Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Cat is Out of the Bag...

...and I'm not talking about that time Thor and Loki had it out over an empty sack of Meow Mix, either.

I mean to say that, after months of genuine indecisiveness, I finally turned in my resignation at work.  I'm officially a stay-at-home-mom.

I feel relieved to have finally made my choice, but I'm surprised that relief is pretty much all I feel.  I thought I'd feel elated and overjoyed and a big rush of warm fuzzies as I hugged and kissed my baby.  I thought I'd feel proud, having made the decision that my husband and I agreed was best for my family.

Instead, I sort of feel a little bit...empty.  Like I cut the cord in a huge area of my life and I'm in kind of a freefall right now.  And challenged, like I'm standing at the base of a wild, snowy mountain and I've committed myself to climbing it but I really haven't packed enough supplies and I've never climbed a mountain before and in fact, I didn't even watch any mountain-climbing videos on YouTube or anything.

After just a few weeks of staying home with the baby (several of those days with family or friends visiting), I can see that raising children is not a job for lightweights.  When Ross got home from work yesterday, I was exhausted.  Nope, I hadn't finished three loads of laundry, gone grocery shopping, and groomed the cats.  I had fed and changed the baby and thought about what I would made for dinner (eggs, fried taters and turkey bacon).  And that was enough.

I can see how motherhood, which is supposed to be about family and community, can be isolating instead.  I can see how a mom, even a mom who is a good person and full of lots of love, can get frustrated and resentful towards a new baby.  Suddenly, your freedom disappears overnight; you're often expected to make decisions about returning to work long before you're physically or emotionally ready; friends and family and total strangers and the creepy staring lady at Giant Eagle all want to see your baby NOW and get upset because they weren't the first on your list to be invited over;  your timetable now revolves around feeding a little guy who, in our case, is still figuring out how to eat, which frequently makes mealtimes stressful and unpredictable (the bonding quotient there is pretty much zero); you begin to dread evenings because you're either afraid you'll miss a feeding if the baby monitor doesn't pick up his cries, or you'll stay up all night because his "self-soothing" pug-like grunts just. Don't. Stop.

I thought it would be easy to quit my job.  Maybe it would have been, if I despised my job or even felt indifferent towards it.  But I actually liked it.  I liked my co-workers.  I liked what I did and I felt like I did it well.  It was also hard to beat a 6-minute commute (which passed by a Starbucks).  Plus, the information I gathered from working in a pediatric office has been invaluable during my pregnancy and now, with a preemie in the house.  I had an amazing, engaged, compassionate supervisor and I had a good time working with some really fun, lively girls - going from that to being home with three suspicious cats, an often unreadable baby, Klondike bars and Netflix is a huge change.

We haven't been to church in a while because, well, yeah, we have a newborn and we've been advised to keep him out of crowds for a while.  Although we've got offers to visit and help from some of the church gals, it's not the same as being in the Word and enjoying fellowship with our spiritual family.  I thought I'd automatically feel closer to God after my son's birth, because, after all, I recognize God as the Heavenly Father, and now I was a parent, too, but that didn't happen, either.

I guess it comes down to expectations.  The same unrealistic expectations that drive wedges between spouses in the first few years of marriage can overwhelm new parents.  I didn't exactly expect the kind of rosy-cheeked, wide-eyed newborn so frequently depicted in movies and on television...nor did I expect to snap back into my pre-pregnancy body in a few weeks...and I certainly didn't expect to get a full night's sleep any time soon after his birth. But maybe my problem was that I really couldn't prepare myself for a new baby - especially the way he ended up coming into the world.

So, that's what I'm going to focus on these next few weeks - making realistic expectations for myself and my baby.  Just getting by, one day at a time.  

The anxiety of making The Big Decision is over.  I have no obligations to anyone but my God and my family.  It's okay for me to breathe.  And fail, sometimes.  And try again.  And ask for help.  And not take everyone's advice, if I don't want to.

Because really...the 17-year-old cashier at McDonald's might not be the most reputable source of infant knowledge, knowwhatImsayin'?

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

I Didn't Have Any Coffee This Morning.

And I can soooooooo feel it.

This parenting thing is strange.  I can go a few hours at a time without a single obligation - that is, if the baby's sleeping - and then suddenly, my dinner has to get cold while I need to figure out why the tiny human in my house seems angry.  And LOUD.  Sleep is now a precious commodity - literally worth haggling over with my husband, if need be.  (Fortunately, haggling is infrequent, as I have a great hubby who tries his best to take care of both me and the baby.)

