One of the biggest surprises about having a baby is how much I... well....liked it.
Isn't that weird that I didn't expect to like it? At least not at first. I thought it would be so hard, I thought I would never sleep, I thought I would hate my husband and never leave the house. Before I had June I had built up in my head the most depressing and miserable view of motherhood. Is it any surprise I was reluctant to start a family? Who wants to sign up for depression and misery?
I didn't expect to like motherhood because of the experiences I had heard from so many other people. I assumed every difficulty they experienced would also be a difficulty I would experience.
This hasn't only happened with motherhood. It happened when I got married. My expectations for marriage were totally eschew. I listened to everybody else's experiences and assumed mine would be the same. Some things were much better than people had told me, other things were harder. Greg and I are both stubborn people and when we argued and fought our first year of marriage I thought we were headed straight for divorce. I compared my experiences to the others' experiences and assumed erroneously that because nobody else's marriage seemed to be like ours, that ours was the one that wasn't doing it right. It took me a few years to realize that if my marriage isn't like everybody else's it's okay.
It also happened when I decided to go into teaching. My experiences weren't what others' experiences were at all. I remember when I was a sophomore in college I told a friend that I was going into teaching. She had started teaching the year before, and by Christmas she had quit. She told me it was the hardest and most underpaid job in the country- not even close to worth it. She warned me of how awful kids were these days, how you get no respect, how she worked 65 hours a week. She about dang near convinced me to quit right then and there. Now, after five years of teaching I can confidently say that her experiences are not my experiences. I've never worked close to 65 hours a week, I get nights, weekends, and summers off, and I get to hang out with young, energetic people every day. I love it and count my lucky stars that she didn't convince me right then and there to throw in the towel.
I share this all because I think there may be some danger in our constantly sharing our life stories. Mostly, I think it is good- I love the friendship and camaraderie that comes from a pursuit such as blogging. I think as a whole the human race thrives off of sharing experiences. I often read posts and think, "Yes! I understand! I relate completely to this!"
But. I also think it's okay if we don't relate. There is no one universal life experience. When we tell our stories, I think we must be careful to emphasize that this is our experiences, and others may have totally different experiences. There is danger in the constant comparison of stories- marriage wasn't as easy for me as it was for others. Is there something wrong with me? I like teaching much more than my friend. What if she had convinced me to quit? Would I have ever gotten pregnant if I continued to listen to the many difficult experiences of motherhood? I almost feel like every story shared, every blog post written should come with a huge disclaimer at the bottom: THIS WAS MY EXPERIENCE. MY EXPERIENCE IS NOT YOUR EXPERIENCE.
All of these ideas started swirling around in my head last week after I read this post on motherhood. It is entitled New Motherhood is Hard Enough: Say No to Visitors. The title is negative and bossy. In one sentence it manages to tell new and expectant mothers that 1) motherhood sucks and 2) don't let anyone visit you. (For the record, I LOVED having visitors the first weeks after June's birth. It made me feel very loved and cared for and like many people wanted to share in the joy of June's birth with me.) I wouldn't have minded the article so much if the author had merely explained why motherhood was hard for her, but instead she acts as if this is and will be the experience for every new mother. There is no other way. She opens the post by stating:
Until I had my son, it had never occurred to me that the first days, weeks, and months of being new parents would be sheer hell. I mean it. I don't envy any of you who are currently trying make it through the first two months of parenthood. It's difficult. Don't believe anyone who says otherwise. They're lying. It's beyond difficult.
I respect and sympathize with the author's experiences- because of issues breastfeeding it does sound like it was an extremely difficult couple of months. But I don't think it's fair that she asserts that because the experience was "sheer hell" for her, it will be for everyone else too. I can say confidently and truthfully that her experience is not my experience.
The past two months of my life have not been beyond difficult. They have not been sheer hell. Not every baby has trouble breastfeeding and not ever baby has colic. Not every baby cries inconsolably for hours. Not every woman has to pump every two hours to keep her milk supply up. I would even dare to say that these are exceptions to motherhood, not the rule.
