- Unpack my old work clothes and figure out what still fits
- Figure out when I’m going to get to the gym
- Get my hair cut
- Get my oil changed
- Enroll my husband into my health plan
- Clean this house like there’s no tomorrow
- Sleep (what is that?)
- Find my breast pump
- Resign myself to the fact that I have to go back to work
I think every parent has moments where they contemplate the grass is greener scenario for the things their children haven’t yet figured out. For the colicky child, the parents wish for an easily soothed baby. For the fussy eater, the parents wish for a kid who’ll eat anything. For me, I yearn for sleep.
If you’ve read my blog, you’ll likely already be aware of how little sleep we get in our house. My first born child was never a good sleeper. As soon as I discovered the beauty of melatonin laced honey cough syrup, I’d been using it as a crutch to help my child get on a sleep schedule. Judge if you want, but it worked for us.
When the second child came, we vowed not to make the same mistakes with sleep training that we did the first time. Luckily, the baby is a pretty good sleeper to begin with, so we’ve had pretty good success in that arena so far. One night, they both slept all night long, and I woke feeling like a million bucks. I know this isn’t going to last, but damn it feels good to get one good night.
(For those reading this who may not be aware, these posts are scheduled from my maternity leave, so what goes live in May actually took place last year. I’m doing this so I can catch up on my real life nonsense and still keep an active blog. I’ve had a few comments lately confused about the material I’m posting and when it goes live, so I thought I’d add this caveat to one of the more obvious posts. Thanks as always for reading, and bearing with me as my life undergoes yet another major shift! Love, Hajisaurus)
My second (and last) son was born in the middle of October, which is nice, all things considered. Fall is a great time of year, my favorite, honestly. It also meant that he’d be a teeny weeny around about the time we’d be expected to turn up at family events. Thanksgiving was the first time he’d meet most of my husband’s extended family.
Still reeling from the adjustment, we loaded up the car on Wednesday night and headed out into the world, planning on staying two nights at my in-laws for the holiday. Sure enough, the baby slept as long as the car kept moving, just like his brother did when he was small. What we didn’t count on, though, was the construction on the Pennsylvania turnpike drawing four lanes of traffic down to one, compounded by all the cars travelling for the holiday.
Right on cue, my son began crying, as tiny babies are wont to do. But the thing about newborns is their squall is so unbearable, that any sane human can barely stand it. There’s some evolutionary crap in there so we don’t leave them to die. But I wasn’t leaving him to die. I just couldn’t get out of the car and go to him, because we’re stuck in traffic. It went on for almost 45 minutes, stressing out not just me, but everyone in the car, including his poor brother who could do nothing to stop the crying or process what was happening.
When we finally arrived, my nerves were frayed, but we got through the worst of it. We managed to get through the entire visit without much problem. We didn’t have the help I’d hoped for, though. I had to ask people to hold the baby, not the other way around. I ended up breastfeeding more than I planned on to make the formula we brought stretch out, and because it seemed to be all he wanted to do. Of course, when it was time to eat, in true fashion like his brother before him, I could eat, but not sit. So, I put him in my moby wrap and ate while I bounced him next to the table. It wasn’t ideal, but I made it work.
Sleeping was trickier because we’d been doing shifts at home, but each time the baby woke up, both of us were awakened too, so no one got much rest. The only person who slept was our older son, who had a room of his own. Halfway through, we said we weren’t going to do this again until he was a bit older. It was nice to see everyone, but man, travelling with littles is so hard.
I’ll just come right out and say it: I’ve never been more exhausted in my life. I used to think I had it rough with the first kid, but dang, this is so much worse. Don’t get me wrong, I love my kids and they are so awesome, but I’m so freaking tired. The baby is on an opposite schedule from our 3 year old, so while they get their rest, we get nothing.
Thankfully, for the first twelve weeks, we had the option of napping while the oldest was in daycare, but the weekends were hell. At first, I was taking the whole night shift, but as my husband’s job was winding down to its end, we began to work in shifts. I would put our older son to bed and sleep when he slept until about 2:00 a.m. Then, I’d switch with my husband and take the baby until the morning.
The advice to sleep when baby sleeps is solid, if a little misguided. Sure that works at night, but once you’ve pumped yourself up on caffeine, it’s not so easy. I worry about functionality when I return to work in a few weeks. I’m going to have to add a bunch of things to a crazy morning schedule in order to get to work on time. But for now, I’m focusing both on simply surviving this minute by minute, and dreaming of the days to come when my boys will be largely self sufficient and sleeping on their own.
