A Statement of How Things Are.

Sometimes, I wonder if I’m too doom and gloom about motherhood when I talk about it with other people, especially those who don’t have children. I worry that I’m being a big downer about parenting. I don’t mean to be because I personally feel like it’s worth it, even given how aggravating it can be.

However, some mothers seem to really love it from the very beginning (and then continue to love it for the rest of their lives), and that was simply not my experience. According to Ann Oakley, a British sociologist, feminist, and childbirth researcher, her goal in writing about motherhood is to make “a statement of how things are, rather than of how people like to think they might be.” I may not be a professor at UCL or a published novelist (yet), but I’d like to think my mission is the same. My conversations about becoming a parent are a statement of how things were for me, and not what people like to think they were.

For example, before I gave birth to my son, I’d spent years watching television shows like One Born Every Minute and A Baby Story, openly weeping at the ends of episodes when the babies were born. I’d cried at the births of so many stranger babies that when my own son was born, I was expecting to completely fall apart. Instead, as my own slimy newborn baby was placed on my chest, my first thought was, “Thank God that’s over.” My husband cried, but I’d just had the most primal, physically intense experience of my entire life, and my body was jelly and I was just so grateful it was over.

I think that’s a reality more women should be prepared for.

Also, I once ate dinner shirtless, with blood smeared all over my chest, after my son fell onto his face and got a terrible nosebleed right before my husband came home with our takeout Thai food. In years past, if I had, by some freak accident, found myself covered in someone else’s blood, snot, and tears, I would have, at the very least, taken a shower before eating anything. However, because my hysterical toddler calmed down just as my husband came through the door with dinner, my first meal of the day, I stripped off our bloody shirts, wiped us both off with baby wipes, and stuck my child in his high chair for rice and broccoli. We both ate, the toddler forgot about the trauma of the face plant, and I found grains of rice in my bra when I went upstairs to shower.

Again, a head’s up* would have been nice. (*PUN INTENDED.)

I love my child so much, I would literally tear the face off of anyone who tried to hurt him. I just also sometimes want to tear my own face off.

 

 

 

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Eight Things Every New Mom Will Hear: A Primer.

 

Congratulations on your new baby! Prepare yourself for hearing these things on repeat for the next several years of your life!

Is he sleeping through the night?

People will obsess over this, which will make you obsess over this. There are entire industries devoted to ensuring brand new babies Sleep Through The Night (STTN), and as a new mom, you will feel the full force of these industries. The great trick here is that babies do not sleep through the night. Sure, some may sleep better and more consistently than others, and yes, there are babies who sleep 12 hours from the night they are born, but in general, sleep is ever evolving and no child (or human being, for that matter) sleeps through the night every night for their entire lives. This is especially true for infants and toddlers, who are experiencing physical, mental, and emotional growth at astronomical rates, with little ability to communicate their needs or control their lives. Insisting that we use STTN as a barometer of parenting success holds new, overwhelmed parents and their unsuspecting bubs to impossible standards, and of all the unnecessary things you get showered with when you’re a new mom, Impossible Standards are the things you want the least.

Are you still ______?

Yes, yes you are. Or: no, no you’re not. And you know who cares? Everyone. Everyone cares, which is strange because you won’t see everyone up with you at 3am while you’re covered in vomit and changing baby pajamas for the fourth time in five hours. You will do what you need to do to survive, and the only person you need to clear that with is yourself (and maybe your partner, if you’re nicer than I am).

It goes by so fast.

Despite what people tell you, it will not go by too quickly, at least not in the first few months (or up to a year, if you’re lucky like me). In fact, chances are you will be awake for more hours than you’ve ever been before, so you’ll experience more of that first year of parenting than you ever imagined. The things that will really go by too quickly are the few hours you’re able to sleep or the rare moments you get to eat chocolate by yourself.

I’m well aware that time does fly (there’s nothing like being Facebook friends with your youngest cousin, who is now in college, to make you feel like a decrepit scarecrow), and I know there will be a time when I miss having a snuggly, fuzzy-headed tornado ripping through my life 24/7, but when you’re in the trenches, when the seconds slow and warp and stretch out ahead of you like an endless gauntlet of poo, tears, and laundry, time will not feel like it is whipping by. You are not contractually obligated to

Enjoy every minute.

