7AM again and the nightshift is just ending. I have been awake nearly as much as I have been asleep, but I don’t mind, this is my favorite part of our routine. Instead of lying in the basinet, she is next to me, our last attempt at sleep before morning is officially here and she refuses to lie in bed. Her eyes are open and staring at me, her warm breath on my cheek, our faces just inches from one another. The sweet smell of baby fills my being. She is happy, I am happy, it is one of those moments where nothing else matters.
In the last weeks of pregnancy people constantly told me, “Enjoy being pregnant, your life will never be the same.” As silly as it sounds now, those words filled me with trepidation. I was overjoyed to become a mom, but suddenly I found myself clinging to the life my husband and I shared alone. What I did not realize is I would never want my life to be the same.
In the last four weeks I have discovered many other things I did not expect about becoming a parent, some trivial, some life-changing:
1. The body changes during birth and recovery are more manageable than they sound. All the tongue-in-cheek blog posts, while honest and enlightening, made the transformation seem like the world’s worst torture. While it has definitely not been a day at the beach, all of the (sometimes intense) physical discomforts have been overshadowed by the excitement of being a new parent. In other words, ladies, don’t worry about all the gruesome side effects, you won’t mind nearly as much as you thought you would.
2. Hormones. I did not expect to cry as much as I have in the last few weeks. I cry when I’m happy, sad, scared, frustrated, overwhelmed, watching a movie, watching a sitcom… I will probably cry at some point while writing this post.
3. No matter how much thought goes into each parenting decision, someone will think you are wrong. Sleeping arrangements, breast feeding, supplementation, you name it, someone out there will have a very different opinion and not be shy about vocalizing it. This has been one of the hardest lessons of new parenthood. I did not expect to care what others think. I am only now, after a month, beginning to emerge from the anxiety of not pleasing everyone.
4. Nothing in my life has been as animalistic as having a child. From the intensity of birth to the insane feeding schedules and even more insane sleeping routines, I have never felt so connected to my physical self. Even more shocking is the intensity behind my need to protect my child. When the dogs move too quickly in her vicinity, an instinctual ability to destroy any threat rises inside me. This power, while somewhat superhuman, is so primal it scares me.
5. Sleep is relative. When I heard friends talk about how they were still getting 7-8 hours of sleep a night with a new baby but that the sleep was broken up, I thought, alright, no biggie, I already wake up 5 times a night to pee while pregnant. What I did not expect was how difficult it would be to feed a restless baby for hours on end in the middle of the night then go back to sleep for an hour and a half and wake up to do it all over again two or three more times. But, here is the magic. Somehow, by 10-11AM, I feel human again because those sleep chunks really do add up. I am both exhausted and rested beyond what I expected.
6. Yoga has made my postpartum life better. I am not supposed to exercise for another couple weeks. I thought I would ignore this advice, but the truth is, my body is not ready to move more than required. However, yoga has taught me to find peace in even the smallest moments. I slip into meditation while I nurse. I let go of every muscle in my body for savasana when I lie down in bed. I breathe deeply while she screams. It all helps.
7. Discomfort over others holding my baby. I thought I would have no problem passing the baby around. Instead, I find myself waiting for people to ask to hold her and then insisting they wash their hands and grilling them about their recent health histories. Then, when they are holding the baby, I watch where they put their hands, cringing if they touch their eyes or scratch their face, uncomfortable if they touch their lips to her, or worse yet, stick their finger in her mouth…
8. Extreme pleasure over others holding my baby. Yes, I know what I just described above, but there is also a true joy in watching the people I love pour their love into her, kisses and all. At family dinners, she is adored, half a dozen faces surrounding her in those rare newborn eyes-open moments. My heart is warm in knowing how many people she has brought happiness. I knew others were excited, but I did not know how happy a new baby could make an entire clan of people. So, I guess I am just going to have to be a little less neurotic about sharing germs.
Above all, I did not expect becoming a parent to happen as naturally as it has. I had so many concerns before we decided to have a baby. I worried about finances and other life goals. I was concerned I would stop writing or waste all the time I spent setting up my classroom and establishing myself as a teacher. What I did not expect is that none of this really mattered. It could all be figured out with time and the things I thought were most important really pale in comparison to the intense emotions of parenthood. I would not trade what we have now for anything.