My first breakdown was when he was 6 weeks old. I’d fallen asleep nursing (again) and Jon came in to check on us. The end result was a two hour conversation, an entire box of Kleenex tissue, and heaving sobs from the new unknown I’d become.
It wasn’t pretty.
I was exhausted from his birth. The c-section was a surprise—I’d gone in hoping for minimal intervention and walked out of the hospital with a new kid and a 4 inch scar across my lower abdomen. It was the first of many cuts.
I look back at photos of that cold day in February: membranes ruptured, walks and bouncing and stair-stepping and deep-house-cleaning and 12 hours later just a hotspot of back pain without much progress, and into the hospital for waiting and rolling and deep breathing and stalling and IUPC’s and epidurals and cutting and first breaths and crying. It was all so rote for me—routine, emotionless, numb. I remember the back pain, the breathing. I remember the referred right shoulder pain and the bruise that the anesthesiologist left on my trapezius—probably some deeper sign of the metaphoric changing colors happening inside. I remember the awe that Jon captured through the camera, the tears that flowed freely from the Grandma’s, and the Benadryl that was like a sweet relief for me at the end of a long day. I remember all these things—these good things, exciting things, new things.
But I don’t remember smiling.
I didn’t take things seriously for a while. The day after surgery I walked around the room like a zombie—learning to breastfeed, feeling poked and bruised and cut-open. And for the healing that had already happened, I felt like I had a million more contusions to work through.
The first week home I ate an entire pound of Kirkland Fruit and Nut Medley, a few bites of cottage cheese, and choked down the water that was forcibly leashed to my side. Thatcher had jaundice with an elevated bilirubin, which meant daily trips to hear him scream while they squeezed rich red out of his heels. My milk was in 3 days after he was released into our lives—making me feel both satisfied that my body was doing exactly what it was supposed to and miserable that my clothes and bras and conscience were now even more cluttered with awkward lumps and sag than before.
I’d committed myself to Baby Wise. The rave reviews from family and friends convinced me that because I wanted a baby who was a scheduled, dependable sleeper, it was the best answer to a problem I didn’t know existed yet. And so, for the following six weeks I violated every law passed down by Matriarch’s: I WOKE THE BABY. We ate. We played. We tried to sleep. I was a stickler for the dream of routine. And by “we”, I really mean Thatcher—the kid who nursed every hour for 45 minutes and refused to sleep in blips longer than 20 minutes.
I don’t think I loved him then. I liked him then—he was our kid, afterall. But I never felt drawn to him as much as I felt obligated. There were no tears of joy after the birth; I told Jon he looked like a bruised old man. I wasn’t overwhelmed with motherly love.
I expected the feelings to pass—I expected to love him more and want to hold him more and just relish in being his mommy. I expected more feelings to come, ones that were good and plenty and whole.
But the feelings never came.
And at the 6-week mark I found myself sobbing over a finally-sleeping 16-pound baby that had literally and figuratively sucked me dry. I blubbered over all the disappointments and unexpected feelings. I didn’t like being a mom—it wasn’t anything like I had expected it to be. Some days I didn’t even like my kid—the one who sucked on me and invaded my space bubble and ruined my sleep schedule and left purple ugly lines on my stomach and flab on my love-handles and challenged me in ways that I DIDN’T WANT TO BE CHALLENGED. Motherhood was not looking good on me. I was ready to throw in the towel or throw down a stiff drink laced with Prozac.
It was my deepest valley.
I gave up on Baby Wise and I half-abandoned hopes of a scheduled child. Just six weeks later I would find myself on 24 hour calls every-other-day, delivering other people’s babies and watching the obsessive, uncontainable joy through sobs of Daddies and the satisfactory hard work of laboring mommies.
I truly couldn’t relate.
Jon left in June for his month of obligatory National Guard duty. This left me with a 3 month old sleepless, schedule-less child, 24-hour OB shifts, and a sister who was a saving grace in every sense of the word. It also left me feeling like a weary lunatic.
We did cry-it-out.
We did cry-it-out again.
We tried the Boppy. And towel rolls. And the swaddle. And the absence of them all.
And still, Thatcher ate and grew and ate and cried and ate and really didn’t sleep.
Residency changed my mindset. Ask me where I spent most of my time between 2006 and 2008 and I’d be able to tell you that aside from 45-60 minutes at the gym every day and 2 hours on Saturday mornings when I was leading Sit and Be Fit and Bingo classes at the local nursing home, I was sitting on a black pleather office chair studying. I stayed up late. I got up early. I studied in the coffee shop and at dinner and even in the shower. And as a result, sleep became secondary. VOLUNTARILY secondary. I learned that old saying about Working Hard and Playing Harder was true. And so, on weekends and weeknights and every moment in between, I studied and played myself through medical school.
And then residency came. I expected the worst. And to my surprise I found that it was bad and sour and awful—but not that bad and sour and awful. I was just tired. ALL THE TIME. And sleep deprived. ALL THE TIME. But the truth was that I was used to it. And when the Sleep Angels did visit me? THERE WAS MUCH REJOICING. I learned to cherish my sleep—the little that I was allowed. Naps were taken. Saturday morning sleeping-in was initiated when possible. And I (we) survived.
And then we had a baby.
When Thatcher was 6 weeks old, I was tired.
When he was 12 weeks, I was exhausted.