You won’t. And that’s okay. You’re a mom now, but you’re still a person, so you won’t love being pulled on, barfed on, whined at, yelled at, headbutted, and humiliated in public, and you will miss being able to poop on your own and look your age.

You should find some time for yourself.

This is excellent, sage, well-meaning advice, but in my experience, it is also totally infuriating. All I wanted as a brand new mom was time to myself and the only thing that was absolutely certain was that I wasn’t going to get it. Having people tell me that a massage or a night out would cure all my frustrations only served to underline how far away I was from feeling better. I can’t leave to get a massage, you jerks. Who else is gonna nurse this child every 45 minutes? If someone is telling you you need time to yourself, they need to facilitate that by taking your baby noodle off your literal hands for a little while.

You’re spoiling him.

Unless your newborn baby is a soft cheese and you’ve just set him on a sunny windowsill, you are not spoiling your baby.

Sleep when the baby sleeps.

Sometimes, you will. I spent a good four months going to sleep right after my son went to bed at 7:30pm. However, most of the time, you won’t sleep when the baby sleeps. In my experience, the sleep deprivation that comes with having a baby isn’t confined to the bleary, cozy, ethereal, not-at-all-real-life first couple weeks. When life starts creeping back to normal for everyone else, and you’re still not sleeping, ultimately it isn’t feasible to sleep whenever the baby sleeps. Either you’ll have food to cook or floors to clean, or you’ll want to take advantage of your baby’s nap and, I don’t know, be your own person for five seconds. You’ll want to watch TV or read a book or eat a salad with a fork instead of your hands. Eventually, you will be a person who stays up all night and then chooses delighting in the autonomy of eating with utensils over taking a nap. Trust me.

Are you having another?

You’d think that creating a new human being would be enough effort for a little while, but instead, having one baby simply proves to other people that you are physically capable of having even more babies. Fifteen minutes after my son was born, while we were all still covered in goo and there was blood all over the floor, a midwife, inspired by my “easy” delivery, asked me when I was having another baby. At the time, having just expelled a human being from my body and too weak to stand up to take a shower, I said, “Absolutely never.” As I write this nearly two years later, parenting a toddler who is cutting his second molars, the answer is still, “Absolutely never.”

Your answers may be different from mine, but better have them prepped now. Think about the entire future of your family right this instant and get your story straight. Enquiring minds (in the supermarket, your living room, and the delivery suite) will want to know. #nopressure

My Baby Can Not Read.

SARAH CARTER

My son is 20 months old and regularly says about ten words: bye bye, dog, truck, ball, Dad, meow*, roar*, ssssss*, uh oh, yes, no, oh dear, and something that sounds suspiciously like “Oh shit,” which despite my foul mouth, I don’t ever say. (However, if he were whispering “Oh, for f**k’s sake” under his breath several times a day, I might be responsible.)

He can also express his confusion about where things are by throwing his hands up near his shoulders in a permanent shrug:

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I have spent a lot of time super frustrated and mildly panicked about this child’s lack of verbal communication. It seems like many (most?) kids his age have, at the very least, more robust vocabularies, and at the very most, the ability to hold complete conversations with their parents. Reminding myself that we live in a world of never ending competition, as we all try to impress and outdo each other on social media, helps me stay sane while I parent my son who refuses to speak. Our desires to present ourselves as brilliant and successful have trickled down to our infants, such that even actual babies are now expected to perform academic or physical feats once reserved for preschoolers. (Seriously. Why would I want to pay someone to pretend to teach my baby to read?)

