I sit in a hospital bed cradling Gracie, my first baby. I’m nearly delirious with exhaustion, but she’s awake again and screaming loudly to make sure the whole floor knows she’s not happy about it. It’s her second night earthside, my second night as a mom, and fat tears roll down my flushed cheeks as I wonder what I’m doing wrong. Just five minutes ago I’d set her in the bedside bassinet, fast asleep. I’d nursed her, burped her, checked her diaper, bounced and shushed and sang for forty-five minutes to earn that five minutes of sleep.
We’d been playing out the same pattern all night. A few hours ago, a nurse popped in and gently offered to take her for a little while so I could rest. I’d declined, certain I could—and should—do this myself. Mark had taken turns trying to settle her too for the first half of the night, but he’d given in to sleep in the empty hospital bed on the other side of the room. The nurse is back to offer help again: “That’s why we’re here. Don’t you worry; we’ll keep her happy while you get some sleep.”
Accepting my failure, I hand Gracie over and lay back down on my pillow. A few more tears fall as I wallow over my incompetence as a new mom. I’m supposed to have the magic touch to calm my own baby, but I’m pretty sure she hates me.
Just you wait, mama. It will get better. It’s the hardest thing you’ll ever do. She’s not a good sleeper and a worse eater, but you are a good mom. In a few weeks the eating gets better and not too long after that the sleeping gets better too. It won’t be this hard forever.
I pick up my toddler from daycare, drive home, and shuffle both of us (plus our armload of stuff) inside. My day at work was exhausting, due in no small part to first trimester fatigue. I pull up the recipe for tonight’s dinner on my phone and feel my stomach turn. As I gather ingredients and heat water on the stove, I think back longingly to my pregnancy with Gracie when I would come home from work, plop myself on the couch, and send Mark a text saying dinner wasn’t happening tonight. Oh, and the only thing I could possibly eat was a frosty.
I take some deep breaths in through my nose and out through my mouth and keep working. Gracie toddles over and stretches her hands above her head. “Up,” she requests. The same back pain that plagued me every day of her pregnancy returned for her little brother’s too. I put her off at first, but eventually give in to her cries and hoist her onto a hip. By the time I get her tucked into bed for the night, I don’t have a drop of energy left, and my back feels like it’s being ripped apart. I crawl from her room to my bed, get in, and hope for sleep to win out over the pain. I didn’t realize it was going to be so much harder the second time around.
Just you wait, mama. The nausea will ease up. You’ll get your energy back. You’ll have a beautiful summer going to the zoo, picking strawberries, and decorating a nursery. You’ll be ready to bring that baby home and have a beautiful, empowering birth. It gets better.
Six weeks after Logan is born, my maternity leave ends, and I head back to work. Two kids somehow feel like more than double the effort of one. Having just a newborn without an older child suddenly sounds like a walk in the park. My postpartum hormones and natural worrier tendencies team up and turn into something darker: anxiety. I’m consumed with intrusive thoughts and illogical worries around the clock while up to my elbows adapting to life with a newborn and toddler as a full-time working mom.
It’s a Sunday night; Mark is upstairs getting the kids changed into PJs before bed. I sit alone in the living room in the dark. I finished packing their sheets and blankets for daycare tomorrow, but I can’t make myself move. I’m perched on the edge of the couch, thoughts and heart racing, completely frozen. It’s my first panic attack.
Just you wait, mama. You’ll get the help you need—extra hands for the physical burden and modern medicine for the mental one. Asking for that help is one of the hardest things you’ll do, but also the most transformative. You’ll watch a beautiful sibling relationship blossom right in front of you and fall into a new routine as a mom of two. It gets easier. You’ll even decide to do it again.
I sit at the dinner table and watch Gracie play with her food and tell stories instead of eating while Logan alternates taking bites with tossing bits of his meal on the table and floor. I think back to meal planning day when I scrolled through my “favorite recipes” Pinterest board. Nope, has allergens. No, too hard for Logan to eat. Hmmm, no casseroles; they don’t like foods mixed together.
It’s a weeknight, which means I’m the only adult at the dinner table. Mark won’t be home until after the kids are in bed. I’ll probably be in bed by then too, worn out from a busy day and task-packed night. Conversation with the preschooler is repetitive and, honestly, a little annoying after a long day at work. What I really need is an hour of silence to decompress. The toddler doesn’t make conversation, just grunts and babbles with an occasional word from his very small repertoire. He fills in the gaps by throwing fits when he can’t get his message across.
Gracie makes very slow progress on her plate, but Logan is done eating and done sitting nicely at the table. He slams his cup up and down, then throws his fork across the room in anger when I take away the cup. I think forward to dinnertime a few months from now with a newborn added to the mix. I see the same scene play out while their baby sister cries from a bouncer on the kitchen floor. Me making a meal with her strapped to my chest while I referee arguments between the older two. You think it’s hard now … ha, just you wait until your hands are really full. Just wait until the baby is starting solids and you’ve got two kids throwing food on the floor.
But … it wasn’t that long ago that Gracie was the one throwing food and finishing a meal with more on her face and clothes than in her belly. And now, yes, she’s slow and easily distracted, but she uses utensils, carries her plate to the sink, and picks up Logan’s sippy cup when he knocks it onto the floor. He’s come a long way too. His booster seat is pulled up to the table, and he eats off a plate even if the food doesn’t all stay on it. Not long ago we were washing a high chair tray caked in uneaten finger food after every meal.
This is a hard time, but we’ve come so far. There’s plenty that’s easier now than it’s ever been. Things will get better. Some things will get harder too, but we’ll get through it, look back, and wonder where the time went.
Just you wait.
This post was written as part of a blog hop with Exhale—an online community of women pursuing creativity alongside motherhood, led by the writing team behind Coffee + Crumbs. Click here to read the next post in this series on "Rewriting the Script."