“I think we might have made a mistake,” I whispered conspiratorially to my husband as we lay side by side in the dark, mindlessly playing on our respective smartphones, while our 3-week-old son, Archer, grunted and snorted and whistled just two feet away in his bassinet. “Yeah. This sucks,” he whispered back.
Wait. What? He was supposed to disagree with me. Often the voice of positivity and reason, my husband was supposed to say, “It’s okay, honey. It will get better. You’re doing a great job.” But in that very moment, neither one of us thought anything was going to get better. Ever. Our beloved newborn was sucking the joy out of our lives and the life out of us.
As friends and acquaintances routinely brought by casseroles and freezer meals (God bless you all), I would grab some of the ladies before they could exit and confide my innermost thoughts. “Is this… normal?” I would guiltily ask. “YES!” each one assured me. “It gets better.” One JMB contributor even confessed that she absolutely hated the newborn stage with a vengeance. I found this to be a fleeting comfort in my new-mommy haze of overly dry-shampooed hair, dirty yoga pants, giant C-section panties and sore nips. I swore — legit swore — everyone was lying when they said it gets better. They’re just trying to justify their own terrible decision to have children, I thought. Well, I don’t buy it.
You see, the biggest shock to my system wasn’t the 17-hour labor or the lack of sleep. (I actually remember telling a close friend, “I’m fine. I’m getting at least four hours of sleep at a time. That’s so much!” Her response: “Do you even realize how crazy that sounds?”) The toughest thing to come to grips with was my loss of freedom. At the advanced maternal age of 35, I’ve had a lot of time to do whatever the [insert four-letter word] I wanted and pretty much only myself to think about. And then literally overnight, I couldn’t go to Starbucks or Target on a whim. I couldn’t binge-watch This Is Us or read a book or take a shower without being interrupted by piercing wails or feelings of guilt. And the worry… my God, the worry. Is he still breathing? Did I break him? What’s that strange red spot? Why is he making such WEIRD NOISES when he sleeps, and are they normal? The pediatrician is going to kill me if I call one more time to ask about the color of his crap.
I am fully aware these are luxurious problems to have, but during those first six weeks of parenthood, I genuinely questioned whether raising a child was all it was cracked up to be. A friend who had a 4-month-old at the time would often text me off the ledge during some of those first 2 a.m. feedings. “It is so very worth it,” she would say, relaying her own experience. “I promise.” I white-knuckled her words and prayed to God she was right.
And then one day, my son looked me in the eyes and smiled. Then he laughed. Then he slept for a full eight-hour stretch. Then my nipples stopped feeling like they were on the verge of falling off. Then I stopped crying on a daily basis, my C-section scar fully healed, and I was clear to return to the gym and do other things adults do when the child is asleep. I began to feel like a human being again and started to embrace motherhood. My son seemed less like a sobbing, sharting, suckling sack of potatoes and more like a super-cool little person. And the best part? My husband and I were suddenly as infatuated with him as we were the day he was born, if not more. (Probably more.) We found ourselves accepting, managing and even (dare I say it) enjoying our new identities as parents, semi-seamlessly integrating our son into some of the activities we relished in our B.A. (Before Archer) days such as hiking, walking on the beach and exploring new brunch spots. Our son is a love like we’ve never experienced, and I often find myself pausing (usually when he’s quietly asleep) to whisper a token of gratitude to the man upstairs for this precious boy and this life.
So here I am from the other side to tell any new mamas, that yes, it truly does get better. No, it’s not always perfect, but such is life. Last weekend, we had to pack our brunch to go, because our almost-5-month-old kiddo decided we were done eating after two bites. And there’s also the dreaded 4-month sleep regression that has slapped us in the face, not to mention the teething, but that all gets better, too. So I hear.