In an effort to focus on the positives and stay grounded in the comforting knowledge that my child is a behaving like a toddler because he is a toddler, I’ve decided to make a list of my son’s most impressive skills. Here they are, in no particular order:

  1. He is fabulous at pointing. He’s the best pointer. He has recently discovered his pointing prowess and now does it all the time. He learned how to sign “milk” when he was about ten months old and used it constantly for nearly a year, but recently he just taps a finger into my chest over and over again when he wants to nurse before bedtime. We’re so proud. (The other day, he surprised both of us by asking for milk by actually vocalizing the word, and then when I asked him to repeat it “using his mouth,” he unhinged his jaws like a giant snake and shoved all his fingers in his mouth. #success.)
  2. He has excellent fine motor control. He loves drawing all over the couch (with nearly proper pencil grip!) and he recently managed to escape the backyard via a gate that is secured with a deadbolt and a latch.
  3. He can cover his tracks. For reasons that remain a mystery to me, the water heater is in a closet in his bedroom, making this closet a strict no-fly zone. I left him alone in his room for a few seconds, and then heard him slam the closet door and pretend to play with the cars on his floor after he heard me coming back upstairs.
  4. He loves magic. A few weeks ago, he hid my car and house keys by throwing them so deep into the kitchen trash can that they escaped my initial search through the garbage. I had to go through the trash twice! So impressive.
  5. He’s polite. He once put his tiny hands around my neck and squeezed, a la Tina Fey’s daughter, but he did it with a smile.
  6. He knows what he wants. He delights in carrying pairs of his shoes to me and smacking me with them until I put them on his feet, only to immediately demand to wear different shoes.
  7. He enjoys cooking. He likes sitting on the kitchen counter while I cook or wash dishes, and then batting things onto the floor below like a cat. A few days ago, he ripped the top off a spice container and dumped mixed herbs all over the floor. (see: excellent fine motor control.)
  8. He has a keen eye for decor. One of his favorites things to do is to unleash his collapsible tunnel just after I’ve put it away, only to ignore it for the rest of the day, as the real joy of the tunnel is in making me nuts.
  9. He is thoughtful. Yesterday after work and nursery, I presented him with some new Fisher Price Little People animals, and in order to show his appreciation, he grabbed a throw pillow, put it on the ground next to him, and pointed frantically at it until I got up from the couch and sat on the pillow on the floor, while he pretended that a small pink bird was eating my throat. He wanted to offer me up to the animals, but he also wanted me to be comfortable. #blessed
  10. He has priorities. He lets me to scroll through Facebook on my phone in the rare moments he wants to play alone, but I am not allowed to do anything productive in his presence, including but not limited to: using my laptop to write, reading a book, highlighting a paper for work, writing a letter, making grocery lists, etc.

My child, Wonder Baby.

*Yes, I am counting animal noises as words. YES I AM.

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Sarah Carter is a PhD student, blogger, wife, expat, and new mom crazy person. She’s currently focused on getting The New Motherhood off the ground (while writing up her second PhD paper and taking care of her baby), but if you’re into snooping and terrible photos, check her out on Instagram.

What, Me Worry?

SARAH CARTER

I come from a long line of high strung neurotics. (Sorry, Family. I’ve committed to telling the truth here.) If there’s something to worry about, obsess over, or unnecessarily dread, I will find it. It’s genetic.

Before I had my son (and until he was mobile, really), I would watch babies and toddlers cling to public surfaces and crawl around in airplanes and play in shopping mall play areas, and cringe in horror at the thought of all the germs they were then going to rub into their tiny little eyes with their grubby little hands. I once took a two-year-old to the bathroom at a zoo and it remains one of the most stressful experiences of my life.

And then.

September: On my 29th birthday, while wearing my eight week old son strapped to my chest, I cracked a cusp off a molar as I ate the birthday burrito I’d struggled hard to make for myself. My husband was away for the week for work, my mom had flown back to California, and I had never seen a dentist who wasn’t my grandfather, let alone one who practiced in the UK. Unable to find anyone to watch my baby on a few hours notice, I took my tiny son, who had until this point in his life only been held by three people related to him and the midwife who delivered him, to a dental clinic, where he refused to sleep through my appointment in his stroller. I got to have a tooth drilled (sans Novocaine) while listening to my son scream in a medical office lobby as he was held by a total stranger.

“You seem a little tense,” said the dentist. No shit, I thought.

And then.

