How to Cope with Baby Prison

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I think any mom, if she was being real with you, would admit that motherhood can really suck sometimes. It’s incredible, life-altering in so many good ways, but sometimes it just isn’t good.

Imagine that you have a miserable head cold, your husband works long hours, and your baby is suffering from a stomach bug and literally crawling all over you to find relief. But your head is pounding and you know you have 4-5 more hours before someone will be home to give you a break. You also know that in those 4-5 hours, you may have 6 or 7 more dirty diapers to clean.

Or imagine that friends have invited you to go get a pedicure after work, and you really need one, and really want to go, but no matter how you work out the logistics in your head, there is no good way to get childcare for that night. And rescheduling doesn’t work for them, so you just have to miss out.

Or maybe BEYONCE is coming to town for a once-in-a-lifetime tour of her boundary-smashing record, but you just pushed a human out of your body, and you’re still bleeding and leaking milk and totally home-bound. (I may or may not still feel sad about this one.)

Those are the moments I’m describing here, friends. Maybe they come from a selfish place sometimes, but we are just human! I have a newsflash for the rest of the world: Moms can have their own wants and needs, and wanting to act on those shouldn’t always be translated as selfish.

I fell into a deep, deep hole of sadness and self-pity after Isaiah was born. I’m not going to call it postpartum depression, because I was not very conversational with my doctor about how I was feeling, so I was never diagnosed. Postpartum depression and anxiety are real and should be taken seriously, so I am not going to play doctor here.

But, I can say with 100% certainty that I was suffering from the following:

  1. Sleep deprivation
  2. Violent hormonal swings
  3. Envy of my many, many childless friends who couldn’t understand what I was feeling

That is a lethal combination. I knew I was letting myself fall into the sadness and pity. I knew that I wasn’t really trying to find ways to feel better. I felt like my life was over forever. It was not pretty.

If I could go back and talk to new-mom Stephanie, this is what I would have told her.

  • Be realistic about what you would really be doing if you weren’t a parent.

I remember feeling really disappointed that I was a mom at 26 and my years of world travel had been cut short. I would cry to my husband that now we would never be able to just up and go to France if we wanted to.

Ummm. We definitely didn’t have a trip to France in the works or anything before Isaiah was born. Also, I had studied abroad in college, and done several international trips in high school. I had done far more world traveling than most people I knew, and I hadn’t felt that travel bug for a few years. Also, Chris and I are TEACHERS. What were we going to do, use our cushy salary to take us on a European adventure each summer? Nope. Wasn’t going to happen.

When I started thinking realistically about what I actually would have been doing with my time if the baby weren’t there, it wasn’t really all that spectacular. Sure, there were some sacrifices that had to be made, which is why I also should have told myself…

  • Know that this is just a phase.

This doesn’t last forever. The way that I felt trapped on the couch nursing Isaiah the first 2 months of his life is so different from the way I feel about doing things with him now at 11 months. He requires less stuff to go out now, he can go longer without eating and napping…it’s far less of a headache to take him places, and it happened so fast! When he’s 2, I know it will only be simpler to toss him in his carseat and head somewhere fun. Then he’ll be 8. Then he will be 16!

If you want to travel, go to more community events in the city, go out to eat in new restaurants, etc. babies eventually grow into kids that can do those things. After they’re kids, they become teenagers that wouldn’t do anything with you if you paid them (as I remember doing to my parents), so soak this time in.

  • Remember that this time is an investment into your child’s future, NOT a loss on your present life.

This whole parenting thing was most likely a choice you made. Your entire life’s purpose has shifted once your body starts creating that little baby, whether you like it or not. Staying home with him/her when it’s necessary and nurturing your little baby is going to pay off for their development in the long run. Are the things you are skipping out on today really as important as that? Time to put your priorities in check, sister.

  • Take charge of creating brief, happy moments for yourself throughout the day.

Even when you feel like there is nothing you could do to take care of yourself or give your mood a boost, I promise you that there is. For me, my dark spot was my physical appearance. I had stretch marks, acne, my hair was falling out…I felt like I was completely hideous and that I had no time to do anything about it.

I made the terrible mistake of waiting for my husband to read my mind and offer to give me a break. Chris is an awesome husband and father, but he’s never been a mom, or birthed a child and he wasn’t in my head. He didn’t know how I was feeling about myself, so he didn’t know how to make me feel better. When I just started saying: “This is what I want to do to take care of myself today, when will you be home so I can do that?”, he was wonderful about making sure he was free and available to help me out. I would pump a bottle, leave the baby with him, and go for a walk or a run free of mom or wife-guilt (because both are very real).

Treating him like a mind-reader created a lot of resentment in my head, and it made my “I’m trapped” mentality far worse.

  • Work with your spouse to figure out your love languages. Vow to start speaking them.

As I was just describing, I had lots of times that I felt disconnected from my husband, who I felt was supposed to be my partner through all of this, but I was in such a low place emotionally that I was making it hard for him to help.  I wasn’t trying to feel better, and I was being very unfair to him and punishing him for things I was suffering from that he couldn’t prevent or fix.

Most of what was making me feel like I was trapped in this new motherhood was feeling isolated. It was tough to feel like my closest friends couldn’t relate to my new life, but feeling like my husband could only half-understand what I was dealing with was the real kicker.

Here’s the thing: our husbands can’t totally relate to what we’re dealing with. Tough, but true. Chris took lots of night shifts, changed lots of diapers, folded lots of laundry, and I was STILL upset with him. I think I was wanting him to empathize with what it felt like to heal from giving birth, and have the crazy hormones and the thinning hair, and all of that obviously wasn’t going to happen.

We started to discuss how the craziness of new parenthood had taken our focuses off of each other, and we weren’t speaking each other’s love languages anymore.

The way we got around this was we started referring to our ‘love tanks’ a lot. It sounds silly, but that was the easiest way for me to express in passing conversation to him how I was feeling. When I was being especially pouty and he was trying to get to the bottom of it, I could say, ‘My love tank is really low today’, and he would know that this meant that I was needing some intentionality from him that day. I needed him to focus on speaking words of affirmation to me, and creating little moments of quality time if he could.

Same for him. I would work on intentionally finding times to give him the physical touch that he needed to feel like he was being a good husband and dad. We had stopped holding hands, giving each other hugs, kissing each other goodbye, etc. When I started working those things back into our routine, it boosted his self-esteem in our marriage, which helped him boost mine far better than my negativity was.

At the end of the day, I can’t make new motherhood (or even seasoned motherhood) any easier of a job to do. But knowing these things going into my second baby-phase will make motherhood feel easier to deal with. I hope the same for you, Mama.

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