I am writing this two days before her four month birthday. She is strapped to my chest in a stretchy wrap I made for us. I am trying to type quietly, so she can sleep. Every so often, she rubs her face against my chest, and burrows deeper into sleep. I love moments like this, when her head is close to my heart and we breathe in unison.
This is the month where I returned to work fully. It was (and is) a big transition for me. Sometimes, I think I’m doing it well, but most of the time I feel like I’m failing spectacularly. This week, felt like mostly failing.
I had a week where my work schedule changed daily. I started as early as 8 PM and ended as late as 4 PM on some days. On others, I started as late as 11 AM and ended as late as 8 PM. At work, I feel like I accomplish a fraction of what I used to acomplish. I can blame this on the almost eighty minutes of pumping or cleaning my pump parts that I do throughout the work day. But I also just feel like my output is less, as if I am constantly playing catch up during my day.
At home, I only get to see Nora for a few hours each day. And those hours are filled with eating dinner, feeding her, bathing her, and getting her to a nap or to bed. It’s transactional – these are the tasks we need to do, so that she is happy and healthy. Gone are the leisure days of my maternity leave, where I could read her books, play with her, and feel like a hands-on parent.
In general, I am tired. I am tired from physically providing all of the food for my daughter, every day. I am tired from waking up at 5 AM, or more likely 4:30, each morning. I am tired from missing quality time with her and quality time with my husband. And in those moments of sheer exhaustion, I feel like I’m failing.
It’s hard to explain now that I’m two days in to a three day weekend. But I woke up at 4:45 on Thursday with an overwhelming sense that I am doing it all wrong. Aaron and Nora were up and playing in her bedroom and I thought, “Babies shouldn’t be up at 4:45. She must not be getting enough sleep. I’m doing it wrong.” This sense led to a full-scale meltdown. Never mind the fact that Nora is a natural morning person (so far). Never mind that she wakes up to be fed around this time every day and doesn’t settle down again until a 6 AM nap. Never mind that she naps every two hours during her day. At that moment, I was terrified that I was breaking her ability to sleep through the night, a skill she has yet to develop.
Thinking about this perceived failure, I started to catalog all of my other failures as a wife, new mother, and worker. I am not working as I hard as I used to at work. FAILURE. I barely have time to see my husband during the week. FAILURE. I don’t pitch in with the chores around the house, as much as I should. FAILURE. My two cats are utterly neglected. FAILURE. I don’t know if I spend enough time, or the right type of time, with my daughter. FAILURE. I have nightmares about missing meetings at work and not being able to call in, and nightmares about dropping the baby, often in the same night. FAILURE.
Like most perfectionists, I have a debilitating fear of failure. It’s not that I’m unaccustomed to it. I’ve failed (or almost failed) plenty throughout my life. I almost failed out of high school, much to the shock of most people who know me as an adult. I need to be good at everything I do, or everyone might find out that I am not as smart/capable/resourceful/functioning as I seem (or as I think I seem).
Knowing this about myself, I have chosen to embark upon a path that is littered with failure. There is no way in the world that I will raise a child successfully without failing at something. We all fail at some part of parenting, because we are all human. I realized this weekend, after sleeping in until 6:30 on Saturday and recovering precious sleep, that I need to embrace failure. I picked this motherhood path, not because I would be a perfect mother. I wanted to share the love I have with my husband with another person. I wanted to work on something hard and meaningful with him. I wanted to contribute someone awesome to the world. In order to do all those things, I have to fail and fail often. I now just have to learn how to accept my failures and failings.
In the midst of my panic about my parenting and personal failures, I thought that I need to figure this out before Nora can remember me failing. Now I know this is wrong. I need to teach her how to fail well, to fail better. Every time that she learns something new, she will fail first. I want to show her and teach her that she can pick herself up and try again, try more passionately, try with more skill and experience. Not because she will one day be perfect, but because one day she will do better than the day before. This is what we are going to work towards, together.