At the exact same time, on my birthday, I’d stupidly let my US driver’s license expire, because apparently you can’t renew your California driver’s license by mail indefinitely. (Who knew?) Unable to renew my license from afar, and having just begun the slow crawl towards a UK learner’s permit, I could no longer drive our car. This was unfortunate because it was annoying, and also because: it was becoming winter in England; walking everywhere was a nightmare; my husband works away during the week; my son needed his vaccinations.

And then.

October-November: I ended up taking my infant son to his first series of vaccinations in taxis. Some of them smelled of cigarettes and all of them had probably been puked in.

And then.

December: We flew from England to California, to show off our baby to my side of the family, and I spent four weeks tamping down my panic about my 4.5 month old bubble boy being passed around at meet-and-greet parties and being fed random food by people who refused to listen to my “no solid foods until six months” rule. The trip was for me both wonderful and exhausting, as I loved being home, but battling pretty crippling anxiety made it difficult to enjoy myself.

Being a new mother, tasked with keeping this tiny child alive and with making all the right choices, is a huge, overwhelming, almost impossible job for anyone, but it felt particularly daunting for me, because I couldn’t ever relax or let down my guard or stop worrying about what terrible illness the world was about to visit upon the baby.

And finally.

January: Our son had to start going to nursery, because I needed to get back to showing up on campus and working on my PhD. We did two weeks of “settling in” sessions, where I dropped off my wailing child for a few hours and hung around the nursery or walked down to the grocery store and stress-bought (and then stress-ate) gross meals like premade veggie sushi and potato chips. (I WAS NERVOUS, OKAY?) I sat with him for a few minutes

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Eating paint at nursery. Week 2.

before leaving each time, watching him put communal toys directly into his mouth, having an almost out of body experience. Just like that, the bubble around my precious little bug burst, and there he was, getting sneezed on by stranger babies and sucking on his fingers after running them all over the nursery carpet. His exposure was suddenly completely out of my control.

In the end, I didn’t really have a choice. I could spend my entire life petrified of what was going to happen to him after he put that soft block in his mouth, or I could let it go. Because I have a PhD to attempt to complete while living in a foreign country and holding down the fort while my husband is away, I chose to let go. I gave up literally three decades worth of mania because I just could not keep going forward while being wound so tightly.

Our son is (almost) 12 months old now and regularly eats food that’s touched restaurant tables, plays with things that have fallen on the ground, and chews on toys have just been thrown down in front of him by nursery kids who have just finished gnawing on them. He got sick a lot at first (beginning with his first cold and double pink eye after his first week of nursery) and he didn’t sleep well and it was as bad as I thought it would have been, but it got better. He got better. And so did I.

Becoming a mom shattered me in a lot of ways: the total loss of independence, completely indescribable to those who haven’t experienced it; the physical changes, both the fleeting and the permanent; the responsibility, which I’m trying to shoulder. These are all things that I’m still working on accepting, even now, less than a week before my son celebrates his first birthday. However, becoming a mom has cured me, in a way I couldn’t have anticipated.

After living thirty years fearing door handles and public transportation, I’ve finally learned not to sweat the (microscopic) small stuff.

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Sarah Carter is a PhD student, blogger, wife, expat, and new mom crazy person. She’s currently focused on getting The New Motherhood off the ground (while writing up her first PhD paper and taking care of her baby), but if you’re into snooping and old news, check the archives over at Whiny Baby

So Happy and So Terrified

JOSIE BROCKSOM

Before I got pregnant, I didn’t know what worry was. I was a successful manager earning great money. I was the creator of amazing projects. I had respect from the people I managed and from the community I served. Everybody praised my work. I felt loved, I felt good. But I dreamed of being a mother. It was everything to me to have a child. It was something I had to do.

When at last I found out I was pregnant, I was over the moon. Things hadn’t been straightforward for us, but it was everything I ever dreamed of, so much so that it felt too good to be true.

This is when the worry hit hard. I was constantly terrified of things going wrong. Every pregnancy milestone brought brief relief, but before long, I was back to daily, agonizing worry.

