We’ve officially survived our first week with a newborn baby, and I’ve got to admit, it makes me feel both like a rock-star champion and a totally worn-down rag doll. But I have a feeling that overall, those kinds of contradictions might be pretty prevalent in this thing called new parenthood.
Here are a few more contradictions I’ve discovered in the past seven days:
There are times when I look at my baby girl and feel my heart sing with a joy I didn’t even know I was lacking before. There are moments when I just want to breathe in absolutely everything about that exact second because life as a family of three seems perfect and right and already passing by too quickly.
Then there are other moments when I’m fighting back tears that I don’t understand–not tears of joy, either, but tears of panic or confusion or just an overall overwhelming sense of responsibility. Sometimes I think about this new role of “mother” that will last forever, and eternity seems like too much to take in since I often wonder how I can get by for another hour on so little sleep and with so many hormones bouncing around inside me.
There have been hours–literally hours!–that I have stared at my newborn’s features, marveling in the perfection of her long fingers and big eyes and smooth skin and puckered mouth. I have held her little feet and rubbed them between my fingers and watched as her big toe separates from the others just like mine does. I have felt the glow of pride as others marvel at her beauty and her delicate, tiny perfection. I have discovered such happiness knowing that this precious little 7-pound-and-then-some bundle is mine.
There have been other hours–often hours that creep up on me in the middle of the early morning after I’ve tried unsuccessfully to put her back to sleep–where my logical brain wonders if I can really do this. How can I take care of this little human being, who will only get bigger and bigger and face things that I have never had to face but am still expected to help her through? How will I be able to handle her first tantrum or her first sickness or her first try at potty training? I am often inundated at those early morning hours with the crushing weight of all that I do not know or understand.
There has been many an instant that I’ve also been surprised at how Raven just seems to fit right into our lives, as if our whole marriage had been subtly preparing us for this time when we’d be a family of three. It feels like she’s always been with us, which is something I’ve often heard people say but didn’t understand until now. I thought it might be awkward for me to take on the motherly roles of nurturing and feeding and teaching and changing out diapers and onesies, but somewhere from deep inside, a motherly instinct that had long lay dormant has bubbled forth, and even her cries don’t irritate me like every other kid’s cry does. I wondered what I would say to this infant when she came out, and if I would feel strange talking to this tiny bundle that couldn’t really respond back. I have been pleasantly surprised at my own reaction to her arrival, and my lack of maternal instinct before must have been due to the fact that I just didn’t have my own little person before.
There are other moments when I feel this overwhelming sense of potential loss, and it’s something that brings a lump to my throat and tears to my eyes in the same second of the feeling hitting. The same thing happened when I first got married–the feeling that I now had more to lose than ever before, and how devastated I would be if that loss ever came. I remember in the first several months of my marriage, I would be saying prayers constantly throughout the day that nothing would happen to Matt while we were apart–that he would suffer no car accident or trauma or major illness–because I couldn’t bear to lose him. As time goes on, I still treasure my marriage as the most important relationship in my life, but the bubbles of panic and terror have overall subsided, with the terrified feelings only cropping up every now and again if he’s a little bit later coming home than anticipated or something.
Those same feelings have started up again though and lead me to check that our baby is breathing several times throughout the day and night and that there is nothing in her crib or around her face that could suffocate her or make her choke. With every sniffling visitor that comes by, I am paranoid that she’ll catch an illness that’s too much for her to handle. I feel like motherhood is a constant state of paranoid fear and awe-struck reverence. I know it will become more things over time, but that’s what I feel right now.
Because of the up-and-down nature of new parenthood, I am frequently giving myself pep talks.
I remind myself of the first several months of my time living as a missionary in El Salvador–not only was I facing a new country with customs very different from what I was used to, I was facing them with a limited ability to understand and speak the language and with people I hadn’t known previous to my having been assigned with them. I remember clearly that those first several weeks found me praying for 30- or 40-minute stretches at a time while I begged my Father in Heaven for the strength to face the day with courage and tenacity and a smile.
And I remind myself that I not only got through those weeks but also that I found myself thriving under the new experiences. I reminded myself of the two secrets I was lucky enough to come across early on in my mission—that if I viewed the whole thing as an adventure (rather than a looming mountain before me) and if I just poured every ounce of waking energy into working, I would love it.
And I did.
My brain, sleep-deprived and hormone-riddled as it is, is still trying to remind me of those lessons. And when those moments of panic or terror come up, I try and tell myself to enjoy the beginning of this grand adventure known as parenthood and that when I truly feel overwhelmed, I just need to burrow myself into doing something–anything–other than sitting there and brooding about it.
I can already tell this parenthood thing will be the most thrilling adventure of my life and that it will be, as some have put it, “the hardest job that I’ve ever loved.”
Let’s do this.