Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Savoring This Stage

The difficulty of those first few weeks of new motherhood is already starting to recede into the horizon like tall buildings shrinking into dots as our train barrels ahead.

We dance to the same rhythm each day. We breastfeed on the couch in Henry's room. I caress his wispy hair, always smiling at his perpetual bed head. Then we move into his awake time. Sometimes he lays on his stomach, straining to lift his head to look at the black and white accordion book stretched out all around him. Other times, he is on his back, learning to track movements by watching his mobiles. Or we plop ourselves on a blanket outside and Henry's wide eyes soak up everything, while I read or drink the breakfast smoothie that Matt made for me before leaving for work. I shower during his awake time, while Henry lays on a thick towel on the bathroom floor and occupies himself underneath his wooden archway with dangling black and white images.

When I've counted a couple yawns, I wrap the Moby around my body and put the little piglet into his pocket. I sit on the front porch swing and sway him to sleep. Then, with about an hour and a half of time to my marsupial self, I decide what to do with my quiet time. I usually reference my ongoing list: write blog posts, finish thank you cards, schedule appointments, etc.

Our cycle repeats about every three hours. I usually try to fit in a visit with friends, often during one of Henry's naps in his piglet pocket, pressed against my chest.

I worked really hard to convince Matt to take a paternity leave. He took two full weeks off and then had another full week for spring break. Then he had two weeks of half days (which, for him, is a five-hour day). So when he comes home early, he becomes kangaroo dad, and I use one of the nap cycles to sleep all alone. Heavenly!

I still cry easily, although I tend to cry much more from joy than despair these days. I'm working really, really hard to savor the stage I'm in.

I've done a lot of work around the concept of savoring the stage one's in. As someone who enjoys planning, I'm always looking ahead, making lists, dwelling in possibility. Even though I continue to let myself keep one part of my
brain in the future, I also try to dip myself into the warm waters of the present and relax a bit. When I was pregnant, for example, I tried to truly embrace the experience and fully enjoy that stage without wishing for Henry to hurry up and get here. When we were trying to conceive, I also tried to enjoy our life as it was, even though I was eager to get pregnant.

I think the trick to minimizing your suffering during the hardest parts of adjusting to an infant is to surrender. You have to surrender to the experience as it is and not try to change it.

Unfortunately, I was not able to do that for the first several weeks. I spent so much time preparing myself to surrender during the labor and delivery that I neglected to realize I would have to continue surrendering once he arrived.

At so many other points in my life, I've been able to avoid or go around suffering. In college, for example, I never pulled an "all-nighter." Either I planned out my time well in advance, or I opted for a lower grade. It just wasn't worth it to me to suffer from sleep deprivation.

But in this experience, there's no way around the suffering. You simply have to go straight through it. Even though I was able to do a lot to minimize my suffering by planning and preparing so much ahead of time, there were still things that I couldn't work around. I had to suffer through my post-partum pain. I had to suffer through a breast infection and a stomach virus--all while learning to breast feed. I had to work through the shift into my new role as mother.

As Anne Lamott writes in Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son's First Year, "You've already gone ahead and done it before you realize you couldn't possibly do it, not in a million years."

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Anonymous said...

Sara, I too found the lack of sleep surprising and debilitating. So much so that for years I couldn't imagine going through it all again (until such time that I wanted nothing more than to go through it all again. I'm happy to report that things were MUCH smoother the second time around, mostly for knowing what to expect).

Anonymous said...

oh gosh, i wrote you the most wonderful comment and blogger had an error.

*sigh* oh mama...that anne lamott book changed my life. it made me a writer, it did, and i started reading it when grace was 5 weeks old (she's almost 4 now). that book became my escape, my little piece of heaven in a day that i had little control over.

you said it perfectly - surrender. you just...do it. you do it, and you are doing it, and then you realize....it feels kind of good, despite the lack of sleep, despite the suffering, all of it. you do it. you're doing it. the comment about the towel in the bathroom made me giggle - i remember dragging grace's swing into the hallway just outside the bathroom door to shower, and then realizing i could lay her on the bathroom floor while i peed, or i could breastfeed and pee at the same time...set her down really quick to wipe, and back at it we were. haha.

it amazes me how much more preparation there is for birth than for the aftermath (really, it is aftermath, no?). even in doula training workshops - the birth program is two days, and postpartum is 4 very long days. i was never an all-nighter either, and it's hard.

anne lamott's other books are great too - plan b, traveling mercies...highly recommend them.

Carrie said...

Wonderful, peaceful post, Sara. :) I'm so sorry you've already suffered a breast infection so early on. I had mastitis four times, and it truly felt like being hit by a truck every single time. Yikes. Life is so simple right now. Isn't that nice for a change? :)

Sarah said...

Thanks for a lovely post. As I find myself preparing to surrender to labor and delivery, I will try to remember to prepare for the surrender of life with a newborn. Thanks for the inspiration.

katie joe said...

I second chelsea's recommendation for more anne lamott if you haven't indulged already. Your writing often reminds me of hers.

I am excited and relieved for you that things are looking up and moving forward. Thank you for taking us along!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for reminding us that it gets better!

V. Wetlaufer said...

What a lovely post! The postpartum time can be so difficult with all the hormones you've got going on and the physical recovery and the new baby...

I'm glad things are starting to improve, and I'm glad you're taking time for you, too.

I laughed at the no all-nighters! I'm such a night owl that I am often only productive during those wee morning hours, and I still, in grad school, pull all-nighters, though it's much harder than when I was young.

eliza said...

Surrender...so, so true. A great life lesson, huh? And I think you are spot-on in commenting that in parenthood, you must go straight through. It is an amazing, life-altering learning process!

Brenna said...

I love this post. Such great reminders of sometimes surrendering and sometimes just pushing through. Thanks. Take care.

Rachel said...

yes, yes, yes! I love your sentiments.

nc said...

Thank you thank you for all of your posts on this. My baby is 2 1/2 weeks old, so your writing both makes me feel like I'm not alone in feeling totally overwhelmed by this stage and helps me see that each week/day things will get better. This is the week Dad went back to work, so especially challenging.

You mentioned that you're using the Ergo w/infant insert- I tried ours and had trouble. Can you talk more about your experience with it? Mama needs some hands-free time, and this little one just loves to be held....

Again, thank you, and please continue to share the ups and downs. I read your blog as we were pregnant at the same time, and reading now as we experience the newborn stages at almost the same time is great.

Sara E. Cotner said...

@ nc: What kind of trouble are you having with it? I just followed the directions in the instruction book. Let me know specifics and I'll try to help you! I also love the Moby. It's less bulky than the Ergo with the insert.

nc said...

It felt like she was really low and slouchy in there- maybe just because she's small (under 7 pounds still). I'll have to give it another shot, I need a workable babywearing solution!

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