When the big day came and I finally held my first beautiful baby boy, all my dreams came true. I felt so lucky. From the moment we met, I felt I’d known him my whole life. I was in love – the biggest version of love I’d ever known. A scary kind of love. Love so big that it hurt.

This made me a great mother, but also a great worrier. I needed everything to be perfect for him – always. I needed to be with him – always. I would continuously be checking him, day and night, making sure everything was perfect and that he was okay. I would strap him into his car seat and then drive up the road and pull over and check him again and again. These kinds of obsessional thoughts started happening more and more and taking up more time each day.

I was continuously comparing myself to other mothers who I felt knew what they were doing. I always felt that other mothers were doing a better job than me. If my baby wasn’t sleeping, I felt it was because I was doing everything wrong and that I was failing.

My head was always spinning with things that might happen to me and my family. My day was taken up with feeling terrified of things that could possibly go wrong. I could create a full feature length movie with the catastrophic stories that would just pop into my head on the way to the shops. This was happening daily – not because I wasn’t happy, but because I was so happy, I was terrified!

Maternity leave ended and I started back at work. At first, it felt great. But soon those familiar feelings returned. I had these conflicting thoughts and worries racing around my head constantly. I was doubting myself as a mother everyday, asking myself:

Will my son get enough attention?

How will I make it worthwhile?

Am I a good enough mother?

I was doubting myself professionally everyday, constantly debating:

Am I good enough ?

Am I doing a good job?

What do other mothers think of me?

I was rushing around, always stressed and always tired, trying to solve parenting battles and work challenges all at the same time. I was ignoring so many warning signs from my body that I needed to stop and make changes. I was getting constant colds and a strange skin rash on my hands. I had neck pain and I would wake several times a night, even when the baby slept through. The final straw came when I started getting chest pains at work when I was in meetings.

I visited my doctor and told him that I was worried I was asthmatic. He was very blunt in telling me that was not the case. Instead, he asked me how busy life was at the moment. He then went on to explain how anxiety causes chest pain and other symptoms that I was experiencing. I was totally shocked! I had no idea that it was possible for the thoughts in my head to have an impact on my body. Everything made sense and soon I was booked in with a Hypnotherapist for some much needed help. It changed EVERYTHING!

I learned about the power of the mind and I realized that all of those thoughts were not only draining and pointless and not serving me, but also having a profound impact on my body. I learned how to take control of self doubt, anxiety, and most importantly, I learned that I could choose my thoughts. So I learned how to motivate myself, to plan, and to structure my life without settling my standards too high. Soon I was sleeping better and waking up feeling ready to take on the day! I got my confidence back and my life in balance.

If you are reading this and you feel stuck in your own thoughts, know that I’ve been there. I know how you are feeling, but believe me when I say no matter how impossible life can feel, there is a way to get better, to feel calm again, to fully enjoy each day.

This experience has had such an impact on me that it has inspired me to want to help other women get the help they need to release them from anxiety. I have worked hard for the last 5 years to gain my coaching qualifications and this year I will complete my Solution Focused Hypnotherapy Diploma with the Clifton Practice in Bristol, England. I have always worked in children and family services so I’m planning to specialize in dealing with women’s issues. I’m really excited to be able to share something which I know makes such a lasting change to people’s lives.

Josie IMG_1572Brocksom is a Solution Focused Hypnotherapist and mother of 2 (sometimes 4) children. She’s a lover of all things pink, an online shopping addict, and a brain science nerd! For more information on postpartum anxiety and hypnotherapy, email Josie at worryfree.org@gmail.com or visit www.worry-free.org/hypnotherapy/

 

I Don’t Think My Son Likes Me

MICHAEL CARTER

OKAY, FINE, GOD! I might have lied to you twice in a row now (read all about my lies and my wife’s hatred for me here). The truth is my son looks at me with his dopey, way-too-big-for-his-baby-head blue eyes with all the love in the world and then some…now. This, however, was not always the case. My little boy will be 10 months old in two days’ time and for the last 4 months, he has been gradually warming up to me as a poor and inadequate alternative to his mammy. There is no doubt dads will face many struggles in their pursuit to become the father figure they want their sons to look up to. One of the first hurdles as far as the father-son relationship is concerned is the feeling of not being able to build a bond with their baby.

