it's the hardest thing you'll ever do, people told me bracingly. it's so hard. it's hard. but rewarding. so rewarding. but hard. no sleep. exhausting. worth it. but hard. the warning signs of impending parenthood read like a donald trump speech- a nonspecific, jumbled word salad anchored by some expansive adjectives. seasoned parents' recollections have been imprinted by multiple, ever-changing seasons of challenges, new parents are lost in the dark mire of sleep deprivation- the message boards and blogs bear no concrete fruit. they are a mishmash jello of despair with one unifying thesis: it is so hard.
ian chafed at the ambiguity. he thrives on specificity; i warm to thematics. where he is deliberate and detail-oriented, i am decisive and cursory. which things are hard and how are they hard? ian fretted. idk let's play some more super mario 3d world, i shrugged. we made it to the first bonus world. but neither of us felt like we knew what loomed ahead.
ten weeks out, here's exactly how it has been hard for me:
sleep. first and foremost, the ubiquitous and punishing castle level at the end of every world. the sleep deprivation of parenthood is infamous and ongoing. within the first week of returning home, i was sobbing to ian nobody ever explained the logistics and i never did the math. they tell you that newborns need to eat every 2 to 3 hours. the pointless chocolate pudding masquerading as my brain fired off two broke ass neurons that thought no problem, i can sleep 3 hours at a time! but the reality of the numbers is this: your baby stirs and wails, you bolt out of bed and trip over at least one dog in your desperate bid to soothe him as quickly as possible. you weren't really even asleep anyway, but resting your eyes and hovering, barely skimming the most superficial surface of sleep like a watchful ninja. your little man waves his mouth around haphazardly until it makes contact with one overripe breast, but both of them burst into floods when he starts suckling. while he feeds on one, you scramble for any scrap of fabric to dam up the broken faucet that is your other nipple. you are positive that you had at least 14 burp cloths and 3 towels around you at any given time, but now that milk is drenching the bandages of your c-section scar it becomes clear that you will never again know what it feels like to be clean and dry. baby feeds for 30 minutes and falls back asleep happily with milk splattered all over his face. you hoist him over your shoulder carefully like the world's most fragile purse and pat his back like you've seen people do on tv. sometimes he burps, sometimes he makes a small noise of dissent, but all the time you are not quite sure when to stop, and eventually lay him back down to sleep with the delicacy of a bomb disposal expert. you are now 40 minutes deep into this process, and you chide yourself to hurry up and go back to sleep as soon as possible- but instead you stay awake googling baby makes a weird sound while sleeping is he dying for at least 10 minutes before you give up and try desperately to will yourself into restful slumber. your brain wanders aimlessly for 30 minutes and your body tenses up every time you hear your baby rustle, wheeze, or cough. you finally sleep for 30 minutes. but it has now been 2 hours of this ordeal, and your baby wakes up again to feed. you're jolted back up and think fleetingly of how great it would feel to die. your husband sleeps like a coma victim through it all.
breastfeeding. agonized over in mommy groups exclusively, breastfeeding is the dreaded water world- albeit with a warp pipe in every level so you can bail out and switch to formula to preserve everyone's sanity. i think about this warp pipe daily, with a longing that is starting to feel like hunger. within the second week of returning home, i was sobbing to my mother nobody ever told me how terrible this would be. during my hospital stay, the nurses questioned will you be breastfeeding? with a judgement-free flippancy that seemed well-practiced. i said yes because i didn't even realize there was another option. i am lucky in this endeavor. james latched with no hesitancy or difficulty, glomming on and inhaling milk fiercely like a little kirby. he regained his birth weight in 4 days. but i feel bereft, because even at its most straightforward, breastfeeding is no easy endeavor. it hurts. it hurts with a relentless, endless predictability. i am prometheus bringing milk to my baby, punished by having eagles tear off my nipples in a cyclical pattern of regeneration and ravaging. it pains me to put on a shirt. it pains me to wake up with a rack that feels like forty boulders grinding against a whetstone on my chest. it pains me when i sense that ian is even thinking about touching them. the sporadic reflex of letdown feels like hot, acidic knives. a bout of mastitis felt like crawling across a bed of glass. i have a lot more similes for pain these days, and a respect bordering on reverence for women who choose to breastfeed a whole damn year or more. pain aside, i have moved to almost exclusively pumping by virtue of being ~a working mother~. it is a new level of depressing, spending great swathes of your day chained by the nipples to a breastpump while you look yearningly at your baby from across the room and think bitterly about all the bonding time you have sacrificed to your cruel medela gods. my pumping sessions last for 30 minutes no matter how much i wring my breasts like sponges to rush through the process, then i store bottles and wash pump parts and burn my hands and think about how shitty it is that i've taken on the cleaning drudgery of formula feeding along with the pain and discomfort of breastfeeding like it's my job to seek out the most masochistic middle path available. and as much as it occupies my body and my time, it also occupies my brain. there is already not a lot of free real estate up in here- but now my day begins and ends with a calculation of how much milk i have to produce. i stay hyper-aware of exactly how many ounces i have stored in the fridge and the freezer, developing a weird propioception of my milk supply like it is a phantom limb. i remember that a very long time ago, i never ever thought about milk. i thought of cool jokes instead. and cute dresses to buy. and dogs i wanted to pet. now i am a thousand years old and either waterlogged with a soaked shirt or panicked about a drop in supply and always in the back of my mind a primitive drumbeat is chanting MILK MILK MILK MILK MILK MILK and i push through one day at a time because my little man's face smells like a puddle of ice cream and i am nothing if not committed to the fucking grind.
ennui. the haunted mansion of obstacles, this one is the hardest to put my finger on, the trickiest to describe- but ian and i have discussed it a lot. this is why maternity leave felt like a nightmare struggle for me, though by the numbers it should've been a fairly easy ride. all newborns do is eat and sleep, right? i planned to work from home during the first month. i planned to read several new books. i planned to seize naps whenever possible. my plans were dumb and i am dumb, because the inertia of the first few months feels like a suffocating stopgap between a normal life and a parenting life. within the first day of returning home, i was sobbing to anyone who would listen nobody ever told me i would feel so trapped. our baby is not yet a fully interactive child, but he's there. his needs are few, but they demand the utmost attention and responsiveness. we sit in this house that is a prison cell because we cannot break out without carefully timed strategies, and we futz around with no ability to commit to either leisure or activity because we are on call around the clock. breaks feel unpredictable, but the work feels unproductive. ian thrives on organized strategy and i revel in expedited pressure, but taking care of a newborn flies in the face of two business-minded weirdos who are incapable of cobbling together a day out of this start-stop motion. we cannot become invested in productivity because our focus is interrupted so frequently- but we cannot fully relax and enjoy hanging out because we are always anticipating his next moves. and ultimately, we cannot spend the entirety of our time fully engaged and staring at a little potato who sleeps a collective 16 hours a day. so we hover in limbo, living in 2-3 hour segments. ian browses the same ten memes on instagram over and over again with a trigger finger and i listen to the same audiobook over and over again with a detached annoyance and both of us feel restless and uncomfortable in a way that doesn't feel synonymous with being at home. but now that i am back at work full-time and ian is back at work part-time, we have sidestepped the weight of inertness- an especially good choice for me, since it would have absolutely dragged me down into the bowser world of postpartum depression.
next time, on this cool blog of all my complaints, an entry about the stuff that isn't hard. preferably with no more dumbassed mario world analogies. you can really tell that it took me way to long to write this because i obviously started regretting it halfway through. like just about everything else in my life.