It was a grey March morning the first time I ran away. Ben was only 10 days old and my mother in-law was over, helping out. I think I said something like “I gotta get outta here” and was out the door within five minutes of her showing up. I used a nail appointment as my cover, but when I pulled into the parking lot of the nail salon, I found that couldn’t get out of the car. I sat paralyzed behind the steering wheel and just wept. I picked up the phone and unleashed my crazy post partum hormone amped-up state on my mom “This is too hard!!” I sobbed. “I can’t do this. He won’t stop screaming an I’m loosing it! I hate being a mother.” And I did. I hated it. I felt like a failure, and this child I had just birthed was a nightmare. I didn’t feel a connection to him and he just would not stop crying. None of this was going the way I had planned.
I worried that I was going to freak out again when I had my next baby. How was I going to deal with two babies under two, when I clearly could barely handle the infant stage the first time? Of course, I couldn’t tell this to anyone, because everyone loves a squishy newborn, don’t they? They just sleep, and coo, and sleep some more. Not me. I freaking hate newborns. The older Ben got, and the more expressive he became, and the easier and more fun he was. I can’t stand that newborns can’t tell you what is wrong. They cry when they are hungry. They cry when they are tired. They cry when they are not feeling well. They seem to cry just for the hell of it, sometimes! Newborns are not on a schedule for the first few weeks of their lives and my OCD Type-A personality cannot handle this. I need a routine. I am not a newborn person. And after my first baby, I am definitely not a newborn person.
I was a freak with my first baby. Ben had a short weekend length stay in the NICU, where the nurses weighed every diaper, keep a record of what they were, as well as noting when he ate and slept. This intense record keeping played right into my “need for order” and gave me a false sense of routine. I thought by looking at my cheat sheet, I would be able to anticipate Ben’s needs before he actually needed them, and I assumed that I would eventually form a pattern by deciphering when he last needed a diaper. I would study when he last ate and calculate that he would be hungry again in approximately 2.5 hours. It took me a week after we returned from the hospital for me to realize that I was wasting my time scribbling on a worthless piece of paper. Newsflash: New babies do not have a routine. My plan was foiled, and Ben was quickly becoming an increasingly fussy baby. I was having a hard time just “going with the flow”.
I knew Ben was a colicky baby by the time he was a week old. After some research, I had narrowed down his symptoms to be acid reflux. I knew something was wrong, but I put my faith into the fact that Ben’s pediatrician was an experienced doctor and knew it all. In reality, she may have a PhD, but she wasn’t living with a newborn who screamed 23 hours of the day. She talked to us about the “witching hour” and how some babies went a little nuts in the evening hours. He was gaining weight, and she wasn’t concerned because if he had reflux, he wouldn’t be eating as much and would be underweight. She convinced us that his behavior was normal and it would pass. Meanwhile, my husband and I were downright drowning at home. DROWNING. There is only so much crying you can listen to before you start to go crazy. I literally couldn’t leave the house with my baby because he would scream the entire time. He screamed in the car seat on the way, the entire time at our destination, and the entire ride home, and then continued once we got in the house. The only time he was quiet was when he was sleeping. It took three months of complaining before his pedi wrote a prescription for reflux meds.
Ben stopped screaming that same day.
I’ve changed my perspective with this second baby. After all of that worrying about what would happen when I added another little person to our family, I have been pleasantly surprised to find that in many ways, I’ve found it easier this second time around. Yes, adding another person to our family was a huge adjustment, but I’ve been able to relax a little and I’ve come to understand that kids are more resilient than you think. When we took Jack home from the hospital, I didn’t keep notes on when he ate and when I changed his diaper like a bumbling idiot. I’ve learned to chill out, and I’ve come into my own as a mother.
I didn’t wait three months to before demanding that Jack be put on reflux meds like I did with Ben. In fact, I didn’t even bring him in. I called the pedi one morning as soon as I started to see him exhibit the same symptoms as Ben was and told her to write the prescription. “Jack has reflux, can you please send in an Rx before your lunch break, I’ll be in town later today and can pick it up.” CLICK.
I’m not screwing around this time. I don’t have the patience, and I don’t have the time. And I have way more confidence than I did with my first baby. The fact that my children rely on my husband and I to be their sole advocates in this life is much clearer this time around. I certainly knew that with Ben, but I put too much faith into other people who I assumed “knew what they were doing.” the first time around. I was seeking advice from the wrong people, when I needed to be talking to my fellow new mamas who were experiencing the same things as me, right now, in real time.
The biggest positive change I’ve made is to talk with other new parents. In an age where everyone is bombarding your newsfeed with happy, serene pictures of their seemingly perfectly happy children, its easy to feel very much alone when you are sitting home with a screaming baby, hating life. I’ve found that by opening up to other parents, we’ve both benefited immensely, and I’ve become a better mother because of those other moms out there.
I joined an online moms group, all with babies who were born around the same time as Ben. I can honestly say I have found some serious friends on there. We ask advice, compare notes, celebrate milestones and complain when we are feeling beaten down. I also started taking it upon myself to reach out to new moms who I may not have been best friends with before in real life. I contacted a girl I knew who had an emergency C-section and let her know that I understood that the mental and physical toll something like that puts on you through isn’t easy. I shared that I cried every single day during my first month of motherhood. She was so grateful to hear from me and let me know that she was relieved to know that she wasn’t alone. There was an instant bond, and we’ve kept in contact ever since.
No one tells you about the helpless feelings that you’ll experience when you can’t get your new baby to stop crying. You don’t fully understand why they use sleep deprivation as a torture tactic until you haven’t slept in weeks. No one talks about post partum depression. No one talks about how lonely being a new mother can be sometimes, and no one tells you how much you’re marriage is going to instantly change over night. It’s true when they say it takes a village. I challenge you to reach out and search for your mama village of support. With experience comes confidence, and it’s important to let our fellow mamas know what they are feeling is normal. Share your story with someone else; you may be surprised to find out they’re feeling the exact same way. Tell them that it’s going to be okay, and tell them that it will get better. Tell them it’s ok to cry, to feel beat down, and to feel like they’re going crazy. Tell them that for every difficult moment they’ll encounter that there will be five rewarding moments behind it. Most importantly, remind them that they’re doing a good job. If I had opened up to someone sooner, I may not have run away in the first place.
Forget the mommy wars. Forget who is breast feeding and who is formula feeding. Ignore who chose to have a natural birth and who begged for drugs 10 minutes after checking into labor & delivery. Put the vaccine debate on the back burner and be a good mama to other mamas. Share your story and open up your heart. If you do this, I promise you that you’ll become a better mama at home. Xo