I was warned of this, but I am a man after all: man big, man strong, man does not need to form an emotional attachment with his baby to feel validated! And yet again, for a second time running, I must admit I was wrong (my wife will love my admitting to being wrong). [Ed. Note: she does]. I feel like as a dad you are surplus to requirements during the first 3 months of your child’s life. Sure, you clean, cook, go to work to provide, etc. However, as far as the little dude is concerned, you might as well be a plant or a goldfish. Things get slightly different when your baby starts to engage with the surrounding environment of which, as a sentient human, you are a part. With our baby becoming more robust, more mobile, and most importantly, developing a little personality, I imagined daddy-baby quality time was just around the corner. I watched my wife captivate my son’s attention for hours at a time; I watched her tickle him into fits of uncontrollable heartmeltingly cute giggles; I watched her calm him down in seconds from a full-blown cry to a sunny smile just by holding him in her arms. It didn’t look hard, but try as I might to replicate my wife’s heroics, I could not.

We would sit in bed on a lazy Sunday morning (definitely not afternoon because who spends the whole day in bed, right? Right?!?) with my son in the best of moods. My wife, god bless her, would take advantage of this rare opportunity to have her weekly shower and leave me with the little dude seemingly happy as a clam. Ten seconds later, he would be screaming the house down. I would try the toys, try to make him laugh, play him his favourite nursery rhymes (Baby Beluga and Snowflake for these interested) and even frantically walk him up and down the bedroom, and I would get nothing, zilch, nada! My son’s scream would inevitably cut my wife’s shower short and rather predictably, his cries would cease almost immediately after being back in mammy’s arms. That was hard, but it was about to get much harder.

Due to complicated legislation concerning driver’s licenses, my American wife had to re-take her driving test in the UK (where we currently live). This meant she had to take lessons in order to get accustomed with the local rules of the road, and I had to mind the baby while she took them. The lessons were 1 to 2 hours long, which meant I had to stomach 1-2 hours of my son’s screams and cries whilst he simultaneously refused to be held by me and amplified his tantrums tenfold when put down. All of this was done whilst listening to Baby Beluga over and over and over again.(The magic that is Snowflake was discovered later on.)  It was soul crushing; it felt like my son hated me. He was most certainly letting me know what he thought of spending any length of time with his dad. Obviously, yet again, the minute my wife got her hands on him, he would stop at a drop of a hat and smile at me over her shoulder as if to prove some twisted point to me. I felt insufficient and a failure.

Now, some 4 months down the line, things have changed. Trust me on this, lads: there is a light at the end of this screaming tunnel. As I sit here writing this piece, my wife is busy doing some college work (she is getting a PhD, don’t you know? #humblebrag #proudhusband) and my son is gleefully attempting to climb DadIMG_9361dy Mountain (I am the mountain). I can now be left alone with him and we quite happily spend a few hours playing with toys and doing the airplane. Most importantly, however, when I tickle him, he laughs; he laughs just with me and he laughs just for me, his dad. It’s obvious that a baby is going to develop a strong bond with its mammy; aside from carrying the baby for 9 months, she is the sole provider of food and comfort early on – you don’t need me to explain this to you. But dads, trust me on this one: somewhere between 6 and 9 months, you will get your moments in the sun and they will become more and more frequent as time passes. Just in case you don’t believe me, please find a picture of my baby bat burrito son taken after one of our showers, which we take together now because we are crusty hippies! Doesn’t he look happy to have his daddy?!?

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Michael Carter is a tall, strapping archaeologist, with a flair for cooking, a green thumb, a great beard, and an adorable infant son who is looking more and more like his mother every day. His wife definitely did not write this bio.

Three In A Bed.

SARAH CARTER

I got married when I was 23 and divorced when I was 26, so by the time I was pregnant with my son last year, I thought I knew a thing or two about never saying never. However, pushing a human being out of your body and then taking it home with you scuttles even the grandest of plans, and two weeks into parenting, I ended up doing the one thing I said I would never do: I shared a bed with my baby.

