Monday, March 03, 2008


Oh God. I remember this time: Welcome to the Nuthouse. ( article--you might encounter an ad before reaching the site, but it's worth it.)

This is the well written story of exactly how it feels to be a new mother. The whole "Didn't I used to be competent? Didn't I used to be able to do more than one thing at a time? Why can't I do one single damn thing right?"

And--oh god--how the time crawled. You'd wake up in the morning with the baby, and twelve years later, it wouldn't even be lunchtime yet. And in all that twelve years, what had I done? I'd fed the baby. AGAIN. And it would be another twelve years--at least--until Mr. Sweetie came home and I'd be able to do--what? What did I think I was going to do? Something exciting, like grocery shopping? In the two hours before I had to feed the baby? AGAIN?

I remember sitting at the dinner table--yes! I'd been able to make something for dinner! Big accomplishment!--but I couldn't eat, because I had to feed the baby again. And I remember being literally unable to believe that there would ever be a time when I wouldn't have this baby attached to my body in some way: feeding, being carried, being rocked, something.

Childbirth is hard--but it is a limited amount of time, and there are books! And articles! And friends who have had the same experience! Transforming a fetus into a baby takes a fixed amount of time and can be documented and explained. Transforming yourself into a mother? That is a process that you do alone, without help, and with no benchmarks for progress.

And I was lucky, I know it. I have a friend whose first child had colic--the baby didn't stop crying for 6 very long months. My friend and her husband were living alone in a foreign country, and my friend had no one to help her. And what can you do? You can't just give up on trying to soothe the baby, can you?

That's why I love this response to the article.

Imagine that you are a buddhist nun practicing a particularly difficult and advanced form of meditation: the Strolling the Screaming Baby While Waiting Desperately for the Laundry meditation. Inside these difficult abrasive periods of time, which can be short or long, but which always feel like torture, is the opportunity to let go, to breathe, to allow it just to be what it is. If you've done all you can and you still don't know how to soothe her, then don't try to soothe her. Just keep walking and meditating and enduring, until the world turns a little and everything is a little different.

I swear--new parents leaving the hospital need this--emblazoned on a banner--more than they need samples of baby formula. Parenting is hard hard HARD to do with a newborn, and we expect so much of ourselves--we expect to do the 21st century equivalent of birthing the baby and going back into the fields and harvesting turnips. But, really--those peasant women didn't do it because they wanted to.

In Japan, so I understand from my sister-in-law, the new mother's own mother comes when the baby is born and stays for a month--cooking, cleaning, taking care of the house and family so the new mother can take care of herself and the newborn. They don't expect that a woman will handle a newborn like slipping a breakfast meeting into a busy Filofax calendar. It is a process--the process of becoming a mother, and that process really doesn't even begin until the baby is born.

I would want to tell that woman a number of things. It will pass. Things will get easier. Get all the sleep you can--that helps a lot. Be gentle with yourself--this is all new and foreign and you will become oriented and fluent in this new language. Give yourself time.

And thank you. It is writing like this that helps all mothers realize that parenting is not all Hallmark cards and laundry commercials. It is hard work that we are doing, and we are not alone in feeling overwhelmed.

No comments: