The (not so) magic of babies

I was at a client meeting today and overheard a conversation between a mom that just returned from maternity leave and an expecting father.

“Oh, it’s just magical.  You’re going to love it,” she raved.

Being the nosy nancy I am, I of course butted in.  “Are you referring to having a newborn?” I asked her.

“Yes, it’s just so wonderful,” she gushed, smiling radiantly. Say what?

Listen, I had postpartum depression with Julia, and that’s not everyone’s experience so yeah, I am a bit jaded.  Having Luca was a fabulous course correction, and I genuinely enjoyed a lot of my time with him, but let’s be real here.

Being a first time mom to a newborn is an experience that can be described as magical.  But not without also caveating that it’s also many other things like terrifying and exhausting.

Moms (and dads): If you are selling the lie, you’re not just lying to yourself, you are setting our parenting culture up for failure.  Dramatic of me to say? Maybe.  But I literally can not count on two hands the number of women who told me that I was one of the ONLY people that warned them that those early weeks were going to at times, between gazes of love and wonder and unicorns prancing also be demoralizing, mournful, emotional, foggy, bloody (yes, bloody) and confusing.

People will make comments about how you won’t get sleep.  They’ll make jokes about it.  But they won’t tell you that the sleeplessness will often be accompanied by unending screams that simultaneously break your heart, hurt your ears, and feel like a condemnation of you and your failure to parent correctly.  Because surely other moms can make their babies stop crying (spoiler alert: bag of nopes there).

You might hear in passing about colic.  But you won’t be given the details about how colic is defined by multiple days of THREE PLUS HOURS IN A ROW of crying.  That shit is hard.  I did not have a colicky baby, but I remember even just average crying with my daughter and how hard it was.

Maybe, thanks to a few parenting memes going around FB, you have somehow heard about the hospital underpants.  It is essentially an underwear sized maxi pad.  Because if you have a vaginal birth you will BLEED.  I was sent home from the hospital told not to be worried about clots unless they were LARGER THAN A TENNIS BALL.  I’m not sure I’d even be able to worry at that point because I would have passed out from fright.

Let’s just take a moment to talk about breast pumps.  Do you know I did it for three months before I found out about hands free pumping bras?  I held those damn flange things against my boobs multiple times a day when I could have just been hanging out, still a cow but with hands free.  And surely no one told you that you actually have to get the right sized flanges for your nipples.  It’s not a one size fits all situation.  And how weird it is to be LITERALLY milked.  I never even made enough milk with Julia without supplementing with formula.  For the first month, my doctor had me nurse Julia, then pump right after – including middle of the night feedings.  Do you know how much it sucked to not only nurse, then pump, but then have to wash fucking pump parts in the middle of the night.  I remember more than once crying in the bathroom at three in the morning as I washed and sanitized pumping supplies thinking that this will never end.  Magical I tell you.  Like prancing unicorns of joy.

I could make you a list more numerous than the number of pee and poop diapers you will change in those early months of other “magical” moments.  Projectile poos, the fear of touching your baby’s umbilical cord before it falls off, the porn star rocks that your boobs will be when your milk comes in, reflux, baby acne, meconium. Trimming miniscule baby fingernails (without making them bleed) so they don’t scratch themselves up like Edward Scissorhands.

I named this blog Truth in Parenting for a reason ya’all.  Only in sharing the truth with each other will we be able to know that parenting is two sides of a coin.  In truth, we don’t have to feel shame or disappointment that our experience isn’t like others, because there’s a really good chance that it is – both good and bad.

 

 

The truth in parenting

Two days before the birth of my first child, a little before 36 weeks of pregnancy, I was put on modified bed rest due to suspected preeclampsia. It hadn’t occurred to me that I might go into labor early (Mom Tip: If you’ve never done the whole having a baby thing, there are a lot of things you just can’t picture, so I’m telling you now – pack your hospital bag early). I even polled my friends and family to determine whether or not since the bed rest was “modified” that I could sneak out to my last movie before I was stuck at home with the baby.

For the record, everyone voted no, which was a good thing because I might have gone into labor on the spot while watching Twilight (don’t judge, at least I didn’t go!).  After two days of laying down at home, I was brushing my teeth at 10pm on an unseasonably warm November night when my water broke.  By 9am the next morning I was someone’s mom: Julia Ruth Cucinotta, all 4 lbs. 14 oz of her.

I had thought that when they put the baby on your chest your heart exploded with love and you were bonded for life.  Not me.  My blood pressure spiked during the delivery and they rushed the skin to skin experience so they could get her tiny little self to the NICU and get me on magnesium, literally the worst medication I have ever experienced, to avoid me getting eclampsia. Mom Tip 2: Did you know preeclampsia is not an actual medical condition but a set of symptoms that are a warning you could get actual eclampsia?  Again, the magical world of things you don’t know until you have kids!

For the next 24 hours Julia couldn’t come to me because she was in the NICU, and I couldn’t go to her because I was in hell.  On the magnesium, my body felt floppy and heavy, almost like I was paralyzed. I had to be catheterized because they can’t risk me  even getting up to go to the bathroom.  I wasn’t allowed to eat or drink in case I choked.  I begged the nurses in tears until finally I got a nice one to give me one or two ice chips in secret.  I was so hot my husband had to wear his winter coat to keep warm in the hospital room since we turned down the temperature so much, and still I needed cold compresses.  I was also practically delirious.

The next day,  after more than 36 hours with no food or drink, as the poison slowly subsided from my body, I was handed what looked less like a cute cuddly baby and more like a tiny chicken. I was cautioned that I couldn’t even breastfeed her yet because I might transfer the magnesium to her.  What was I supposed to do with this tiny mewling thing?

I’d like to tell you that after the drugs wore off and we brought her home that things were great, but they weren’t at first.  I was in a fog: afraid, sad, detached.  I am a lifelong anxiety sufferer and had a depressive episode in my early twenties, so postpartum depression was not out of the question. But I couldn’t articulate how I felt. I’m an over-sharer, but I couldn’t share this somehow. I mean, how do you tell people that you’re worried that you might have made a mistake?  That maybe you weren’t meant to be a mom because clearly you suck so bad at it and don’t really like it?  Even my well meaning family, friends and truly excellent therapist wrote off what they saw as the standard struggles of new motherhood.  But it was more than that.  I literally couldn’t believe it was going to be this hard.  And when would it get better?

It wasn’t until almost a year later that I realized I had suffered Postpartum depression.  And it wasn’t until long after that when I finally started opening up to people about the challenges I was (and sometimes still am) experiencing as a mother. I didn’t take to parenting easily and occasionally still don’t, even though I absolutely adore my kids (I have a son now, Luca, who is almost two.) My goodness what a difference it was to go through this stuff a second time, but we’ll get to that another day, don’t you worry!

A while back I started tagging Facebook posts where I shared my honest thoughts with the hashtag #truthinparenting .  The relief in posting my truth instead of trying to pretend I knew what I was doing as a mom was palpable. There was another upside – I started getting comments on my posts from people sharing their experiences, and then I started getting private messages, texts, phone calls and even in person chats with people who had read the posts.  It turns out a lot of people think it’s hard.  I get that not everyone’s experiences are the same, and that some people live for motherhood in a way I never will (and that’s awesome for them!).  But I am taking inspiration from what I’ve done on Facebook and bringing it to the longer form of a blog in the hopes that it will make some mom (new, expecting, or even an experienced one) feel better.  Because, Mom tip 3: we’re all in this together.