Bedsharing was born out of complete necessity for me. Our son, like many newborn babies, did not take very well to the idea of immediate baby independence. He easily nursed to sleep and never struggled with knowing it was night time, but God help me if I tried to set him down. His beautiful Moses basket might as well have been a lake of fire for how much he despised being put into it. I stayed up all night long for over two full weeks, letting my baby sleep on my chest on the couch while I watched TV. The first few nights, I was convinced I could just never sleep again. I was bursting with pride and love and spent those short summer nights staring into the sleeping face of the brand new person we’d made, grateful that I didn’t need to sleep.

However, soon, my well ran dry. I was more and more exhausted every night. As someone who’d done research into infant death, reading infant death records for weeks at the Los Angeles Department of Coroner, I was keenly aware of how dangerous sleeping with a baby on a couch or armchair is, so those nights sitting up with my baby became fraught with terror. I tried making up for the all-nighters during the day, when my husband or my mom could watch me nap with the baby snuggled into me, but eventually, the adrenaline that pushed me through the first several days completely abandoned me and I was shattered. I went back to trying to put the baby down in his basket (and later his Pack and Play), only to spend entire nights cycling through nursing, patting, shushing, rocking, and praying that my son would sleep. I still wasn’t sleeping, and now, neither was the baby.

So, I researched. I read the work of Dr. James McKenna and discovered Sarah Ockwell-Smith. As an anthropologist, it didn’t take much to convince me that I needed to bow to the will of biology: I cleared all the blankets and pillows from my bed, curled my body around my nursing baby, and slept with him. I placed the baby flat on his back, kept an arm across the top of his head and my thighs pressed up against his feet, didn’t drink, smoke, or take sleep aids, and always had my body between the baby and my giant husband. I was usually cold and uncomfortable and waking every 2-3 hours to feed the baby, but my son slept all night and I managed to sleep too.

Our son is 9.5 months old and still sleeping with us. No one is more surprised by this than I am. The emergency sleep stop-gap has become the way we live. Our big, mobile boy still sleeps cuddled up with us and I don’t know now if it’s because he needs to or because I’d miss him too much if he didn’t. Because this story isn’t called The Greatest Miracle On Earth, I can’t say that bedsharing solved all our sleep issues. Being breastfed and refusing pacifiers, my son was (and still sometimes is) up several times a night to eat or be comforted. When he’s teething or sick or jet lagged or growing or learning new skills, he can be up every 45 minutes and I go a bit nuts. Because he doesn’t sleep well without me, my bedtime is his bedtime and I haven’t been out past 7pm (without him) since he was born. There are times when parenting our son this way can be overwhelming and exhausting and relentless, and I question why I’ve done this to myself. I fear that by choosing to follow my son’s lead, I really have created a spoiled little monster who expects to be held and coddled all the time.

And then, I look down at the little baby in my arms or tucked into my side, my months-old little baby who just needs his mommy, and I wonder why I think he shouldn’t.IMG_0790

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Sarah Carter is a PhD student, blogger, wife, expat, and new mom crazy person. She’s currently focused on getting The New Motherhood off the ground (while writing up her first PhD paper and taking care of her baby), but if you’re into snooping and old news, check the archives over at Whiny Baby

The Hardest Thing

SARAH CARTER

One of the biggest disappointments for me about having my first child was that I felt totally emotionally unprepared for it. I felt like the first new mom in history, despite knowing and loving mothers my entire life and watching my friends become mothers and being surrounded by mothers as they congratulated me and threw me baby showers and squealed as they bought my unborn child tiny clothes. After having my son, I spent months of my life rocking back and forth in a glider, cradling a baby I could not put down, wondering why no one had talked to me about new motherhood in any real sense ever.

The answer is, of course, that no one talks about it. Especially not in 2016, when everything about our lives as mothers is styled and “curated” and somehow – insanely – always white and shot through expensive camera lenses in great lighting and pinned on Pinterest. Motherhood today is a thing to crave, to achieve, to perfect, and to broadcast, but god forbid you want to have a conversation about what it actually means.

