Month: January 2016

How Motherhood Changed Me as a Wife

Every day I wonder at the tiniest things I manage to achieve during my infant daughter’s naps. Restocked on groceries? Vacuumed? Cycled a load of laundry? Did the dishes? Tidied up a room? Made dinner? Showered? Accomplishing two of those tasks before bedtime is a modest success. Pick any three and my day is made. Four or more done in one day counts as a miracle.

Before our daughter was born, I was the wife who was capable of accomplishing all of those things around a 9-hour work day and 3-hour commute (when I felt like it), any day of the week. My husband would help if I asked him, but such chores were manageable on my own—he had his own responsibilities, after all.

Things started to change almost as soon as I got pregnant. Homemade dinners went out the window with my appetite in the first trimester; vacuuming became just plain exhausting in the third. And doing the dishes felt rather unimportant on days I felt like crying for no apparent reason.

“I’m sorry,” I told my husband countless times. “Pregnancy makes me the worst wife ever.”

He, of course, always insisted that wasn’t true. And he was right—motherhood has made me much worse at these everyday tasks. (You should see my house on any given Thursday when we’re not expecting company. Yikes.)

On the flipside, pregnancy made him an even better husband than ever. He fed me ridiculous meals when I only had an appetite for one specific thing; he helped me up the stairs when my hips locked up; he woke up every time I got out of bed in the middle of the night to make sure I was okay; he picked up the slack I dropped on housework, on top of working overtime on his own household duties (like home improvements and repairs that would make us more comfortable when our daughter arrived).

11952922_10207345728862034_823920636878363952_o

He went to every doctor appointment with me, attended every class, and listened to the intricacies of childbirth. When I cried because our baby was breech at our 34-week appointment and I was scared of scheduling a c-section, he comforted me. When I cried four weeks later because my doctor said we had to be induced and it all just felt so sudden, he reassured me everything would be okay. And when I cried because the pain just wore me out, he made me feel stronger.

So, every day for the last 11 months I’ve asked myself the same question: how would I do this without him? How could I become a mom with a happy, healthy baby who loves her, if I wasn’t already a wife with a wonderful husband who is always, always helping?

I know there are many mothers and fathers out there who manage to parent their children all on their own, and they have my immense respect. It is an impossibly difficult role to fill on your own.

Experiencing this miraculous transition into motherhood has made it so obvious to me why parenthood was meant to follow marriage. There is something divine to being a parent; something that goes beyond our simple capacities for patience and strength and emotion as humans. And that something becomes so obvious when I see my husband cuddling our daughter for a nap, or making her laugh, or comforting her when she’s crying. It becomes obvious when I’ve reached the end of my rope and he comes home from a long day at work, ready and willing to take over for me. It becomes obvious when we’re both overcome with joy to see her smile or coo or learn something new.

So now, while we’re busy baby-talking and wiping up poo, the floors go unvacuumed, the dishes go undone, and the stove goes unwiped. The laundry might get done, but only out of sheer necessity, and only to sit in a basket (possibly unfolded) on our bedroom floor for a week.

But I think I’m finally convincing myself that all this undone housework doesn’t make me a bad wife. Instead, it makes me a good mom. A mom who’s ready to drop what I’m doing to cuddle my daughter when she’s running a slight fever after her first shots. A mom who keeps herself sane and happy by reading or blogging or relaxing with Netflix during some of those daytime naps, instead of fretting over petty chores that can wait another day. A mom who sees perfection in her daughter’s happy face instead of a spotless house, and spends an extra 20 minutes talking to the beautiful girl with that happy face instead of setting her down so I can finish cleaning the kitchen. And being a good mom makes me a better wife.

There is, of course, a fine line between justifiable prioritization and neglect. I can’t just sit on the couch all day, every day—and I still take pride in a happy home, which means ensuring that home is comfortable and reasonably clean. Likewise, keeping a happy marriage requires attention and special devotion. Only so much grown-up interaction can happen around a nursing infant who cries if you’re not rocking her a certain way. That means that I have to be able to lean on my husband for his help without dumping everything on him as soon as I lose my patience, and it means spending time with just the two of us on a regular basis.

Knowing all this, it’s easy to see how becoming a mom has changed how I fill my role as a wife. Motherhood makes me a better wife with a messier house, a weepier disposition, and an even more wonderful husband. So, overall, life is pretty good.

Why the Worst Well-meant Advice Is Worth Every New Mom’s Time

PSA for Pregnant Ladies: Every piece of advice your friends and family give you before your first child is born will be kindly offered and given in your best interest. In short, they mean well. Remember that.

