Monday, July 22, 2013

Becoming a Mother, Staying Human

In December I became a mother to the most beautiful, precious, wonderful baby. I'm sure every mother in the world feels the same about their own child(ren). Since then, I've enjoyed every moment and every event that being a mother has brought me. Well, almost every moment.

Now, 7 months later I still marvel at my beautiful son. Every day he is doing something different. Every day he changes and grows and it is an incredible thing to witness up close. So many days I just find myself marveling at him. But not every day.

For the last few weeks I have been struggling to get through each day. Baby has been sick, and teething which makes him clingy and fussy and needy all of which are a departure from his normal happy content playful self. Every moment seemed to be a battle of some kind. When I picked him up he would immediately flop over my arm toward the ground making it impossible to carry him, so I would set him down. When I set him down he would cry and crawl over to my feet and try to climb back up. He would refuse to nap, even when he was exhausted. So I would nurse him to sleep. I would nurse and he would sleep. But if I moved, or sneezed, or the dogs shook their ears he would wake up. And so we went, all week long, in this never ending dance of up and down, asleep and awake, nursing and crying. Days ran together with nights. Sleep became something I used to do, and I think I showered maybe four times in two weeks. Saying the chores I normally accomplish while he plays or sleeps didn't get done would be an understatement. Even simple tasks like making the grocery list or turning the dogs out became battles. Let me tell you, it's not easy to write a list with a 7 month old on your lap trying to chew the pen.

Don't get me wrong, not every single moment was terrible. He got a new tooth! And he started crawling up on his hands and knees instead of on his belly. And there were still plenty of heart-melting smiles and time-stopping giggles. Those are the wonderful moments. But sitting on the couch holding a sleeping baby when you're really just desperate to use the bathroom is not wonderful.

And after days and days with no time to myself, I found that I was really starting to resent my son. And in turn, my husband. And basically my life. I resented not having 5 minutes to myself. I resented the baby for getting his needs met while mine went by the wayside. I resented his ability to cry when he is upset or lonely, while I must devote my time to him regardless of how I feel. Then I started to resent my husband. I resented that he would come home and after 10 minutes ask me to ''watch the kid" so he could use the bathroom. What a novel idea: using the bathroom while someone else comforts the fussy baby...I resented his daily shower, and his full nights of sleep, and how nice it must be to come home after a long day and have someone else cook you dinner. I was just resenting life.

Then, of course, the guilt set in. As if feeling resentful all day every day isn't bad enough. I felt guilty for not having the house cleaned up or the laundry done. I felt guilty about not getting out to run errands and for having no groceries, and for not cooking dinner. Guilt for not taking the baby to the park. Guilt for feeling selfish about needing a shower or to go poop. Guilt for resenting life.

Last Wednesday things finally took a turn for the better. Not because Baby is less clingy or fussy. Not because he's napping more or we are back to our normal routine. Because I discovered that I'm still human.

Wednesday afternoon I was relegated to another day trapped on the couch with nothing but bad daytime T.V. while Baby slept. I looked longingly at his baby quilt, trying to dream up a way to move him onto it without waking him. The dogs were whining at the back door to go outside. The kitchen table had no room to eat for the crap that had accumulated there. And don't even get me started on the kitchen floor...As I sat there blaming all of these things on my peaceful sleeping baby I just began to feel like a complete failure as a mother. I wondered why I couldn't just enjoy holding my son, or forget about the other things and take a nap. But I couldn't. And then more guilt for those shortcomings. As I was willing myself out of resentment and guilt and into sleep it hit me: I'm human. Yes I'm a mother, but I'm still just human.

I have needs, and when those needs aren't being met I can grin and bear it for a time. But after that time it is only natural to feel resentful or selfish. Wishing I could have time for myself doesn't make me a bad mother. It makes me human. And on the contrary, I believe it is evidence that I am a good mother, because I will still meet the needs of my son before myself, even when that's not what I WANT to do. As I pondered this, the resentment and guilt seemed to melt away. My needs didn't melt away. Neither did the mess in my house or the piles of dirty laundry. And to own the truth, the resentment still lingered a bit. I still wanted to set the sleeping baby down so I could go pee, but the guilt was gone.

And then, as if God was just reinforcing my new epiphany the most beautiful thing happened. As I sat there, resigning myself to another hour on the couch something startled Baby from his sleep. His eyes flew open and he looked scared. His face crinkled up and he drew in his breath to cry and then, he looked at me. His expression changed from fear to recognition. He give a tiny whimper as he let out his breath, but then he gave a tiny smile and closed his eyes. He snuggled in a little closer and drifted back to sleep.

As I sat in awe of the silent conversation that had just passed between us I was so thankful to be trapped on the couch with nothing but bad daytime T.V. It wasn't a waste of time to hold my sleeping son. Vacuuming the kitchen floor was not more important. What really mattered was that when he woke up I was there, to look down at him and whisper 'shhh'. For him to see that he was not alone, and that he was safe. So that he would know.

On Saturday morning Mom came over to tell me about a meeting she had just been to. I took the opportunity (as Boo was at the movies) to ask her to watch Baby so I could take a shower. She of course agreed. I took a long, hot, leisurely shower. As I toweled off I could hear Baby crying downstairs, so I dressed and headed down. I scooped him up off the floor and sat down to nurse him to sleep. And I realized, though I may resent it at times, this is a privilege that no other person in the world has.

These last weeks have been tough. But they have reinforced what I already knew: that becoming a mom is ongoing. Sure I became a mother the moment my son was born, but I'm still learning how to be his mom. I also learned something new: that becoming a mom doesn't replace being human. There will still be days when I have needs, and days when I wish those needs could come first. So I will work on voicing those needs and taking the help that is offered. And in the meantime, I can enjoy the excuse to sit on the couch and watch T.V.


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