In addition to the adjustment of having a new baby, and growing our family of three into a family of four, we have had to brace ourselves for another twist in the road, wherein my husband’s job is being eliminated less than two months after the baby was born. While my job will also be in jeopardy, likely in the next year, this development has a sense of real urgency. His income was the reason we could have a family, as it afforded us the ability to pay for daycare. Not only that, his work-from-home/travel schedule gave us the flexibility to make our lives with a child (now children) more workable. Beyond that, he outearned me by nearly double, and reducing our income to my paycheck alone was simply not going to cut it, no matter how hard we tried to save.
As my due date came and went, my husband was scrambling for interviews for jobs in his field. Many would require relocation, too few offered the salary we’d need to justify it, and the idea of having to move was stressing me out more than I could handle. There were two other options available to my husband at this juncture: go into insurance agency or go into business for himself. The prior would require a huge cash outlay on his part, and probably meant operating in the red for a good year or two, if and until things worked out for him as a franchisee. The latter, though seemingly more terrifying on paper, would be riskier, but also give him the flexibility we’d had previously, although having to front some upfront costs. The independent route meant he’d be in the driver’s seat in terms of doing business.
My husband assured me he wouldn’t take anything without me being on board. But I was so unsure about all of the ideas that were being thrown out, without really loving any of them enough. Not to mention the emotional toll that my postpartum depression and anxiety was taking on my mind, and the chaos with the new baby, I didn’t trust my own brain to make any solid decision. I spent nearly a day straight in tears, overwhelmed by stress and fear and exhaustion. Luckily, after a few days, my meds began to kick in.
So, after a few tearful and long nights, mulling the options in my mind, and trying to reconcile what makes sense in this sea of chaos and turmoil, I finally cast my vote. I told him that I thought he’d be better off seeking his own fortunes, and not working for anyone just yet. His agency option would be good for two years, after all, and all the positions he’d been interviewing for in this distant markets would probably still be there in a year. I asked for that, not only because I needed it, but because I felt like this was the right call for us.
Having come to a decision put the world in a bit of ease for us. Hardly an easy road for sure, but given the choices, nothing else really is either. Still, the opportunity to capitalize on the network he’s been building here shouldn’t be wasted. I’m cautiously optimistic, figuring that we can do this for a year, and if nothing else, we’ve got some money in savings to float us until something else works out. I need to feel like we’re standing on solid ground, before I lose my mind in the new chaos.
The one thing you can’t really prepare yourself for when a new baby arrives is the exhaustion from the sleep deprivation. By design, they are needy, warmth-seeking, fragile things that we are hardwired to protect. There is something deep down in our DNA that reacts so viscerally to a newborn’s cries, something so alien sounding that you’d think we’d have the opposite reaction. But no, we run toward it, every fiber of our being surging with adrenaline, as if some primordial creature would find us hidden in the brush and eat our whole family.
The loss of sleep, if you’re lucky, will be minimal. With this baby, he’s actually a pretty good sleeper. He prefers to be in my arms, of course, but unlike his brother, he will let you put him down and he will sleep on his own. But it’s only for a few hours, and although I had forgotten what a real full night’s sleep was like with my older child, this is still difficult to adjust to.
When you’re sleep deprived, the mind plays tricks on you. One night, as I struggled to settle back down to sleep because I wasn’t sure if the baby was actually done eating or not, I swore I heard my older son sneak out of bed because I heard him in the kitchen. But he never came downstairs, there was no creaking of floorboards, nor heavy footfalls or normative chaos that accompanies a 3 year-old’s descent into a room. My mind perfectly conjured it, and it felt like I was going insane.
Daytime blurs into night time, the sunrise surprises you and then it’s somehow noon. Days smear together, and without having my cell phone to tell me, I honestly have no idea what day of the week it is. The adults have fleeting conversations, nearly all sentences go half finished and so many assumptions just simply have to be made in order to make the household run. We lean heavily on each other nowadays. This is easily the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I can’t imagine it getting easier either, as the little one gets bigger and begins to do more than just eat, sleep and poop.