These thoughts have been weighing heavy on my mind for a few days because I know a lot of people who are pregnant or who are thinking of becoming pregnant. (Elisabeth! April! Danica!) When they ask me how motherhood is, I see the absolute relief in their eyes when I tell them how much I love it. It's like they brace themselves for the bad and are surprised when I am so positive about the experience. I don't know why we hear so many of the bad experiences and so few of the good experiences, but I do have a couple of theories.
1) I think people enjoy sharing their horror stories. Maybe it's a point of pride for them to some extent to show what they have endured. Maybe they are seeking sympathy or assurance or love. "I was up with my child for four hours last night. You don't know how tired I am. He would not stop crying!" or "I haven't showered for days. I don't remember what it feels like to get dressed before noon." I think people share these things innocently enough, seeking attention and love and perhaps much needed help, but they don't realize how negative it sounds or how much it can impact those people who haven't experienced their experiences yet.
2) I think in general we tend to share negative experiences over positive experiences. Our brains react stronger to negative emotions, so I think this plays into it. I also think there may be a certain amount of guilt associated with positive experiences. Maybe I shouldn't share how good my baby is because it will sound like I'm bragging? Maybe people with difficult babies will think that I am rubbing it in their faces? Last week June slept through the night four times. The other three nights she woke up around 4:00 am, ate, and went right back to bed. When she eats I pull her into bed with me and I pretty much sleep through the whole feeding. It is usually a pretty easy process. I don't lose that much sleep at night- it certainly isn't the up four or fives times in the night that I was expecting. The first night she slept through the night I wanted to shout it from the mountain tops, share it all over social media, call my friends and tell them the good news. But I worried that people would be bugged by me. How dare I share that a baby can be easy and fun and that someone who gave birth nine weeks ago can still be getting a good night's rest? I haven't even earned motherhood if it's that easy for me!
And so, for these reasons, I didn't share it. I didn't tell anyone besides my mom that June had slept through the night.
But then I started thinking about it. What about my cousins and friends who are expecting babies? What about my best friend who had an extremely difficult first baby and now assumes all future babies will be as difficult? Don't they deserve to hear some of the good experiences? It isn't guaranteed to be their future experience, but they at least deserve that those good experiences are possible.
And so, I share my experience, braggy parts and all:
- June eats passionately and heartily every three to four hours. She latches great and takes from a bottle when I need to pump.
- Sometimes she gets fussy at night- usually between 7 and 9 pm.
- In the mornings and afternoons she usually takes big, long naps- between two and three hours. I am able to get lots of stuff while she sleeps- blogging, cleaning the house, and even sometimes a nap for myself.
- It is absolutely amazing to watch Greg be a dad and I feel like our relationship is stronger than ever as we both ooo and ahhhh over our baby together.
- Greg and I still get out and do lots of activities- we are not at all stuck at home. If anything, having a baby makes us more inclined to get out. We go on walks, go to the park, go to the fair, go camping.
- At its very worst, I was getting up in the night twice to feed June. At its best, she sleeps from 9pm until 5am and I sleep right along with her- eight or nine hours of solid sleep.
- June goes everywhere with me- she's my little right hand man who helps me do errands, takes the dog for a walk with me, and even supervises from the swing while I make dinner. It's fun having a companion for everything.
- Every other day I go to work and she stays in the daycare. I do miss her, but am so thankful to be able to continue teaching and I cherish my relationships with students and other teachers. I still get plenty of adult interaction.
- June is almost always happy, and is a very easy baby. She likes to be held, but doesn't demand it except for at night when putting pressure on her tummy helps her to calm down and fall asleep. She does get gassy at night and I have gone almost completely off caffeine to help with the fussy evenings. It is much easier now and I'm now the not-so-proud drinker of caffeine free diet coke.
- She loves baths and showers and could sit in the warm water all day.
- Every time she gets in the car or the stroller, she falls asleep.
- I love to share June with other people and think it is very sweet when friends and family want to hold her. She goes to anyone and stares right at them with her big googly eyes, and I swear she could make any child hater absolutely baby hungry.
- Aside from the first two weeks of June's life when I was recovering from the C section, I have never gone the day without showering or getting dressed.
- Having June has been the most amazing experience of my life- her presence enhances every part of my life. Everything is more fun with June, and I am absolutely amazed by how much joy I get from being her mom. I wish every person in the world could experience what this is like.
That is my experience.