This month’s theme is Here’s to Us (The Crazy Ones)—but how about the crazed ones? By crazed I mean, of course, that I haven’t slept in in 10 months. I haven’t slept through the night in roughly the same. When I have three spare minutes, I impulsively wash whatever dish is nearby or tidy and wipe down surfaces.
Perhaps by now you have accurately guessed that I am a first-time mom with a new baby?
What gave me away?
Recently—and for only a brief moment—I thought things were improving. I felt accomplished. I felt like myself. I felt like maybe, just maybe, I was getting to the point where I might successfully handle all the things on my plate.
I took stock of my situation and analyzed the facts: I can change diapers fast and without incident, nurse in public without flashing anyone, and am even sometimes up for spontaneous weeknight activities with little to no warning. (I know. It’s crazy.) I’ve been meeting goals and deadlines at work; doing laundry on a weekly basis and folding it within a day or two (lest the wrinkles get so bad, they have to be put back in the dryer). I’ve been putting my baby down by 7:30 pm and not immediately falling asleep rocking him, and I’ve even checked a few items off my list well in advance for an upcoming trip.
Perhaps (thought I) I’m finding my groove, after all.
This self-congratulatory mood lasted approximately 10 minutes, at which point I realized that I’d neglected to freeze the breastmilk I’d pumped during that week that our caregivers didn’t use. Breastmilk can only stay in the fridge for a few days—five max—if it’s a cold fridge and it hasn’t been thawed or left out for any duration before that. It was day six for the most recently pumped milk; I poured more than 25 ounces of milk down the drain.
And then I cried. A lot.
When I thought of the time I paused at work to pump, the time it takes each night to wash the parts, to pour and store and label the milk, to prepare bottles and then wash those—I just cried harder. Pouring milk down the drain is like nails on a chalkboard to a new mom. It is terrible, awful, painful. What’s more, it’s embarrassing: a little forethought could have saved that milk. (And I know so many women who struggle to produce milk and would never be so careless!!)
Not only is pumped milk hard-earned, but it’s also the mechanism by which I buy my solitude. I can have a night out with girlfriends because there is extra milk in the fridge. I can run errands on a Saturday without worrying when my baby will wake up and need to eat, because I’ve already prepped for his hunger (and for my time away). Milk is about my baby’s nourishment first and foremost, but it’s also about my freedom and flexibility to be away from home for any extended period of time. It’s our ability to have date nights—which are critical if we want to connect about more than just what needs to be picked up on the latest Target run.
As I poured the milk, the self-pity floodgates opened. Any sense of improvement, accomplishment, or progress vanished. Foremost in my mind were all the areas I was still struggling to put back into my daily routine: I haven’t finished thank you notes from when my baby was born; I have a brimming inbox full of emails I haven’t responded to, and a brimming cell phone full of unopened texts; I haven’t worked out in [redacted amount of time]. I have people I want to see, things I want to do, yet—perhaps to feel I’ve done something concrete or productive with my evenings or weekends—I still impulsively fill my spare minutes with dishes, wipe downs, tidying, and other unimportant tasks. I can’t shake the impression that it seems to be taking me quite a long time to feel like “myself” again after becoming a mom for the first time.
To be clear, I don’t begrudge my circumstances. I’m the happiest I’ve ever been, even if overwhelmed at times…It’s the tension between basking in the present moment and feeling beholden to the demands of everyday life that I’m trying to navigate.
To be clear, I don’t begrudge my circumstances. I’m the happiest I’ve ever been, even if overwhelmed at times. If I could focus solely on watching my handsome boy take in new sights and sounds and experiences, I’d be the most content mama in the world. It’s the tension between basking in the present moment and feeling beholden to the demands of everyday life that I’m trying to navigate. And rather than feeling anxious, I am eager to figure out when (if ever?) I can expect to feel a little more ahead than behind on the stuff of everyday life.
Mamas out there—novices and pros—what are your tips for staying sane, juggling the demands, and learning to thrive? When did you feel like you hit your stride in motherhood?
Ellen likes reading and writing and thinks homebodiness is a virtue. She has her MA in religion from Yale and works as the head writer & editor at a research institute dedicated to understanding the inner and outer lives of young people. She has one plant, one tattoo, one baby, and an identical twin. Contrary to all conventional wisdom, she regularly brings up both religion and politics at the dinner table.
BY Ellen Koneck - May 23, 2019
Thank you for being here. For being open to enjoying life’s simple pleasures and looking inward to understand yourself, your neighbors, and your fellow humans! I’m looking forward to chatting with you.