(The same may not be true for complete strangers. That random person in the checkout line at Farm & Fleet who tells you “You must be due any day, get some sleep and get ready!” when you’re only 29 weeks along clearly doesn’t know your life.)

As soon as you announce your pregnancy, everyone’s got something to offer. It’s as if, once the world knows about that little baby in your belly, a fire hose of happy, helpful insight is turned on and never turns off again. Everyone has a sure-fire way to help you survive your first sleepy, noisy, poopy weeks with a newborn.

Not all of it is what you want to hear. Some of it you just won’t like. Plenty of it you won’t want to try.

Worse, a few things you will try and your heart will break when they don’t work. You’ll resent that they don’t work. Your faith will shake and your doubts will blossom and you’ll wonder what you’re supposed to do next.

If there’s anything I’ve learned by becoming a mom and interacting with others, it’s that kids don’t come with manuals for one good reason: babies aren’t machines. Each is uniquely made, requires their own specific kind of care, and reserves the right to change his or her mind about what works and what doesn’t any day of the week. It isn’t always fun to figure out what works, but it’s how you bond. It’s how you learn to be a mom.

Naturally, with that work behind her, every mom wants to share her best tips with all her mommy friends. Her enthusiasm may come off as over-confidence, but that’s because that feeling she got when she found something that worked was confidence. Extreme confidence. Fight-with-an-angry-bear confidence. Because she did it. She made that baby feel good again. She made him as happy as he makes her in their best and brightest moments together.

Of course, you’ll decide how to raise your child. There is a moral and social compass by which you will learn to parent. But the little things that help keep you sane day-in and day-out are about small moments of peace. And you never know which ones are going to work.

So even when you’re 8 months pregnant and struggling to carry your own weight, let alone the weight of the big bucket you’re using to catch the flood of advice coming from every angle, don’t stop listening. Absorb what you can, because all of the mommies around you really do mean well. They want to share their experience with you so the newness of it all is a little less daunting for you.

Then, if you’re as new to babies as I was and aren’t sure where to begin once you have a newborn screaming in your arms, start by giving your loved ones’ advice a try—even if it sounds crazy. Even if you planned to follow the eat-play-sleep rule, try play-eat-sleep. Try a different swing or a lullaby or a white noise machine. Try the methods espoused by all the conflicting parenting books (and parents) in your life. It might be just what you and your little one need.

A personal example. For me, the biggest thing that didn’t work was one of the most common pieces of advice I heard: “Sleep when the baby sleeps.”

Sounds like common sense, right? Limited, interrupted sleep at night + long naps for baby during the day = long naps for Mom, too.

But that didn’t work at all for us.

I’m a terrible daytime napper, and after about a week of being tethered to the couch by physical recovery and frequent nursing, I was going crazy. I needed to get something done around the house—even the littlest things. I needed to feel productive and like myself and not live every second fixating on a mental timer counting down to the next feeding.

As a result, no, I couldn’t sleep when the baby slept. And now, 11 weeks in, I still stay up with my husband for an hour or two after our daughter falls asleep, even if last night was rough and the day wasn’t much better. Because that time with another grownup—more importantly, the time to just be together and enjoy our marriage like we always have—is actually better than sleep. Who knew?

As for what worked? Here’s one: sshhhing a screaming baby. Someone told me that, when she’s crying and I need to calm her down for a feeding or just help soothe her, I should shhhhh right into my baby’s ear, as loudly as she’s crying. It sounded silly to me, but I tried it in a moment of typical new mom desperation/confusion, and what do you know? She stopped. Why such a little thing should help so much is beyond me, but there it is.

So here’s to the moments that click—those precious seconds when the baby stops crying or you wake up feeling actually rested in the morning because that tiny piece of advice came through. Keep trying every tip until you find those seconds. They’re worth all the “bad” advice you tried along the way.

5 Places the Time Goes When You’re a New Mom

Scenario 1: Suddenly it’s been 3 minutes and there are two lines on that test, and the two weeks I’ve been waiting for this moment hardly even existed.

Scenario 2: That surreal day of labor and push, push, push! and first meetings was 2 months ago, and we feel like she’s been here all our lives.

It’s 2016. Where has the time gone? For me, 2015 was a big, wonderful, crazy ball of blazing-fast new experiences. And I think I must’ve asked myself that question a few million times.

So when I really think through it, I can follow the minutes down into these wormholes:

1. Into your body.

I have this theory that time is physically absorbed into your bloodstream. This is how aging happens. And how, when you’re pregnant, every day gets a little bit tougher (the last few weeks are the craziest) and yet spins by a little bit faster.

