The first few weeks of John’s life are mostly a blur now. I have vague memories of those first months with John, but mostly I remember the emotions. I remember feeling overwhelmed in the hospital with so many people in my room- nurses, doctors, technicians, men and women who took my baby boy away to be poked and prodded, family members and friends. And I remember feeling equally overwhelmed when suddenly I found myself alone with my baby, no one around to help me anymore. I remember the frustration of nursing, the pressure to do something that I did not want to do. I remember the high that I felt during those first sleepless nights, the sense that I was invulnerable to sleep exhaustion. And I remember the crash, weeks later, when I realized that I could not keep it up forever. I remember anxiously watching the clock, waiting for my husband to get home, knowing that I already had an excuse to drive out to Target, so that I could have thirty minutes to myself. And I remember doubting that I would ever feel like I had my life together ever again.
I can remember those first few months in stages. I remember the first three weeks, the monotony of sleeping, nursing, sleeping, nursing, for hours on end. I remember struggling through flipped days and nights, when John would sleep in four hour blocks during the day, but then be up every hour throughout much of the night. I remember sitting in my rocking chair, John asleep in my arms, wondering if I would ever bond with him, would ever feel that overwhelming sense of love that other mothers had spoken of. I remember questioning my decision to become a mother.
I remember the turning point, my choice to switch to formula. I remember the sense of relief as I sat down with John to give him his first bottle, the breath that I let out, the breath that I had been holding for the past three weeks, as he guzzled it down. I remember the next three weeks as a cycle of worry that no one supported my decision, my frustration when John fought his bottle, my fear that I was just being selfish in choosing my own happiness over John’s health. But I remember the love that I felt for him in those days most of all. I remember thinking to myself, Now this is what everyone has been talking about.
And yet I still didn’t feel like I had a grasp on my life. John was still very uncomfortable, and when he wasn’t sleeping, Andrew and I were trying desperately to stop his crying, especially in the evening. We bounced, rocked, paced, and tried every trick that we could find online. Even when he was content, which he was often during the day, his face and clothing were often marked with spit-up, and we were constantly mopping him up. We changed his formula, added an acid-reflux variety, but there was only a small improvement. Like so many newborns, John’s gastrointestinal tract was not fully developed and caused him pain, and like so many new parents, Andrew and I tried everything to make John comfortable.
Evenings were the worst, and we became very familiar with the so-called witching hour. From around 5PM until bedtime, John could be inconsolable. His evening discomfort reached its peak around the two month mark, and I remember turning down multiple dinner invites because it was too stressful to go out with him in public at that time. Thankfully, he was sleeping well at night, thanks to a combination of a pacifier and his swing, which made the days more manageable.
It was right around the three month mark that I really felt like I had figured out motherhood, at least enough to really enjoy it. The fog of the newborn stage had faded, and though I was on the brink of the four month sleep regression, I actually felt like I could handle it- which I did, with the help of some sleep training and the support of my husband. We’ve had some rough times since the three month mark- in the last five months, John has been both a great sleeper and an awful one, he has guzzled down bottles and fought them with every fiber of his being, he has both laughed and cried, but I have been able to really enjoy my time with John. That sense of drowning, so pervasive during the newborn stage, is gone. Now, even when things are difficult, I still feel as though I can keep my head above water.
When I was pregnant, I read plenty of women’s reflections on the fogginess and darkness that often accompanies those first few weeks and months with a newborn baby. I knew of its existence, but I just couldn’t prepare myself for it. Not fully. But I did find small things that made those weeks more bearable, while I waited for the moment that everyone promised, the moment where the fog lifted and you could see the light. I took warm showers nearly every day. I took short walks by myself, and quick trips to Target, just to get out of the house and away for a while. I treated myself to Starbucks from time to time, slowly meandering around the mall while I sipped it. I continued my habit of reading before bed, one of the few traditions that carried over into my life as a mother. These little things kept me going, kept me sane during those first three months of motherhood when life was so overwhelming. They gave me strength until I finally emerged from the fog of the newborn stage, when my son, the light of my life, turned his little face toward mine and gave me the brightest smile I had ever seen. And all I could do was smile back.
Mary Help of Christians, pray for us!