Dear Brand New Mama,
I see you crying on your bed while you listen to your baby scream in the next room as Daddy (or Grandma, or Auntie, or your best friend) takes a turn. You’ve been banished by well-meaning family, told to “go take a nap” (because you obviously need one), but the screams from the next room prevent sleep, cause you pain with each howl.
You’re tired. No, tired isn’t the word for it. Tired is what you felt after that particularly grueling day of your first year of teaching 8th grade. Tired is what you felt after giving a presentation to the school board at 10 pm when you were 38 weeks pregnant. This isn’t tired. This is soul-crushing exhaustion. This is ten times more taxing than your worst college hangover. This deserves a new name. In your sleep-deprived stupor, you wonder why no mama has yet come up with a name for this postnatal version of tired, and then you realize it’s probably because we’re all too exhausted.
People told you your world would never be the same. They said those first few weeks would be “intense.” You smiled, you nodded, you believed them. But with no frame of reference, you didn’t understand… until now. Until you laid in bed after setting your little one to sleep and prayed — begged all of the powers in the universe — that you wouldn’t hear the tiny squeaks and squawks that signal the beginning of hunger, gas, or simply the need to be rocked. Your nipples are going to fall off. You can’t possibly feed the baby again. You’ve given every ounce of your being to this beautiful new life, and you have nothing left to give. Except you do. You find strength in strange places. In a hot meal while someone else holds her, in the first pain-free feeding, in her goofy newborn faces.
I know your struggle. The crease in your forehead that gets deeper with each nursing session. The cramp in your gut each time your little one cries. The pain in your back from bouncing the baby on the exercise ball for the millionth time today, because that’s the only thing that makes her stop crying. The pinch in your heart each time you smell her perfect little head. The tears that well up when you dream about her first words, her first day of kindergarten, her first boyfriend or girlfriend, her first job… the day she moves out. You know it will come too soon. The love you feel when your partner reads her a Dr. Seuss book. No, she can’t understand it, but the sound of Daddy’s voice draws her eyes up and calms her cries. The desperate desire for time to yourself and a hot shower… and the strange tug you feel when you realize that you miss her the second the water hits your face.
Brand new mama, I see you fighting back tears that you can’t explain. I see you wondering if you’re crazy, wondering if you’re enough, wondering why you ever wanted to have kids in the first place. I feel that eye twitch that only happens when you’re trying to make it through the day on less than 3 consecutive hours of sleep.
As I write this, my 3-week-old daughter is trying to decide whether to scream. I can tell because when I look down at her face, nestled snugly in a Baby Bjorn close to my chest, I see the furrowed brow and open eyes that precede potential distress signals. She’s in that delicate space between napping and crying, and I can feel the strain of this moment in my shoulders, my toes, my eyelashes. I quietly hum “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” over and over again, because today, this seems to be soothing her.
Somehow, the days stand still at top speed in this strange new motherhood. The time between 6pm and 9pm lasts a colicky eternity… and feels like a mere blip on the radar. I remember the moment she was born vividly — it happened five minutes ago. It happened three weeks and two days ago. It happened last year? Who can tell. I spend my nighttime feedings listening to The Longest Shortest Time Podcast (you should listen too, Brand New Mama), and reminding myself that these days will pass quickly — too quickly — and one day I’ll want them back.
Brand New Mama, I really can’t offer you advice. I’m new at this myself. I can offer you only empathy and reassurance that you’re not losing your mind (or if you are, we’re at least all losing our mommy minds together). I can encourage you to sleep as often as you are afforded the opportunity, knowing full well you’ll spend your sleeping hours fretting over the baby’s cries… or hearing them even when the baby isn’t crying. If you’re trying to survive your first night, I can tell you it gets a little better each day… except on the bad days, when you just have to power through. You will find a rhythm, and maybe one day, something you can call a routine. We are finding a rhythm in our household… routines remain evasive.
In a few years, we will barely remember these days, and what we do remember will not be the things we obsess over today. We will not remember the laundry that didn’t get done, the stench of ourselves after a few showerless days, or the pain and frustration that comes from recovering from labor while trying to care for a brand new human being. We will not remember that time the baby cried for two hours straight while we tried everything under the sun to calm her. We will not remember crying on our beds, wondering if we are crazy, wondering if we are enough. We are enough.
We will remember sweet coos, we will remember tiny fingers, we will remember newborn PJs. We will remember being tired, but we will forget the soul-crushing part. We will remember labor… but not in quite as much vivid detail as we do today. We will remember baby head smell, and gazing at her face for hours on end, even when we knew we should be napping instead of staring at the sleeping baby. These days are long, Brand New Mama, and they are short. They are eternity in a microsecond. They are the greatest time warp of your life. Cherish them.
With all the love and empathy my heart has left,
A Fellow Brand New Mama