My husband gently reached over to me, lunging a baby towards me. It was 3 AM. I had just fed him at 2 AM. Shaking my head, I thought to myself, “No. No. No. I can’t. Not right now. I can’t Mom right now.” I looked at my husband and cried, “He just ate. I can’t do this. I have NOTHING left to give him. Please.” I meant this in every possible literal connotation. My droopy breasts, empty of any and all possible nourishment, and my heart, exhausted to the moment, could not remember that exuberant unlimited joy I had felt just one-week prior for my tiny bundle.
“Look at me mama, I am so cute, please feed me,” my husband jokingly uttered. The joke fell flat on my tired ears as I burst into inexplicable tears. Was this postpartum depression or exhaustion? Does it matter? The truth is, I was struggling. HARD.
My baby was a difficult newborn (the joy and love of my life of course, but difficult, very difficult). Basically, if he was awake, he was screaming. And when he wasn’t screaming, my toddler was. It wasn’t his fault. Every part of me knew that, but that just made his shrieks hurt even more. He was in pain. He needed something, and I could not fix it. (We would later learn he had severe food allergies and feeding issues).
After that very sleepless night I was determined to “Mom” again. “I’ve got this!” I am going to (drum roll please) take my 1.5 year old daughter to Mother’s Day Out by myself with my newborn. This may seem like the most minute thing to feel triumph for, but for me, I felt like I was bravely facing the trenches of a war zone. My husband leaves for work long before the chaotic morning “routine” (let’s be real I am using the word “routine” very loosely here…) so I felt insecure in my zone to zone defense strategy being outnumbered by both dogs and children.
Our “routine” goes something like this: Nurse baby, bottle feed baby, pump while simultaneously relieving awakening daughter from treacherous screaming, unlatch pump, spill milk everywhere, cry over spilled milk, make daughter milk, cue screaming, hungry baby–again. Shoot I forgot to change a diaper. Change diaper on newborn, inevitably baby commits explosive poop mid change as if punishing me for an earlier transgression. Shoot… forgot to change toddler’s diaper, oh yeah, my toddler needs to eat too… feed toddler… oh SHOOT (I didn’t say ‘shoot’), I stepped in poop (I didn’t say ‘poop’), I forgot to take the dogs out, clean up dog mess, take dogs out. Dress both children, chase toddler without diaper, chase toddler not wearing pants, (baby is screaming), then feed/change-diaper cycle for newborn begins again, get each kid in the car. Oh wait. Toddler needs a lunch. Get lunch. Shoot I left the dogs outside. Go get the dogs back in. Leave for school, DEFINITELY late. I used to NEVER be late. Like never.
As I packed my kids into the car for school, I felt both proud and embarrassed. What was wrong with me that I felt normal routine errands to be worthy of an award? Seriously y’all, it was like I was waiting for a trophy or at the very least a pat on the back of some sort. I felt instant envy for every supermom in the world as I thought about the moms of twins, three kids, four kids, five kids, the moms that never took maternity leave and still managed somehow, the moms that didn’t have any family in town to help out. I felt diminutive. Still. This was my Everest and I was going to tackle it. “I can do this!” I reaffirmed to myself as I drove off to my daughter’s Mother’s Day Out.
Haha. No. No. No. I really can’t. Because as I reached over to unbuckle my daughter and take her into school suddenly I realized, both of us in shock, we were now covered in vomit. Oh No. Please. I can’t do this. And I am out. Finished. Done. No more Momming for me today.
But there was no break. No vacation. Just Breathe. Breathe. Breathe.
Later that day I went to get a massage courtesy of my husband — My third massage in my entire life. I put up a fight, “I don’t have time or energy to go get a massage right now.” I was so exhausted a massage actually felt like an errand. But he booked it, paid for it, and insisted. As I lay there I found myself in a brief moment of pure bliss and a forgotten restfulness. It was then the masseuse told me, “Breathe.” Then more assertively, “BREATHE!” Apparently, I wasn’t breathing. She elaborated, “Moms forget to breathe. They are often in flight or fight mode, especially with a newborn. You have to breathe.”
So I breathed in… deeply. I filled my body with this necessary life giving force, and in that moment I remembered joy. And then I also allowed myself permission to remember and feel not only joy, but also exhaustion, sadness, and anger. I am one of those people that feels guilty if I do not feel happiness and gratitude towards my family ALL of the time because I wanted this family so deeply and purely. How could I ever be so selfish to feel anything else? But all of these feelings are valid and sometimes (being the multi-tasker that I am) I feel every one of these emotions at the exact same time. And maybe that is OK.
In the meantime, I will remember to breathe. The thing about parenthood is even on the “bad” days when I feel beat, exhausted, frustrated, and overwhelmed, there is still a deep joy that wraps each of these emotions in comfort because at the end of the day I will never forget, God I love my kids.