The baby was about 4 days old when I began to fall apart. Since we’d been discharged from the hospital, everyone was on their best behavior, knowing how difficult this would be. We’d spent the better part of the year preparing for this, so when the afterglow began to wear off, I really began to feel it.
We’d been working the evenings in shifts, and the lack of sleep was beginning to make us feel crazy. Where I failed at breastfeeding with my first child, my second made up for it in spades. His hunger was insatiable as my production couldn’t keep up with demand. Although the doctors at the hospital were adamant about over-feeding with the supplemental formula, apparently the little one hadn’t gotten the news. Fortunately, he was a good sleeper and so after these heavy feeds, he’d lapse into a deep, happy slumber.
My older son was an absolute champ about most of the new adjustments. However, the one thing I couldn’t give enough of was attention. Breastfeeding took a good hour at a time, which would then be followed up by more formula and subsequent diaper changes. It wore my patience thin, as it definitely did for him as well. For him, it was a world of unfairness, as he’d been patiently waiting for his pregnant cranky mommy to have this baby and get back to her old self again. And, as much as I want that too, I know I am not there yet.
What he wants most, though, is the closeness we’d had before the physical and emotional toll of the pregnancy kept me at arms length. Tonight, as I laid next to him as he fought sleep, he wanted me to cuddle with him. I was happy to oblige him, but my heart broke, realizing the weight this new baby was putting on him too. I felt like such a failure because of how I’d let him down.
As I write this, I still don’t have an answer to how I’m going to make this work. I’m hoping to find more ways to show both children how much they mean to me, but honestly, I’m scared I’m not going to pull it off. The worst feeling in the world is to be mother to children who don’t think you love them enough.
We’d had a few good nights with the baby. He’d gorge himself on formula, then a quick diaper change, swaddle and cuddle and pass out for a few hours. This meant that I could sleep for a few hours as well. It was a nice change from when my first child was born and wouldn’t sleep anywhere but in someone’s arms. Being able to put this kid down and get some rest was absolutely vital to making it through the next day.
Formula feeding was going great, until one night, he started rooting like he wanted to nurse. It was late, and since he wasn’t settling any other way, I figured we could give it a try. I’d taken the breastfeeding classes when I was pregnant with my first, and failed at it miserably. It was a combination of a lot of factors that worked against us. My first born son had a really strong gag reflex that triggered when he latched with all the negative results that go along with that. My milk never really came in either, so there wasn’t much incentive for him to try, as there wasn’t much to get. And he was a hungry kid, needing a lot more than I could provide, even if I was pumping and giving it my all.
With this baby, though, the transition was much easier. He took to it naturally, and although he liked to take his time, the effort seemed worthwhile. I told my husband the next morning that he’d latched and we nursed and said I was going to give it the old college try. Then the milk came in, and the soreness, and bleeding. My stomach got wildly upset by the random contractions that breastfeeding caused in my guts.
The pain was unlike anything I’d ever experienced. (I know that there will inevitably be the comment here that if I’m in pain, I’m not doing it right. I’ve heard that, but also, I’ve been told that it can be uncomfortable in the beginning, and believe me, some women just experience pain.) Although I’m doing my best to take care of my body so it can nurse, at this point, I’m not sure this is sustainable on the long term. It takes the baby about an hour and a half to nurse on both sides, and even when he’s done, he’s still hungry and takes formula.
The problem there is that I have no idea how much breastmilk he’s already gotten to figuring out how much formula to give him is anyone’s guess. Also, because he takes so long to feed, I’m missing out on time with my other son, so nursing at night is something I have to find the right time for, which isn’t ideal given the demands of a newborn feeding schedule.
In the end, I’m resigning to do it for him once a day, and hopefully my supply will wane enough to wean him onto formula. I feel badly for it, because it’s got so many benefits. The pediatrician has been supportive though, and on the formula he’s gained back all of his birth weight and then some. She basically just wants him to be fed and happy, so however we get there is fine. It’s hard to know what the right choices are, and what’s going to work. In the end, I’m trying to trust my gut and make it the right call for my family.
As much as you can plan for the way you think you’d like things to play out, when you get into the thick of it, there’s so many variables that we weren’t able to consider logistically. I had planned on couching it downstairs with the baby while my husband took the nightshift with the non-sleeping toddler. The first few days though, he offered to split the night with me, which was kind and thoughtful and I definitely took him up on it. I think I ended up getting more sleep than he did in those few days, but as his calendar filled up with appointments for job coaching and interviews, it became clear that I was needed to take over the nightshift again.