In a sense, there’s really no preparing a woman for how radically her life changes when she has a baby, because no baby brother or niece or pet dog or week-long baby bootcamp can prepare a person for the visceral feeling of love and terror that comes with being responsible for a human being for the rest of your life, the full year(s) of broken sleep, and the inability to do literally anything without strategizing. Plus, every woman’s experience will be different, so what’s been a struggle for me might not be a struggle for you. However, the simple truth is that we all struggle. Every mother. And it is so deeply important to talk about it.

So, I’m talking about it.

I could not have asked for a better baby. We are so fortunate. My son is sweet and loving and happy and adorable and the practicalities of taking care of him have never been difficult. He breastfed like a champ from birth, he never had colic, he has never cried for hours on end, he’s only stayed up all night twice. He is, however, very attached to me, so taking care of him has meant not taking care of me, in even the most basic ways. I’ve found myself practicing “biological parenting,” meaning I’ve exclusively breastfed my son (who has always refused bottles) and we bedshare (because he has also always refused to sleep in a separate space). I’ve been doing it all as nature intended for nearly ten months, and I am currently losing my shit.

For me, the hardest thing about becoming a mother has been the complete loss of self, and watching as my husband, my partner who decided to have this baby with me and who gets to revel in all the cute stuff, isn’t limited at all.

Things I can’t do when I want to – ever:

  1. Eat
  2. Sleep
  3. Go to the bathroom
  4. Bathe

I feel like a completely dried out husk of the person I was before my son was born. I don’t have the time to eat enough or drink enough water, I don’t sleep, my hair refuses to wash clean, I’m lucky if I can get a comb through it after a shower before my son’s patience runs out, and I have a lot of weird skin issues from the lack of sleep/perma-dehydration/stress, which has been a huge challenge to my self confidence and self worth.

I’m not sure what I expected of motherhood, but it wasn’t being nearly ten months postpartum and: more than ten pounds underweight and looking sick and skeletal, still nursing every 2-3 hours around the clock, not sleeping for longer than 4 consecutive hours in nearly a year, and sometimes getting up every 45 minutes all night long. Being a mom has been physically demanding in so many more ways than I could have possibly imagined that some days, I can’t believe who is looking back at me in the mirror. I am sick, I am tired, I am way too thin, and I am too sick and tired and busy to do anything about it.

In addition to changing my appearance, the very real physical burden of motherhood has made me resent my husband, who is wonderful and obsessed with us and desperate to help and occasionally so painfully clueless that it makes me want to cry. (And sometimes I do.) My husband, who did not birth the baby and who is not breastfeeding him and who works away during the week and SLEEPS THROUGH THE NIGHT, sometimes complains that he is tired because the baby woke him up or that his arms hurt because he held the baby for five minutes. Intellectually, I know he’s entitled to having his own feelings. Emotionally, I want to rip his face off, because I’m lucky to get three consecutive hours of sleep every night, I am quite literally drained by our nursing son all day long, and I’ve held him in my arms for hours every day of his life, while I work or attempt to clean or do laundry or grocery shop.

More broadly, the unfairness of the work of Mom in comparison to the work of Dad (in a biological sense) frustrates me and makes me angry. It makes me angry for all the mothers who have ever lived. I can’t believe that women have been doing this work for centuries, only to be beaten down, made to feel inferior, and categorized as weak or precious. I can’t believe new mothers still have so few outlets for discussing feeling so tired and sad and upset and that we’re made to feel like there must be something wrong with us for struggling.

And that is why I feel like we need The New Motherhood. At the very least, I needed it. I needed a place I could go to talk to other moms who could understand me and help lift me up. I needed people to tell me what I was feeling was a normal response to the very real, very overwhelming physical and mental stress new moms experience without placing judgment on the choices I was making. I needed to be seen as a person and not just as a parent.

If you do too, hopefully this can be your place.

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Sarah Carter is a PhD student, blogger, wife, expat, and new mom crazy person. She’s currently focused on getting The New Motherhood off the ground (while writing up her first PhD paper and taking care of her baby), but if you’re into snooping and old news, check the archives over at Whiny Baby