Sometimes the birth of a baby wakes us up. I’m not just talking about being awakened from sweet slumber several times a night, I’m talking about how bringing a little person into this world wakes us up in lots of other ways, too.
I just came from having coffee with a Momma of an almost 4 month old, and we were talking about those first several weeks postpartum. I was sharing how the minutes stretch into hours, days, and weeks with a newborn with no end in sight. And you’re constantly swinging back and forth from being wide awake like you’ve never been before to moving through your days like you’re in a coma. Hopped up on too little sleep and maybe too much Starbucks to get you through.
That immediate postpartum period can be one of delight and wonder, but for many new parents, it’s just hard work with little compensation. Can I say that? Or will there be a line of people telling me that it was “The most wonderful time of their lives!” Do they really wish they had a newborn to care for again?
Don’t get me wrong, I love babies – I have 4 of them – but I’m so happy when they’re no longer newborns! Those first three months suck a lot of the time – at least they did for me. And after my visit this morning, I think we should be sharing this with new parents so they can stop hearing over and over again how this time in their lives is so precious, and how they should enjoy every minute of it. Because they start to think there’s something wrong with them if they don’t feel that way.
Most new parents get that what has just happened to them is a miracle – and they’re grateful for their new little babies. But can’t we acknowledge, for their sakes, how incredibly hard it is to move through this transition to becoming parents? Can’t we just hug them and say, “I remember. And you’re right, it isn’t a lot of fun on the front end. What you’re feeling? Totally normal. I felt that way, too.”
Because as a new parents, they just want to do it right. But it’s so hard to figure out what “right” means for their relationship, their baby, and them as individuals. How do they navigate this time when their experience of this new reality is never even acknowledged? Parenting can be the best work you’ve ever done – but it is work, let’s not argue about that. And this work never stops. Babies might not need diapers any longer and they learn to feed themselves, but your work of ushering these littles into the world of bigs is never-ending. And sometimes, it gets even harder as they get older. Waking up to that reality can feel like a smack in the face – especially if you believe that you’re supposed to be loving every minute of it.
How can I ever turn this post around and make it hopeful?
Your baby awakens you in deeper, life-changing ways as well. You might find that you’re much more empathetic to others around you as they work hard and struggle to get through their own life challenges. You’re usually a little more humble then you were before you became a parent. Humility is a lovely human virtue that can cause you to ask others for help that you never thought you needed before. Tenderness and vulnerability are both awakened within and while this might make you feel uncomfortable, it connects you to others in a very real and authentic way. Wonder, awe and excitement at the everyday as your baby experiences it for the first time can be life-giving.
Those of us experienced mothers and fathers need to communicate the reality of what it means to parent a newborn. We need to wake up and stop reciting platitudes of “It’ll get better!” or jokingly, “It only gets worse!”
New parents don’t need our words, they need our understanding and validation that what they’re going through is normal, it’s hard, and every parent has experienced what they’re going through before them.
They so badly want to come to the conclusion that this was actually a good idea, this whole baby making thing. But in the thick of it, they just want to know that they’re not the only ones facing these challenges. Let’s stop trying to sugar coat the newborn period and get real with our families about what they can expect during this time. If shared in a way that is caring and validating, they won’t be scared, they’ll be prepared.
And that is a great wake up call.
How often did you hear, “Enjoy this time, it all goes too fast!” or “I loved having a newborn – it was the best time of my life!”? Was this your reality as a new parent? How did these statements make you feel?