Pre-parents have to be the most optimistic folks in the world. “I’m not going to disappear!” I told friends while pregnant. “I refuse to be one of those new moms who vanishes the moment the baby’s born. You’ll see me at all the same parties, I’ll go out to dinner, we’ll have you guys over – it will be exactly the same…only Seabass will be there, too.”
Well, shoot. I wish I could be That Mom. The one who looks stunning in a breezy summer dress at the restaurant, holding her bright-eyed baby loosely on her lap while sipping Prosecco, eating a chopped salad, and laughing contagiously. The one who has no fear of a full calendar. The one who puts her baby in the car seat and drives to Timbuktu while he sleeps peacefully. The one who can nurse at the cafe while simultaneously reading the NY Times. Who uses the baby as a weight for bicep curls. Who showers. Who even looks showered.
Coming to terms with the fact that I am not That Mom – and that Seabass is not that baby – has been a big, nasty adjustment. It all started with Jake’s paternity leave.
He’d been approved for three weeks’ vacation time when the baby came, and we envisioned the four of us (me, Jake, C and Murph) going to the beach, wine tasting, and completing longstanding projects around the house. Instead, we spent those 21 days bouncing on the exercise ball, changing diapers, nursing, swaddling, sleeping, and guessing a lot. There were whole days spent in pajamas. Whole days spent with furry teeth.
I wish I could say it got a lot better after those first few weeks, but it didn’t. Seabass started waking up, revealing his true nature. He screamed going on and coming off the breast (reflux), which meant I didn’t feel comfortable nursing in public. He often couldn’t relax without being swaddled, which meant we couldn’t put him in the car seat to go grocery shopping. His naps were sporadic at best, and they would only happen if he was at home in his crib. He cried if he wasn’t eating. He cried if he wasn’t sleeping. The one “silver bullet” to keep him from howling was (is) the exercise ball, which I cannot and will not bring with me everywhere I go.
So instead, we stay home.
You know, everything in our society tells women that we can “have it all.” As a new mom, I’ve been scolded countless times that if I don’t take care of myself, I can’t take care of the baby. But what exactly constitutes self-care? Is it the bottom level of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, including the basics of eating, sleeping and hygiene? That’s not usually the context, no. When people recommend that I “take care of myself,” it usually implies doing something I want to do, rather than something I need to do. Very different.
And also, I’ve decided, not good for me.
How do I know this? Whenever I “take care of myself” by making Seabass revolve around me – whether by working out, seeing friends, or cooking something other than Hamburger Helper – the baby flips out and inflicts pain back onto me. I feel like we spend the next 24 hours re-calibrating through weeping and gnashing of teeth. It’s dreadful.
But if I look first to the baby’s needs – a solid nap in his crib at the regular time, a long nursing in the rocking chair, keeping that stupid exercise ball within arms’ reach 24 hours a day – I find that my life is more serene and manageable, even if it has become tragically small. (Approximately 900 square feet small!) While parenting Seabass has meant an abrupt cessation of life as I once knew it, the more I’ve embraced the fact that I can’t be That Mom, the richer my life has become.
By no means is this a painless lesson, though. The day I realized that having Seabass prohibited me from leaving the house, I sat down at my laptop to decline a full inbox worth of invitations for lunches, going-away parties, bridal showers, movies, writing work, walks on the beach, etc. Fat tears squiggled down my cheeks as I repeated the sad refrain: “I’m sorry. I just can’t commit to anything right now. Maybe next December?” But the moment I was truthful with them and myself was the first really freeing moment of my foray into parenthood thus far.
So, to all Those Moms out there who manage to do it all – have it all – while the baby just comes along for the ride, congratulations! You are blessed. But to the rest of you who struggle disproportionately with babies who can’t and won’t adjust, I grant you permission to go underground. Forget having it all. Do your best to enjoy having what you have.
See you next spring. Maybe summer.