My daughter, Lyra, was an “easy” newborn. We got the hang of breastfeeding within a couple weeks; she gained weight well; and she started sleeping for six hour stretches by the time she was a month old. I felt extremely relieved and thankful, knowing that I don’t handle sleep deprivation very well and am more likely to get depressed when I don’t have sufficient rest.
Now let me be clear: Those first few weeks were still the most stressful and intense of my life, even with an “easy” newborn. I went through 48 hours of largely unmedicated, Pitocin-induced labor with a sunny side-up baby who took four hours to push out. My milk didn’t come in until day six, so we used a supplemental nursing system for the first week to ensure she was getting enough food. I’d had approximately seven hours of sleep in five days. Our first night at home, when confronted with a baby who wouldn’t stop crying and a stressed-out dog who wouldn’t stop barking hysterically, I broke down into sobs and could not regain my composure. My husband ordered me to take a shower and a nap. I had terrible nightmares and intense hormonal night sweats, contributing to the overall feeling of panic. And THIS WAS ALL COMPLETELY NORMAL. I was not suffering from postpartum depression. My baby was not unusually fussy. It’s just all part of bringing home a baby, that feeling of, “What have I done to my life? I have never been so run down and exhausted, and I don’t even get ONE DAY to recover before I have to jump in to life with a newborn?” I remember sitting in the nursery using my breast pump to help my milk come in, and as I listened to the rhythm of the pump, I was 100 percent convinced it was saying, “RAPTURE. RAPTURE. RAPTURE. RAPTURE.”
But then within a couple weeks, we turned a corner and settled into a good routine. It took a long time to figure out how to quiet my anxieties, but I felt pretty confident and happy by the six-week mark. People congratulated me for making it through the newborn phase. And then, as the months ticked past, people congratulated me for making it through my daughter’s first year. “The hardest part is really behind you now!” many told me.
Then the toddler phase took effect in full force, and I realized they were all wrong. I love my daughter more than anything, but she can be TRYING at times. She’s very dramatic (not that she gets it from her mom or anything…). She forms strong attachments to items such as a bottle of lotion or a remote control and cries hysterically if you try to take them away. Often, she cries for no reason at all, because evidently being 14 months old is HARD, y’all. Her dramatic mood swings really affect me because I struggle to be adequately patient with her, and her cries have always felt extremely personal to me. I feel completely responsible for her current level of happiness. Overall, I’m sure she’s pretty much your typical toddler, and her laughs and smiles are precious, but I have to admit they don’t cancel out the cumulative stress of her screaming.
And let’s talk about sleep for a minute. When a newborn cries, it’s stressful, and you want to calm her down, but newborns have NOTHING on toddler cries. I mean, these kids have LUNGS. They also have lots and lots of opinions and very few ways of actually communicating them. Lyra has stamina and can scream for hours, and often, absolutely nothing works to calm her down.
It takes SO MUCH MORE patience and energy to be a good mom to my daughter these days. It feels like work a lot of the time. It offers moments of indescribable joy, but it’s also utterly draining. Gone are the days when I used to arrive home from work, pop her on the boob, and watch an entire episode of television while she nursed. As soon as I walk in the door, it’s go time: “Okay, let’s get her directly in her high chair for a snack because if I try to set her down, she will scream. I will quickly use the restroom and change my clothes while she eats. Alright, now I need a snack for myself, but she can’t see what I’m eating or she will want it, so I’ll hide in the kitchen but check on her sneakily. Okay, how can I change her diaper without causing a meltdown? I will try giving her a piece of junk mail to distract her. Oh God, NOT working. FULL-ON BUCKING AND THRASHING MELTDOWN HAPPENING ON THE CHANGING TABLE RIGHT NOW. LET’S GET TO THE PLAYGROUND BECAUSE I HAVE TO GET OUT OF THIS HOUSE RIGHT NOW.”
Indianapolis Moms Blog Owner Dana eventually told me that it’s totally common for parenthood to get continually harder for people who have easy newborns. I really wish someone had told me that right off the bat, but at the same time, I’m not sure it would have prepared me for toddlerhood any better. The bar of real-life experience had already been set.
I’ve read posts like this before that tie everything up neatly at the end, saying, “But despite all the challenges, my child is still the best thing that ever happened to me, and every day is a gift I don’t take for granted.” And of course I feel that way, but the messy truth is that it’s really, really hard for me sometimes. It’s worth it, but there are days I feel pretty defeated. There are days I get her to bed and the only emotion I feel is relief.
I don’t think we talk about this stuff enough: The darkness that comes with the experience of raising children. It’s really hard, and it can be isolating. So I’m here to tell you it might get harder. But at least we’re in this together.