A welcome to parenthood

Over the weekend, some good friends of ours had their first baby.  I couldn’t get them out of my mind the entire weekend.  Her labor ended up being nearly as long as mine and she had the same doctor and the same hospital.  So naturally, I projected myself onto them as I imagined what was happening in between a couple of brief updates.  After all, it’s all about me.

OK, I jest, but I really did think about them a lot and think about my own experience.  From a friend perspective, it reminded me to keep them in prayer.  Labor isn’t called labor for nothing as any mom can tell you — it’s hard work.  While some women say that as soon as they have their baby in hand, they completely forget about what they just went through, that wasn’t the case for me.  I still remember lots of details about my labor and delivery (down to my doctor whistling Sonny and Cher’s “I Got You Babe” as he came in for delivery).  I remember how I felt.  And while I was so thankful for my healthy, beautiful baby girl, I also remember when it was over saying to my husband, “How does anyone ever decide to have more than one baby?”

Some women find labor and delivery empowering.  I found mine a bit more on the traumatic side.  I don’t know if it was the Pitocin or what, but even as a person with a high pain tolerance, I had breaking points in my 24-hour escapade.  These are the things I was remembering over the weekend.  I prayed my friend’s labor would be quick and smooth for her.  I am happy to say that she and her beautiful baby boy are both healthy and thriving.  I don’t know how she feels emotionally about her labor.  I just know how I felt about mine.

I thought about what I would tell her if I were there to encourage her.  As my child and I danced around our living room giggling on Saturday night, I wished I could bottle up that feeling for her and give it to her right then.  I knew at that point she’d been in labor for 11 hours.  I knew how I felt at the 11th hour.  And questioning whether this could ever possibly be worth it was at the top of the list.  But, oh my!  Now I know how very worth it that was.

I would say that labor and delivery were probably about the worst 24 hours of my life.  I’ve had hard times.  I live with a chronic disease, but dang, it was hard and miserable.  It was mentally and physically draining to say the least.  And I’d do it all again in a heartbeat.  I’d go through it for a week if I had to.  I’d do whatever it took to get what I’ve had these last two years. I now know my answer to why people have more than one child.  This is why women agree to put themselves through pregnancy, labor and delivery.  The payoff is so worth it.

My husband and I at the start of parenthood with our baby girl way back in October 2009. I've had lots of memories flooding back to my head this week.

That’s the other thing I’d tell a new mom: the payoff is worth it.  Even when you have a screaming newborn, are trying so hard to figure out what he needs and you’re sore and exhausted beyond what you ever thought you could be and wish there was a magical cure to make that kid go to sleep so you could, too.  The payoff is worth it.  It gets better.  The newborn days fly by.  And before you know it, you have a baby who is cooing at you and smiling at you.  You have a baby who giggles at you, waves at you, talks to you, crawls to you, walks to you, laughs with you, eats with you and so totally steals your heart that you can’t imagine how you ever lived before.  It gets better.  It gets good.

I see moms out with tiny babies and I want to tell them these things.  I want to tell them, “It is so worth it.  I know it’s hard.  I know you want to toss the baby out the window some days, but it’s completely worth it.”  I imagine other moms think that when they see me with my toddler.  I think these two years have been great.  I hear that it only gets better.  I can’t imagine that.  Sometimes I tear up just thinking of how fast it already is going by and will continue to.

The other component of this story is that just like with my labor and delivery, I remember all the hard times.  I remember being up in the middle of the night feeding a tiny baby and then staying up past her to pump milk.  I remember the utter exhaustion.  I remember the frustration of trying to get in a shower or even do laundry in the midst of her schedule and my pumping schedule.  I know the challenges of having a toddler with a mind of her own that doesn’t always mesh with our common goals.  There have been hard times.  There still are hard times.  I’d be lying if I told you that I enjoy every single moment of motherhood.   I don’t.  Sometimes it sucks.  Sometimes it drains me.  Sometimes it makes me want to scream.  Sometimes it makes me want to run away.

But, there are good times.  There are way more good times than bad.  And they are worth it.  It is worth all the pain.  It is worth all that my body went through to get my daughter here.  I wish I could share that feeling with new moms as they are in labor.  They don’t know what they’re in for.  In some ways that’s good, because if people really knew how hard parenting is before they have their first baby, then civilization would have ended centuries ago.  But, in some ways that’s bad, because when women are in the middle of labor and having a hard time their first time around, they don’t know all the good things that are in store for them to motivate them to keep going.  Of course women imagine what it will be like and have dreams of motherhood, but it’s so much better than you could ever dream.  It just is.  And that’s what laboring women need most, I think.  That’s what I would love to have been able to bottle up and take to my friend as she was working so hard to get her precious baby boy into the world.

Now I find myself thinking back to our first two weeks home with a newborn.  If I thought labor and delivery were hard, they were nothing like those two weeks.  Along with having jaundice and needing daily blood tests at the hospital, my daughter also had issues with feeding.  We were trying to breastfeed, but she wasn’t able to suck correctly.  So, she was crying most of the night.  We supplemented with formula.  We jumped through hoops.  We saw her pediatrician, another pediatrician who left me in tears and a lactation consultant.  Once we finally figured out how to position a bottle correctly in her mouth, she settled down somewhat and I started pumping milk.  I had a few of my own complications in the midst of everything.  It was the hardest time ever.

I don’t know whether my friends will have a first couple of weeks with their son like we did.  I don’t plan to pester them and find out right now.  That’s the last thing they need.  But, I do know it will be hard and exhausting.  I’ve never met anyone who brought a newborn home from the hospital and talked about how much easier it was than they expected, especially with the first baby.  These are also the times that I want to bottle all the good stuff for them so they know it will get better, it will get easier and it will be worth it.  Yes, they made the right choice.  No, they aren’t bad for questioning that.  Yes, it’s normal to wonder if you can go on another minute.  You will find the strength.  There is no choice.  It comes from a place deep inside you that you never knew existed.

My message to new parents?  Welcome to parenthood.  It’s wonderful, it’s horrible, it’s exhausting, it’s exhilarating, it’s miraculous, it’s draining, it’s filled with worry and it’s worth it.  And, most importantly, when it’s hard, it’s only temporary.  It. Will. Always. Get. Better.  Hang in there!

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