co-sleeping lost out to my desire for two hours of uninterrupted rest. Exclusively breastfeeding wasn't as important as supplementing formula to get my skinny girl to grow.
All of this in the midst of accommodating the overwhelming needs of the tiny dictator.
"How is the.... adjustment going?" one mom friend asked, with a knowing look on her face. "I remember thinking it was hell on earth," the dad of a two-year-old told me. "Welcome to the secret society," my aunt said, "You can't understand it until you've done it."
I may not have understood, but I would have liked a warning. Because while babies are adorable, the stress of having a newborn is unlike anything I could have possibly imagined. The mundane - like tackling the next feeding - meets the massive - like wondering how to protect this perfect being in this imperfect world. The result is a perfect storm of exhaustion and emotion.
Recently NPR asked "Why are new parents depressed?" The segment focused on men and women, and asked if as a society we were even willing to talk about the unpleasant sides of bringing home a new baby, or if it is still too taboo. Maybe it's silly to mention, because perhaps those who haven't experienced it won't understand, and those who have been there will just smile knowingly. But with all mental illness, it seems important to at least start the conversation.
As I end this post, I'm temped to write, "but one smile from the baby makes it worth it," or to clarify that while the last six weeks have been intense as can be, I'm definitely not depressed, just reeling from the new experience. And while both of those are true, those disclaimers play into the stigma, as I attempt to distance myself from people with the "real" problems.
Instead, I'll ask, what were your expectations of bringing home a baby, and what was the reality? Whether you've reproduced or not, do you think this is something that is discussed openly?
And now, I'll quit while I'm ahead, and follow that often-quoted and impossible to follow advice that makes it all sound so simple: "Just sleep when the baby sleeps." Ha!