Caleb’s Afterbirth – Am I an Incompetent Parent?

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 neighborsbreastfeeding 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:

Caleb’s Afterbirth – the Hospital (Part 1)
Caleb’s Afterbirth – the Neighbs (Part 2)
Caleb’s Afterbirth – Breastfeeding Blues (Part 3)

Caleb’s Afterbirth – Body Slammed (Part 4)

Also, read about Caleb’s birth:

Caleb’s Birth Story: Rated PG-13 for Language, Nudity, and Drugs 🙂

And here’s the 10 ways pregnancy crushed my dignity:

Part 1 – Constipation
Parts 2 & 3 – Appetite and Weight Gain
Part 4 – Mourning Sickness
Part 5 – Incontinence
Part 6 – Crazy Hormones
Parts 7, 8, & 9 – Pain, Pain, Pain
Part 10, the Pinnacle – Diarrhomit

Why Women Still Can’t Have It All, etc.

I read two interesting articles today I thought were worthy of sharing. The first one is called “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” and has become a very popular and widely read article in the last week. It is written by Anne-Marie Slaughter who “describes her own experience of stepping down from a high-level State Department position to teach at Princeton and spend more time with her children. In the process, she came to an uncomfortable realization: No matter what well-meaning feminists might say, women really can’t have it all. ‘Not today,’ she writes, ‘not with the way America’s economy and society are currently structured.'” The article is *super* long, but a good read nevertheless:

The second one is entitled “Why There’s No Such Thing as ‘Having It All’ – and There Never Will Be” and is a (much shorter) response to the first article: If you don’t have time to read the first article, you could probably just read this one and get a fairly good gist of what the first article is about.

If you are further interested in the subject of mothers balancing careers and family from a Christian/biblical perspective, my friend Sarah did a blog series entitled “passionate, joyful homemaking,” in which she writes on such topics as “should moms pursue a career?” and “God’s creation of a mother’s role.” I’ve read the whole series and while I don’t necessarily agree with everything she wrote, she does have great insight and I found the posts thought provoking.

This subject is certainly one worth discussing and I’d love to get feedback on any or all of the above material…

Adventures in Parenting, Chapter 1: Why You Should Never Show Your Friends How to Use a Video Baby Monitor

Just for fun, we decided to create an ongoing, open-ended series called “Adventures in Parenting” to document those hilarious stories that deserve to be remembered and shared as we navigate the unknown world (to us) of child rearing.

Parenthood is a lot of things, but it is not dull. As first time parents, we are constantly finding ourselves in unexpected scenarios that remained uncharted before children. The learning curve is ridiculously high and if you don’t learn to laugh at yourself, you will probably go crazy. We will begin our “Adventures in Parenting” saga with why you should never show your friends how to use a video baby monitor.When Caleb was approximately 7 months old, our great friends Ashley and Brenton came to visit to see our new home/meet Caleb for the first time. In the course of conversation, we demonstrated some of our cool, modern baby gadgets including a video baby monitoring device. On our particular video monitor, one of the many neat features is the ability to move the camera side-to-side from a remote location. Later that evening, Sean went upstairs to give Caleb a bath. About two minutes after they left, I heard him yell “LITTLE HELP!!” in a very alarmed voice. I ran upstairs to our master bathroom to find Caleb completely covered in poop and Sean holding him at arms length in disgust. We didn’t have any wet wipes in the master bathroom, so I told Sean we should run down the hall to Caleb’s room and together we could tag team it and clean Caleb up fast. For those of you who have children, I think you will concur that “blow outs” are best tackled by two parents, not one.

Oh…here’s probably the appropriate place to mention a key piece of information – Sean was butt naked. At that point in time, it was still more convenient for him to just get in the bath with Caleb to wash him (we never did like the infant bath tubs, so awkward…plus it was good father/son bonding time). I assured Sean we would hurry and everything would be fine since I knew Brenton and Ashley were out of view in our family room downstairs. He agreed, so we quickly ran down the hall and as we were cleaning up Caleb’s blow out, a sixth sense came over me. As it slowly dawned on me that I had left the remote control for the monitor in the family room, AND that Ashley and Brenton could hear on the monitor that we were in Caleb’s room, AND that we had previously instructed them on how it works, AND that they are incredibly mischievous pranksters, I turned around to see the camera swiftly rotating from facing the crib over to the changing table where we were standing. I lunged towards the camera yelling “AH!! NO!! he’s naked, he’s naked!!” Unfortunately, I’m pretty positive they thought I was referring to Caleb since the camera continued revolving with zero hesitation.

To this day, they swear they did not see Sean’s birthday suit…but I have some serious doubts since they will no longer look Sean in the eye. Just kidding! What a great laugh though 🙂 And just in case you’re wondering – yes, thenceforth we had a ready supply of wet wipes in the master bathroom.