It’s because your womb is filling up with 9 months of new life. That means all those extra calories you’re consuming, the extra water you’re drinking every hour, and the all-encompassing thoughts of “I’m carrying a baby around with me right now. How is this a thing?” are adding up. The end result is a brand new baby who is much greater than the sum of all those days. Suddenly the last 9 months—which stretched out endlessly in front of you at the beginning—are behind you in the blink of an eye.

(I’m sure it’s also how moms “forget” the work of labor and, soon enough, look forward to a chance to do it all over again.)

Sammy&Erik-101

2. To the dogs.

Wasted time is wasted life. For the first few weeks of a new baby’s life, it’s vital for Mom and Dad to do absolutely nothing they don’t want to with the time between feedings. Two hours can pass by too quickly, and when you’ve got a newborn at home, sleeping is a wonderful answer to the “Where has the time gone?” question.

Fast forward a few months, though, and I can’t always forgive myself those wasted hours. Maybelle is sleeping well at night; I should be adulting during the day. If all of those 2-4 hour blocks are spent on nothing much more than Netflix and the couch, it’s my own fault. But if they’re spent on laundry, errands, and maybe blogging a little here and there? That’s a win.

3. Over the rainbow.

Here’s another cliché for you: hindsight is 20-20. Want another? The grass is always greener on the other side. Clichés are clichéd for a reason, and that reason is that they’re almost always true.

When you’re stuck in the middle of an ultra-fussy growth spurt, and suddenly your easygoing baby is inconsolable for hours at a time, and you’re wondering why you have to relearn to be a mom every single day because what worked yesterday isn’t doing the job today, you look back on the last easy week with nostalgic longing. I catch myself doing this all the time. What happened to my happy baby? Why can’t tonight be like last night?

But here’s the thing: Maybelle is the product of every growth spurt’s progress. When the last one was over, she started smiling and cooing at funny faces. The one before that left her opening her eyes to the world, instead of staying cozied up in her own dreams all the time. So what will the end of this growth spurt bring? Being a mom has taught me that no minute spent embracing this moment—even if you’re also looking forward to the next—is wasted.

Even the tougher minutes are worth your love and attention right now. Enjoy them if you can, endure them no matter what, and know that yesterday wasn’t objectively better just because it was easier.

4. Onto the internet (and, hopefully, some paper).

The absurd procrastinator in me is so, so thankful for smartphones and Instagram. If I raised my own family before this century—when parents had to remember cameras, their associated batteries and film/memory cards, getting the resulting images printed, and then sharing those prints with their extended families—I’d be a hot mess of forgotten moments and missed photo opportunities. In that way, the instant gratification and real-time results of social media are a blessing.

Still, nothing beats a thoughtfully composed, physical photo album or a well-documented baby book. And that’s something I need to get better at.

The reality of parenting is that you experience every moment thinking, “Wow, I will never forget this milestone!”—and then, a week later, you can’t quite recall the exact tone of voice that inspired that first smile in your little one. So don’t be ashamed and don’t lose those memories: document everything, and share the moments that fill your heart to bursting. You’ll be glad you did.

5. Into your family.

All that time I spent fretting over what I did (or didn’t) eat and drink, what vitamins I took and when, how I clocked in my exercise—all of that resulted in a healthy, happy baby born at term. The time my husband spent fixing up little things in our house, keeping me happy and comfortable during the pregnancy, and looking forward to fatherhood resulted in a wonderful foundation for our growing family. And the time we spent enjoying each other’s company—just the two of us—while we still could resulted in a stronger, happier marriage and a partnership that has saved us both more than once.

The time we share with others results in the most growth. When I obsess over myself for too long, that’s when my anxiety jumps, my energy plummets, and my confidence wavers. But when I focus on making my husband as happy as he makes me, helping my baby grow, and giving my family the best chance for bliss, that’s when we all come out on top.

 

The question only gets bigger from here. In 2015, my husband and I decided started trying for a baby, learned we were expecting our first child, enjoyed a healthy pregnancy, welcomed our daughter into the world, and began learning how to be parents during her first two months of life outside the womb. In sixteen years, I know we’ll look at her and wonder when this little baby disappeared and a young adult began to emerge.

Here’s the funny thing about life: the bigger the milestones, the smaller the clock. Love them—and live them—while you can.

(Photo taken by Roni Rose Photography of Huntley, IL. Roni and her husband are magicians with cameras; check them out!)