For those of you (i.e. Mom) who are wondering when I will stop writing about narsty bodily functions that no one wants to read about and events that occurred 15+ months ago, this is the very last one! You are very welcome.
In the previous four “afterbirth” posts, I outlined multiple different factors that contributed to quite a bit of stress after Caleb’s birth. Unfortunately, there were even more. In the months leading up to Caleb’s birth, Sean and I had been seeking God and His will for our lives. At the time, we were on staff with Destino (a sub-ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ), and for numerous reasons, we felt that God was most likely calling us away from vocational ministry. As the date of Caleb’s arrival drew near, we felt more and more pressure to decide one way or the other.
After Caleb’s birth, the decision to stay on or leave staff weighed heavily upon us, and particularly on Sean. This, combined with the difficulties I was experiencing after Caleb’s birth, caused a crushing sense of anxiety for Sean (as I mentioned previously, it all began with a panic attack at the hospital). To provide some background information, Sean has dealt with anxiety and panic attacks since his childhood, and began taking an SSRI daily in high school (which he continues to take to this day). In normal day-to-day life, the medicine helps to eliminate his irrational anxiety, and I typically forget he even struggles with it at all! However, during major life events, Sean’s anxiety will often flare up beyond what his medicine can alleviate.
In the weeks following Caleb’s arrival, Sean was hardly eating, sleeping, and experienced great difficulty adjusting to parenthood. In fact, his anxiety was so intense he went in to see his Dr. for help. How come not one of the myriad pamphlets we received in the hospital warned us of the condition known as male postpartum depression!? 🙂 Because Sean was experiencing so much trouble sleeping due to his anxiety, every little noise Caleb made would wake him up instantly, and thus he began sleeping on our sectional sofa in the living room of our one bedroom apartment. Since I was on the sofa as well due to physical pain, my mom was the sucker who got stuck bunking in the bedroom with newborn Caleb. Haha!
Sean’s anxiety naturally took a toll on me as well. My heart hurt so bad for him as I watched him suffer that (ironically) it added to my own anxiety (in addition to the stress I was already experiencing due to our neighbors, breastfeeding woes, and a painful physical recovery). Not to mention wacky postpartum hormones and my own apprehension as to where God was calling us next. In an effort to stay strong for Sean and Caleb, I kept my feelings inside which I’m sure was not healthy or wise. I want to insert here that I am BEYOND thankful for my mom and Sean’s parents’ help during this insane time. I have absolutely no idea how we would have made it through without them. They were truly a Godsend, and their love and care for the three of us in those first few weeks was sacrificial and admirable.
In the midst of all this, we felt confirmation that God was calling us to leave staff, so Sean actively began searching for a job in engineering. FYI: job searching with a newborn, while struggling with anxiety and surviving on little sleep = really not fun. We do not recommend. In a string of providential scenarios, God provided Sean with an interview at LLNL when Caleb was just four weeks old. Three weeks later, Sean was officially offered a position and we moved from Long Beach to Livermore (370 miles) when Caleb was 11 weeks old. We then spent the next seven weeks living in a studio hotel room until we bought a home. The transition was stressful and tiring (forget any kind of “maternity leave”), but God sustained and provided for us along the way.
As I look back now, it is blatantly obvious why we were so overwhelmed. I mean, if our exact situation was proposed as a psychological experiment to study how people respond under extreme duress, I’m sure it would never pass an ethics review. However, in the moment, it was difficult to see anything clearly.
So here’s the meat of the whole experience: Instead of giving myself grace in everything that was going on, I thought – “wow, am I just an incompetent parent?” Why is this so hard for me? Why does every little thing seem so overwhelming right now? Why am I sobbing every single night in the shower? Do I just suck at this whole parenthood thing? Nothing about parenthood felt like it came naturally to me and I felt completely out of my element. To sum it up, I felt like a failure.
…Which then led to the comparison game. Why is everyone else able to post a picture of their child five minutes after birth on facebook, and it took me four days to announce Caleb’s arrival? Why is every other parent able to post facebook/twitter updates every few hours, when I can’t even find the time to get on the internet at all? Why do other new moms feel capable of welcoming 30 hospital visitors and I did not feel capable of seeing a single one (other than immediate family), until one week after Caleb’s birth (and even then, it was one close friend)!? Why does everyone else with a newborn seem to be in such great spirits when I feel absolutely miserable? How are others with a one-week-old going on fun outings when I can’t even recall the last time I brushed my teeth? Ultimately – why does caring for a newborn seem to be a breeze for everyone else, but for me, it’s the most difficult thing I have ever done in my life? Etc. etc. etc. And when did I find myself pondering these things? Of course, in those very few, precious moments when I should have been sleeping. A brilliant use of time.
Finally, (and thankfully), my cousin who is an incredibly intelligent and competent woman spoke some truth to me. Taking care of a newborn is hard. Your postpartum hormones are crazy, you are sleep deprived, and you and your husband now have the monumental responsibility of taking care of a new life. She told me that if I didn’t have a moment (or two, three, fifteen) of tears, I would be in the minority. She told me that she cried herself to sleep every night after her son was born. It’s overwhelming to take care of a newborn even without all the other issues we were dealing with. To hear her say these things was a breath of fresh air. I’m not crazy. I’m not incompetent. There’s not something wrong with me. I’m not alone in my feelings.
I wish I had heard these things before giving birth. I wish I had better expectations of what it would look like to care for a newborn, which is why I am moved to share my experience with others. Now, when I talk with friends who have newborns and are first time parents, I do everything I can to encourage them. If you’re feeling like you’re not getting anything done and being unproductive, set aside the task list and forget about it for a while. Keeping a human alive and well taken care of is pretty darn productive if you ask me. If you feel out of your element – there’s going to be a huge learning curve, and that’s ok. It’s a whole new world and like it or not, you will become a master at cleaning up “blow out” poopy diapers and getting in and out of Target in 10 minutes flat. Feeling overwhelmed? Rely on God and work together with your spouse as a team and support one another.
Moms – if you feel emotional and anxious…understandable. Your hormone levels drop precipitously once your placenta is expelled, which is going to impact your mood. Guys, if you feel emotional and anxious, this is understandable as well. Welcoming a new person into your family is a huge life change and is bound to impact you in powerful ways. If you feel like other parents are more competent than you – everyone’s life situation, strengths, and newborns’ disposition are different, so don’t spend time comparing. If you are experiencing a difficult time adjusting to life with a newborn, give yourself grace. Feeling like you’ll never sleep in again? Ok, well, that one’s actually true.
And most importantly, if anyone implies or tells you that being a new parent is easy, they are a LIAR or have serious amnesia due to lack of sleep.
If you are a parent, what was your experience with the transition? What did you find difficult about taking care of a newborn? Did you compare yourself with others? If you are a father, can you relate with Sean’s struggles? If you are not yet a parent, do you still want to become one? LOL!! Just kidding – seriously, it’s worth it 🙂
More posts in the ‘Afterbirth’ series:
Also, read about Caleb’s birth:
And here’s the 10 ways pregnancy crushed my dignity: