I am a terrible sleeper. I have always been a terrible sleeper. Or, rather, I am an AWESOME sleeper as long as it’s daytime/at a desk/in an interminable staff meeting or a moving car/plane/train/subway car. I just can’t sleep when I’m supposed to. As a kid, I was afraid of kidnappers and masked robbers and crawly things under the covers. I always thought it was unfair that grownups, who are big and strong and brave, get to sleep with other grownups, and kids, who are vulnerable to things that go bump, have to sleep alone. Continue reading
I’ve always, always assumed I’ll have more than one child. When I was a little girl (and an IDIOT), I wanted to have four children. This was undoubtedly a Little Women-based decision. It seemed totally doable, since I was going to get married at 23, live in a castle with my prince and my youthful ovaries and pet unicorns to babysit the children. Continue reading
I assume I won’t want to be a stay-at-home-mom. A friend says to me at some point, “I LOVE my kids, but I don’t want to hang out with them all day long.” This seems totally right to me, totally reasonable. I’ve heard stories about people who go weeks without having an adult conversation, grown-ass women describing their one-year-olds as “my best friend.” I like work. I like productivity. I will love my baby, but surely I will want to keep the rest of my life the same as before, right?
Keeping life the same is, of course, a ridiculous notion in itself. It is, to quote Monty Python, “an act of the purest optimism to have posed the question in the first place.”
In the first weeks, I am a weepy mess, swearing that I will never remove him from the Moby wrap, let alone leave his side for even one second. A little later, postpartum depressed, I can’t stand to be away from him, but I can’t care for him myself. My new life will be lived watching my mother watching the baby. She’ll just have to quit HER job. After proper chemical calibration I think, sure, I can go back to work in 3 weeks. I can totally go back to work in 2 weeks. Work in a week? Um…yeah! Work tomorrow? OH HELL NO.
I extend my leave twice. I change the arrangement so that I go back half days at first. After all this generosity, I am allowed telework 2 days a week, indefinitely. I am lucky (for the U.S. anyway. I’m totally moving to Sweden before my next baby), and for a while it’s going ok. Eventually, though, he starts to get more fun. Like, WAY more fun. They should really make you go to work right after you give birth, when the baby is basically a good-looking meatloaf, and let you take maternity leave from like 8-11 months, when the party starts. I get to a point where I’m missing him all day, and I can’t believe I’m leaving those eyelashes and giggles and first words to come deal with the cloak-and-dagger drama of my workplace.
I talk to C. I ask him if there’s a way to make it work. Many discussions later, with each other and with our families, we decide. There is, in fact, a way to make it work: we will sell our condo and move into my mother-in-law’s basement apartment, so that we can afford to live on one salary. I know– but truly, she’s fantastic; this is not an arrangement I’d recommend for everyone. I feel like a deadbeat sometimes, being a full-grown adult living in a basement with my husband and a toddler. My childless friends look at me like I’m batshit insane, although how much this has to do with their mothers-in-law, I don’t know. Some of my friends with babies, though, are quick to tell me that they would do the same thing if they had the option.
I know there will be times when we all think it was a terrible idea. I know there will be times when I will long for a giant coffee, the internet, a door to close, and sweet, sweet silence. But last week, I quit my job.
Because who knew? Who knew I’d feel so strongly about being with this little person as much as I can, while he’s still adorable and not yet a douchebag teenager? Who knew that watching a baby thread dry noodles through the holes in a colander would be every bit as fascinating as a fancy job? Who knew that even on a bad day, when there’s whining and bitching and food-throwing, seeing him point to the cat and say “GA-TO!” would make it all worth it?
I sure didn’t.
I imagine postpartum depression (like regular depression) takes different forms for different people. In what will come as a surprise to exactly no one who knows me well, mine comes in the form of anxiety. I am an anxious person by nature, so I should have seen it coming. The truth is, everyone around me is looking out for it; given my history with this stuff, we all kind of expect I’ll have my turn. But a week goes by, and then a month, and then another, and I start to think I’m in the clear. I love my baby, I love my husband, and everything is ok.
It’s ok that I hold him for every single one of his naps, right? Sure. Is it ok? Is it ok that he only sleeps 20 minutes if he’s not held? What happens if I let him cry? I can’t let him cry, I won’t. Is it ok that he still sleeps in our room? In his room he’s scared, right? Scared and abandoned and alone? If I don’t make him sleep alone now, will he ever sleep alone? It’s ok that he’s 4 months old and nurses to sleep, right? Is that ok? Let me just check the internet and make sure.
That’s my undoing. The sleep, the fear of “crying it out,” and the internet. Suddenly I’m spending hours every day reading about potential sleep “problems” that may or may not happen in the next year. I read every differing theory about baby sleep, and every single author tells me that if I don’t do it their way, my child will be a sociopath and it will be my fault. I try a dozen different techniques, but none for long enough to know if they work, because I don’t have time. I have to get on to the next one. I email everyone, crowd-source everything, and read their responses through tears I don’t yet realize are there all the time. What I yearn for above all things is for there to be one way to do this right, one voice to listen to that will be the right one.
I flinch when he cries. Sometimes I sob as soon as he does. I rock, I bounce, I shush, I sing, I nurse, I hide in the bathroom and let C deal with it, because I can’t. I go around and around and around in my head, and I don’t know what to do. And then I stop sleeping. He sleeps, and I don’t. Why bother? He’ll be up soon anyway. I lay awake on the couch, straining for the cries I know are coming, and I can’t rest.
And then I can’t do any of it. I know beyond any doubt that I CAN NOT do this. I don’t want to hurt him, I don’t want to hurt myself, and in this way I am lucky. But I just can’t. I’m sorry, little boy. I start to feel physically crushed by the weight of his tiny body when he’s asleep on me. I can’t breathe. I know that I will have to give him to my mother, because she will know how to take care of him. I don’t want to be alone; I beg C to come home early every day. I feel crazy, and I am afraid. But it’s so hard to see from the inside. Maybe it’s the hormones. I’m just tired. I go to a coffee house one day to write, which I haven’t done in years. I have to try to to see if I can unload some of this. It isn’t until later in the day, when I go back and read what I’ve written, that I finally say to C what I’ve suspected for a while.
I’m not ok.