A graph illustrating the typical adaptation period with a newborn and new parents, given to me by my doula and tacked up on my refrigerator.
On Tuesday, I turned thirty-five years old. At the beginning of the morning, I started making a list of all the things I was grateful for, hoping to get to at least thirty-five. I included gratitude for big things, like the addition of my daughter Nora into my life and the way my husband has embraced fatherhood, and for little things, like avocados and sleep sounds at night. I had high hopes to post it on Tuesday evening, in my twenty minutes of wakefulness after Nora goes to sleep.
But then, I left my half-written list at work. No worries – I could rewrite a smaller list after Nora goes to sleep. But then, Nora fussed at her last nursing session and it took longer than normal for us to get her to sleep. And then, a friend called to wish me happy birthday and I had a short whispered conversation with her. And then, I had to return my mom’s two calls. Suddenly, it was nine o’clock and I was crawling into bed, with no list and no plans for writing one. This is my life now, I thought, before passing out cold.
I would have posted my list on Wednesday, but like many WordPress bloggers, I decided to black out my site to protest SOPA & PIPA. Then on Thursday, I got food poisoning. Blech. Now, my aptly numbered list of gratitude seems less and less important the further I get from a timely posting.
Instead, I want to express my gratitude for one thing: time. On Wednesday, I went to the same New Mama’s class that I have been attending since Nora was two and a half weeks old. I was exhausted and numb and I had no idea what I was doing as a mother. All of the other mothers seemed much more together and their older babies were awake and reactive. I attended each week, got to know some of the moms, and slowly I’ve gained my footing as a mom. I know that a lot of my newly gained confidence came from listening to the older moms and attending that class.
As the “older” moms gained more experience and returned to work, they dropped off the class and newer moms joined. On Wednesday, I was the mom with the oldest baby, outside of the teacher. I listened as moms of three-week olds and five-week olds talked about the difficulty of mothering brand new babies. Their babies only sleep and eat and want to be held. They have trouble going to the bathroom, for fear that their babies will need yet another nursing session. They curse their Moby wraps, for being too hard to figure out on 2 hours of sleep. I thought to myself, “Oh yeah, that’s right. This was really effing hard at first.”
I remembered how many times I broke down sobbing, because Nora wouldn’t latch properly or I couldn’t leave the house because she screamed each time she went in a carrier or car seat. I remembered having to set my alarm to wake her to eat every two hours at night and cursing her when she would wake up fifteen minutes before the alarm sounded. I remember feeling, above everything else, that surely I was the most incompetent mother who walked the earth, because I couldn’t do any of it. I could manage registration and counsel wayward students at work, but I couldn’t get my baby to stop crying. That was the hardest for me, the feeling that I couldn’t master one single skill and floundered at all of them.
Listening to them, I realized how far I’ve come in just fifteen weeks. It’s not to say that it’s no longer hard or I’ve figured everything out. I haven’t, not by a long shot. I know I’ve got years and years of learning how to do all of this. But I’ve grown accustomed to the work. I’ve had time to develop a few systems and screw up a few times. I’ve untangled the Moby wrap and I’ve learned how to pee with the baby in another room.* I’ve gained competence at the basic skills of keeping a baby alive, fed and happy, after weeks of drowning in incompetence.
It’s also helped that Nora, through the gift of time, is becoming more self-sufficient. She can play on a blanket for ten whole minutes at a stretch. She no longer fusses when I put in her one of our carriers. She nurses like a pro. She’s also smiling and babbling and every day becoming more like a person and less like an eating-sleeping-pooping machine.
I’m grateful that I’ve had the time to watch her develop and to figure some of this out on my own (and with the help of other more experienced mamas). I’m so grateful that I’m having this experience in my middle thirties, since I know so much more about myself than I did when I was in my middle twenties or even early thirties. And frankly, I’m grateful that I never have to go back to those days of parenting a brand new baby and that overwhelming feeling of desperate incompetence. That time is long gone.
*I know that just by writing this, I’m jinxing myself. Nora will now proceed to go on a nursing strike and nap strike after starting teething early. I’m doomed.