23 weeks pregnant with Ryan - dreaming of the future
A couple of weeks ago, a friend of mine forwarded an article that she thought would be topical for my blog. After reading it, I realized it was the perfect piece to complement what has been a running draft in my head for a while now.
Over the past few months, I watched as our friends finally welcomed a daughter after several years of incredible heartbreak and loss. I listened with chills as a family member recounted the day she got “the call” that a baby was born and that she and her husband were the couple chosen to adopt him. I also had a great many conversations with first-time parents who felt isolated, guilty and confused as to why they tried for years to realize their dream of parenthood, only to find that in reality, their emotions didn’t come close to matching those expectations.
I am not going to quote the article (please read it – it’s quite interesting) but it centers on one woman’s purposeful decision not to have children as well as a national study which concludes that having children is inversely correlated with emotional well-being. This study is counterintuitive as people have long thought that having a family is the key to a happy life, but this may not be the case as nearly 1 in 5 American women now end their childbearing years without having a child, according to U.S. Census data.
I speak daily to seasoned parents who will readily admit that their children are the force behind most of their stress, who complain that there isn’t enough time in the day for their marriage or personal interests as a result of having children, but who also will enthusiastically agree that having children has been the single most wonderful thing they’ve ever done.
It’s not surprising that parenthood causes more marital dissatisfaction, more personal dissatisfaction and less time for personal fulfillment. Being a parent is a sacrifice, and not just for 18 years. It is a full-time job, a constant cause for worry and a complete change of life from the one we enjoyed pre-parenthood. Parenting is not for everyone, but for me, it is a deeper love than I’ve ever felt, a joy that I can’t explain and a feeling that my life is about something larger than myself.
It wasn’t always that way, though. As many of you know, eight days after Ryan’s birth, my life spun out of control. My lifelong dream of motherhood did not nearly match the reality. Ryan was not a difficult baby, he did not have medical issues, but my hormones, coupled with my family history of anxiety and depression, created a tornado of imbalance within my brain and resulted in a blackness (Postpartum Depression) that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.
Ryan the fetus at 30 weeks gestation
Everybody asks you if you’re blissfully in love with your baby. Nobody asks you if the baby is colicky or if you’re feeling depressed or alone.
Everybody asks you how the baby sleeps. Nobody asks you if you’re having trouble falling asleep.
Everybody asks you if you’re taking nice walks and enjoying these first few weeks. Nobody asks you if you’re having trouble getting out of bed.
Nobody asks you if your husband is having a hard time adjusting to this new life.
If you’re feeling trapped.
If you feel a disconnect with your baby.
Of course, many people make it through those first few months feeling tired but content, and are able to balance this new chapter with amazing grace. But there are people like me who simply didn’t experience it like that.
We didn’t understand how life would ever be the same. Our marriages. Our friendships. Our time. And it won’t be. And it’s too scary to even speak aloud. We didn’t yet know how fast our baby would smile and how that would make all the difference. How a belly laugh would be the greatest sound in the world. How sitting, standing and walking would come in stages and with each stage it gets better and better. How we would fit into each other’s lives. It didn’t come naturally to some of us.
The article cites how parents in the U.S. lack the proper “support, child care and assistance” to raise a child. How the government should “implement and subsidize more ‘kid-friendly’ policies to help families thrive”. I agree. We’ve long heard that it takes a village to raise a child. In generations past, there were family members in close proximity and a sense of community that we rarely see today. Parents today are more isolated than ever, family members are often spread throughout the country, there is an overwhelming amount of competition and judgment from other parents that is counterintuitive to what new parents need most – support.
My friend who sent the article shared her emotions from her first six months of motherhood. She wrote,
“I like the take-home message that the parenting “ideal” doesn’t necessarily bring instant gratification of parental bliss. I wish someone had given me more of that realistic expectation up front, since I expected all instant happiness and smiles on Day 1 from a happy, smiling baby…when those smiles still take considerable effort to generate. Instead, for the first six months, I internalized it all as though I was doing something wrong, or not coping well enough as a new mom. At the six-month mark, an older family friend finally looked me in the eye and validated my feelings that, no, it’s not me, and yes, my baby is in fact a handful – even for a baby. From that single day of validation, I felt as though a veil lifted, as the sentiment alone was the emotional support I had needed all along.”
This begs the question – why do we treat new mothers as if they have just won a prize? Having a baby is surely cause for celebration – but those first few days and weeks are NOT a walk in the park and many times people forget that a newborn isn’t representative of the “family” you always dreamed of (in my case, I dreamed of family vacations with elementary-aged kids who walk and talk, not so much alien-looking newborns). It’s not an automatic wish fulfilled – it’s a complete life-changer that turns everything you knew upside down and inside out. Surely, the extra lumps and bumps left on our bodies, the lack of sleep, the new responsibilities, the shift in priorities, the milk leaking from our breasts and the sounds of crying that permeate our homes is enough to make you want to run away… so why is it that we shove these images aside and focus instead on a bliss and happiness that eludes most of us?
32 weeks and blissfully happy
I will admit, the second time around I did not suffer Postpartum Depression and although I was tired and lumpy, leaking and hormonal, I already experienced what it was like to be a parent so it was not a shock to my system and I was happy and balanced. Oh, plus I was on medication.
But anyway, I think if we all gave new parents-to-be a little more of a realistic picture of those first weeks when they ask instead of suggesting they go to a movie and take naps now while they can, we would be doing them a great service.
Yes, I do believe children make us happy. But not necessarily right away. And not necessarily every day. Parenthood is not for everyone. It is definitely a choice I am happy I made, but the happiness wasn’t automatic and it took a lot of work by me as a person, a wife and a Mom. I slowly but surely found my way. Let’s help our friends who are about to enter into this new phase of life see a more realistic picture of the happiness that is to come.