I was disappointed to learn how frequently I have been second-guessing myself since the baby came home from the NICU.  I can literally not turn around without getting advice (sometimes solicited, frequently not) from folks on social media.  All of the books I have read contradict each other.  The NICU doc and my pediatrician gave me advice from two different ends of the spectrum.  So basically, this is what I have learned about parenting:

Never wake the baby for feeds, except if he has slept too long, which means anywhere from three to five hours, depending on what is normal for your baby.  Let the baby sleep as long as he wants, because he or she will cry to let you know he's hungry. Since crying is a late sign of hunger, you're a negligent parent if your child has to cry to let you know he's hungry.  Never use a pacifier unless the child was given one in the hospital, in which case your should abandon all hope of even trying to breastfeed your baby.  Co-sleeping is the best way to go because it fosters closeness between yourself and the baby and allows your husband to bond with the baby too, except you're nuts and crunchy and a total wack-job if you let that baby into your bed because he will have all sorts of psychological issues later.  You should be ashamed of yourself if your child sleeps through a feeding, because you are going to hell for child abuse.  Plus, your milk supply will dry up and you will be like the Sahara Desert.    If you use a nipple shield, you're cursing your child to a life of malnourishment, because that will mess with your supply, too.  Use a nipple shield if your baby was introduced to the bottle first, as in cases of baby or maternal illness.  Oh, wait, your baby was introduced to the bottle before the breast?  You must have had a horrible birth plan.  Or your doctors didn't adhere to your birth plan because you were not assertive enough in expressing your desires.  So you are obviously raising a child with self-esteem issues.  Good luck when adolescence hits!  Why didn't you have a home birth?  You're a terrible person.  You should never have had a child at all.

Whew.  Glad I have everything figured out now and can go about my merry way, being the best mom in the history of ever.

Truth is, there's so much advice out there on so many topics that you need to take nearly everything with a grain of salt nowadays.  Every time I log onto facebook, there is a different article posted from one of my more passionate friends.  One day it's on the dangers of GMO products, and the next, it's an elaborate post about the "correct" way to drink water (apparently I've done it wrong for 32 years, which obviously explains why I have utterly failed at life so far).  There are articles touting the dangers of poisonous and deadly artificial sweeteners, articles advocating breastfeeding until the kid's practically in college, articles shaming me for eating anything other than organic, locally sourced kale and squash, articles warning me that my children will die if I use any type of cleanser other than white vinegar and baking soda...

...as well as articles refuting nearly every one of the above assertions.

It's terribly difficult to know who and want to trust.  Even when it comes to family - whom generally I do trust - there are such dramatic differences between life now and when my husband and I were first born, it's almost like we are all learning everything together, for the first time!  

I'm still working the learning curve.  Some days are good and some are not good at all.  Today, for example, is a not good day.  Baby has slept much of the day, which I usually despise, as it's generally an indication he will be up and fussy all night.  However, he hasn't eaten much today and he's spit up several times, which is unusual for him.  He seems like he's having tummy trouble, so I'm thinking it's best for him to rest today.  One day of poor eating won't kill him - even the little guy that he is.  I'm hoping that we'll wake with a clean slate tomorrow - and if not, then the docs get a call from me.  

The initial few weeks were hellish.  I'm the kind of gal who really, really values her eight full hours of sleep (that, paired with my introversion, means that I rarely go out once I'm home from work during the week; yes, I'm pretty hard-core lame).  Having that stolen from me was something I almost took personally.  Breastfeeding has been an exhausting and frustrating challenge in many ways.  (This is not a mommy blog so I choose not to get into details about that; suffice it to say that it is not the beautiful bonding experience I had hoped it would be.)  Trying to bond with a baby who doesn't much like to cuddle isn't very encouraging, either.  Venturing out of the house with a premature child has been scary and intimidating, too.  We're keeping our outings as short as possible now, to keep stress out of the equation if we can.  Plus, we're working with baby to reprogram his thinking - that is to say, to rework his days and nights, since he'd sleep for five or six hours easily during the day if I let him, but then he'll wail inconsolably for the same amount of time once nightfall hits.

I feel guilty right now.  I'm sure there are some hormones coming into play right now, but my own personal challenge is that I'm expecting myself to experience the glowing joy of motherhood so often portrayed in movies and magazines, without going through the ugly trenches of living on two showers per week, blurry-eyed 3 AM feedings, irrational fights with hubby, seemingly endless crying jags (for me and for baby), and buckets of self-pity over my wardrobe not fitting me yet.

The guilt, I think, is coming from the knowledge that I've overcome three miscarriages for this moment, and I expected to be full of radiance, practically oozing maternal instinct, to suddenly and miraculously have a closer and more intimate relationship with God, but instead, I'm still sorting out my feelings.  I thought I was going to literally glow.  Instead, I want to lose 35 pounds.  I have no desire to cook, which I used to love.  I get frustrated with the baby, and with myself, and sometimes I say things I don't mean.  I worry I'm not a good mom.  I run to WebMD to research my son's birthmark instead of listening to the doctors, who told me there's nothing to be concerned about.  I don't know what to do about returning to work.  Well, I kind of do, but I'm not sure.  

I guess all of that is pretty much 100% normal, and maybe that is the craziest part.  This is my new normal, and I have no choice but to get used to it!   


(Props to Megan B., Deana T., Alayna R. and Jaime H. for helping me get through the first really, really difficult weeks with their great advice and much-needed laughter!)