This post is long overdue. Dear expecting as well as new parents, please read this, because I know that you will find something helpful in the following paragraphs. I will keep it as short as I can because, I mean, who has the time until the kids go to college?!
Yes, I am ecstatic! Yes, I am lonely.
A dear friend emailed me a few weeks ago. She asked how I was doing, so I told her the truth. At that moment my truth was that my baby was going through another growth spurt, so he had woken up every hour throughout the night to feed, and it took him a while to go back to sleep. Dear expecting parent: This means that my eyes were closed probably 10 minutes every hour throughout the 12 hour-period which makes…uhm…120 minutes, meaning 2 hours in total. Please keep in mind that this 2-hour period is not happening at once, but I wake up after a 10-minute bliss to feed and calm the baby. Dear new parent: You probably know what I am talking about.
During the day I am alone, so I have no time to close my eyes, have a shower, I don’t know, go to the gym to ease the stress. Besides, the poor little guy is still uneasy due to the growth spurt, and we are in this together, aren’t we? So I am absorbing his stress too, so to speak.
So I wrote to my friend that it was harder than usual these days. I wrote that I was feeling lonely sometimes, because I was still new to the West Coast, and was still adjusting to being a mum. Everyone else was out at work, and I spent my whole day, and every day, without talking to a grown-up. I wrote that I sometimes felt “low-spirited”, especially if I did not have a shower that morning!
She wrote back right away to say that she was shocked. She was so very sorry to hear that I was unhappy, but was also surprised because she thought I would be ecstatic to have my baby. Besides, I looked so happy in the pictures she had seen, how could this be?!
“You are the sky. Everything else – it’s just the weather”
My friend’s response reminded me of this wonderful quote from Pema Chödrön: “You are the sky. Everything else – it’s just the weather”. Along the same lines is this great animation created by Headspace. What these wise people are reminding us is that our general mental state is like a gorgeous blue sky. The weather can and will change- sometimes from morning to noon! But these changes do not mean much, as our sky is stable. It is always there to go back to. To look back at.
This is true not only for new parents but for everyone. It’s just more emphasized when our life has rapidly changed, and having a baby does change one’s life. And we all (should) know the lack of social support for new parents. From childcare to postpartum care, support is costly and is not always available to those in need. And even when our financial (and/or social) status is helpful enough, everyone seems to care only about the baby, don’t they? Once we give birth, the whole world seems to forget about the exhausted, recovering, person who herself has just been born as a mum*. What is more, the constantly changing ‘weather’ conditions can be overwhelming. We may have emotions in conflict with each other, and may feel defeated, lonely and desperate, even though we are rocking this parenting business!
Emotions in conflict? Let me give you some examples
What does it seem like to have conflicting emotions as a new parent? Let me give you a few examples from our household.
I want someone to take care of my baby so I can write this blog, work on my book, have a shower, go on a date with my husband, exercise, go to get my nails done, and, of course, sleep. (By the way, I am using my left hand now to type these, even though I am right-handed. The little guy likes to sleep on my right arm!). Then someone does offer help, and I am constantly worried about the baby, and missing him, and wanting him to miss me as much, and I end up checking the time so I can get back to him.
Another example: I look forward to him falling asleep during the day so I can get work done, but I am so uninterested in work when the time comes and I watch a show and finish a box of cookies instead. Oh, oh, and at that very moment, I am also “wanting my pre-pregnancy body back”, as in, I want to watch my diet and sleep as much as I can and exercise and so forth.
I am perfectly happy staying home to take care of him while reminiscing to have an office and colleagues and a social life outside of mum groups.
I would love love love the little guy to fall asleep as easily with his dad as he does when he is with me. But, at the same time, I love to know that he is still most comfortable with mummy. I wake up moody when I have had two hours of sleep at night. But the clouds disappear the moment he gives me his gorgeous smile.
How to deal with conflicting emotions?
I can go on with examples of such moments. But I promised a short-ish post. Besides, it is hard to type with my left hand! So I will tell you right away what has helped me during these times of challenging, heightened, and conflicting emotions: Communication.
I know it sounds easy and/or like a cliché, but it is not easy to communicate when we are confused about what we want and feel and need. Before being able to communicate with others, before telling them how we feel and how they can help us, it is crucial that we accept where we are. It is crucial that we allow ourselves to have mixed feelings and conflicting emotions. In other words, communicate with ourselves first. Once we accept where we are, and realize that we are not alone in this challenge, that others also feel multiple emotions simultaneously, and that this does not make us less of a parent, it is easier to communicate with our loved ones.
I wrote back to my friend that I can be upset today, but this does not negate my joyous, blue sky. I told her that I am grateful every day for my little bundle of happiness, but I should be allowed, just like anyone else, to feel sad or lonely and even angry from time to time. I also thanked her for “listening”.
I think the more people share their emotions, the easier it will be for expecting parents, once they have their babies. I wish I knew more about the postpartum period- the fourth trimester , especially! So for our sake (to get the support and understanding we need from our loved ones) and for the sake of future parents, I suggest we continue to communicate.
*I say that the mum “herself” has just been born, but one does not have to identify as a woman, to become a mum. Mother, I think, is a verb.