I had forgotten the toll that sleep deprivation takes on the body and mind. This time around, we had no reprieve as my older son began stepping out of his “best behavior” mode and started reverting to his recently minted “three-nager” stage. (I realize I’m not alone in this, if you have any doubts, simply google “my 3 year old is an a-hole” and you’ll see the struggle is very real.) Tantrums and screaming and throwing things and hitting from one side, a shaky sleep schedule for a fragile life still figuring out what day and night time are on the other. Add the stress of my husband’s forthcoming unemployment and the prospect of having to move and relocate everyone on top of the wildly swaying emotions of a hormonal, depressed mother in postpartum hell, and we have what I could easily describe without hyperbole, the hardest shit we’ve ever had to live through.
Being needed so thoroughly by two small humans who equally demanded my attention, nearly always simultaneously, lent us a strategy of divide and conquer. Still, that wasn’t always successful, and the wrong parent would attend to the wrong needy child and there would be inevitable meltdown. I will say, my husband has some daddy magic in getting the baby to sleep, something I used to be able to work on my older son, but is no longer very effective.
As I write this post, the baby is less than two weeks old, and in that time, we’ve had probably 3 good nights with him, and only 1 with my older son. It’s not a great track record, and I’m reasonably frightened about the future, as the baby gets older and will have to share a room with his brother and I return to work when he’s about three months old. I have no answers either on the problems we’re encountering. Most people who’ve been through it, can only offer up “stay the course, it will get better,” which was unsettlingly the same mantra as the Iraq war and we all saw how awesome that went.
And I worry. I worry about my ability to parent my older son properly when really I’m operating in autopilot, survival only mode. I worry about my younger son having his emotional needs met, and being able to properly attach and bond to him. I worry about my husband’s stress, and his job prospects, because he finally told me that he’s been breaking down in tears quietly when he’s alone and hadn’t wanted to tell me about it because it would only stress me out more. I worry about my own mind, how easily I can be reduced to tears nowadays and how this impacts my ability to function as an adult human. I worry about money, because we haven’t resolved the job situation for my husband yet, and we can’t swing the budget on my income alone. I worry about my job when I return to work, because I know that my industry and department are surviving on borrowed time. I worry how I’m going to hold it all together, with so many things pushing against us, and so little to give back. It all feels so impossible.
After my son was all cleaned up, and we were given a room in the mother baby unit, they loaded me into the elevator and shunted me into the room. I hated being in the hospital the last time. There were so many people coming and going, I never got a moment’s rest. I made sure to express to each person who came in how I didn’t want to be bothered (or at least bothered as little as possible).
It didn’t matter though, they had to do their rounds and make sure the baby and I didn’t die, so the constant bothers continued. What also continued were the judgements and issues surrounding the medication I wanted to take for my postpartum depression, my dosing was not to their liking and because it didn’t go through their pharmacy, they wanted to confiscate my bottle. Nah, bro. Nah.
There were also judgements about how I decided to feed my child. Because I put formula on my intake form, there were lots of efforts to dissuade me, and criticisms about things like pacifier use and nipple confusion. The medical residents, who are doctors, but I honestly don’t think a single one of them has ever had a kid.
What I had forgotten about was the contracting and cramping my body would undergo as my uterus tried desperately to deflate itself and go back to its normal size. The pain was constant and unyielding. I wasn’t able to take anything for pain other than motrin, and the nurses were always late in giving it. I was able to score incredible pain management for my delivery, but my postpartum experience left much to be desired.
The first night, though, the night shift nurse told me that I could leave the baby with her, and get some sleep. They kept him for five hours and I woke up the next morning feeling more human. My doctor came by and examined me, telling me that if I wanted to go home, that she could authorize my discharge, as long as the pediatrician said it was okay to take the baby home. I was so excited. The hospital was not my favorite place and I missed my older son and husband. I wanted to get back on track with integrating our new foursome.
The problem was that, even though my son was cleared around lunch time, my doctor again took her sweet time authorizing the discharge order for me. My husband came and went, as the time for daycare pickup had come and now my son would be a complicating factor at my discharge time. It wasn’t until nearly 6:00 that evening that I was able to get in my own car and ride home.