To begin, let me tell you what this post is NOT. It's not a post saying that I've did everything right and you should learn from me (don't make me laugh). It's not a post to make you feel pressured into raising your babes the way I have mine (more on that later). It's not a post to complain about the difficulty and hardship of parenting (it is hard and difficult but simultaneously a sanctifying joy as well. I love being a Mama!) And finally this post is most certainly not about proclaiming my shouts of triumph as if I've finally reached a point of figuring everything out (ha!). No, I'm just sharing a journal-entry-of-sorts kind of post looking back on the last six months of life with our cub.
"The most difficult part of birth is the first year afterwards. It is the year of travail - when the soul of a woman must birth the mother inside her. The emotional labour pains of becoming a mother are far greater than the physical pangs of birth; these are the growing surges of your heart as it pushes out selfishness and fear and makes room for sacrifice and love. It is a private and silent birth of the soul, but it is no less holy than the event of childbirth, perhaps it is even more sacred." - Joy Kusek
Behr was not the type of baby I was expecting him to be. Jonathan and I are both middle children and, according to our mothers, extremely easy going, content babies. We entertained ourselves, hardly cried and were never really demanding in any way. For whatever reason, I assumed that the child we had would be similar to us in that respect. In the back of my mind, I just thought that the product of Jonathan and I would be, to put it simply, like us. And then Behr came tumbling into our arms and every notion of a 'textbook baby' went flying out the window (along with all of our sleep). I should have known we were in for a wild ride the moment I recovered from his crazy, intense birth. I basically had no signs of labor, was feeling as normal as you can feel at 39 weeks pregnant, and then BAM! Twelve hours later I was looking an 8lb tiny human in the face, exhausted, swollen and happy, but wondering what the heck just happened. Even the midwife and nurse who helped deliver him we're surprised at how fast my contractions came. They just kept exclaiming, "Wow. Another contraction. Oh, she's having another one. These just aren't stopping!" Like I said, it all should have been a good indicator of what our little Behr's strong personality would be like. When they placed him all swaddled up and perfect into my arms, little did I know the (best kind of wonderful and sanctifying shock) I was in for.
When I look back on those images from the hospital I don't know what to feel. It's one part nostalgic sadness, one part joy and one part pride. Yes, pride. But the good kind of pride. As in, "Wow, me and Jonathan we're cute-little-clueless-newbie parents and we've come so far since then!" And while we are by no means 'veterans' I'm still proud of the confidence we've gained. That we're a bit more sure-footed at climbing the parenting mountain than we were before. Behr hasn't started teething yet though, so check back with me after we braved that cliff-face (Ok, ok. I'll stop with the hiking metaphors now). While I know that we've still got so much to learn, we've put some time (and looong nights) under our belt since July 11th, 2014 and I thought I'd share what this fumbling Mama has learned in the last six months.
I've learned that: my baby is my baby and your baby is your baby. Each is a fresh and unique soul, unlike anyone else ever before. And while there are some guidelines we all need to adhere to when it comes to those first few months of life; gaining weight, keeping them hydrated, basic safety and hygiene etc. There's no reason to have panic/guilt attacks (like I did) when our babies don't act like everyone says they will. Or, gasp!, when our parenting styles our different from everyone else's. For instance, one of the books I read, said that a newborn typically nurses 15 minutes on each side. Behr never did that. He's always been a super efficient eater. As in, now he only averages about 5 minutes per feeding and you can obviously see that the child isn't starving (hello chubs!). But I freaked out and was furiously reading books and online articles trying to figure out what was wrong with my baby and why his behavior didn't match up the way everyone said that it might. I've since calmed down a bit by realizing that Behr is his own person and sometimes that means that I have to plunge neck-deep into the uncharted waters of figuring out the needs, desires, wants, and behavior of a brand new human. It can be scary and exhausting. But it's also wondrous and a complete miracle.
I've learned that: what works for you might not necessarily work for me. Oh, the freedom that comes with this learning this one! Maybe you delivered your baby drug-free/without intervention. I didn't. I had an epidural. Looking back, I can honestly say that it was the right decision for me and that I don't regret it. I was blessed with the ability to breastfeed from day one, maybe you weren't. Or maybe you chose not to go that route at all. That's ok! Every pregnancy, delivery, and baby is different and each one of those situations has to be handled in whatever way works best for your family. As long as our babies needs are being met, it's counter-productive to impose our ideas onto one another. We can offer tips and advice (preferably when it's asked for) but, in the end, we all have to move forward with what is best for our families. Let's just take the pressure off one another, ok? Ok!
I've learned that: Jesus is using Behr to teach me how to give grace. To myself, and perhaps more importantly, to others. I went bull-headed into parenting with what I thought would be the very best way to handle a newborn because: "That's what the books said to do! So it must work! Right?!" And while the books, tips from others, and things my mother said to try, helped. More often than not, I was left standing in middle of my house, dressed in only a frumpy bath robe, crying my eyes out because I was utterly exhausted from 'doing everything right' and not getting positive results. There were a few months in the beginning when Behr went on a major nursing strike. I tried everything, believe me, everything to solve the issue, but to no avail. He wasn't sick or teething; a crazy growth spurt perhaps? All I know is that it was intense. Even my mother (who breastfed eight babies in her child-rearing years) and his pediatrician were stumped when I explained the situation. No one really knew how to help me and I just had to stumble my way through it. There was also the time when, once we got Behr on a lovely Baby-Wise-approved-eat-sleep-wake-repeat schedule, it was like a switch flipped and he went from eating every 3 hours to frantically demanding to eat every 1-2 hours (even through the night), refusing to take long naps, and was overall a pretty discontent baby. This continued for over a month and wore both me and Jonathan completely out. As you can imagine, pretty much everything else got let go around our house during that time. I was an emotional wreck. I cried to Jonathan all the time because the house was dirty, I hadn't been able to devote the proper amount of time to our photography business and I felt like a total failure. My husband, being the gentle soul that he is, just kept telling me that it was alright and to 'please for the sake of your sanity take naps when the baby is asleep. I'll clean up Sadie's pee accident in that room when I get home'. I slowly began to see that it was ok to give myself grace to live the way I had to for that time. As long as I was doing the hard + holy work of being a mama, it was totally fine to let everything else wait. And you know what? Going though that has taught me to extend the same grace to other mama's. I needed to stop judging, to stop thinking that 'she just needs to try harder'. I'm sorry to say that has been my mind set before; as ugly and embarrassing as that is to admit. Praise God for the times of life that knock the wind out of our prideful sails. amen? To put it lightly, mamahood has kicked my rear in a gloriously humbling way. And while I still blink wide-eyed at all you mom's who can do so much more than I can while raising your littles (you're really incredible, in my opinion) that's not me. And that's ok. Really. It is.
Yea, it's hard for me to let you scroll through some those images up there. Our cluttered kitchen, the unmade bed, and all of those unfinished walls. I wish our life and home was a picturesque as some of you might think it is, but that's simply not the truth. I hope you know by now that I'm all about honesty. And the truth is, Jonathan and I have been so overwhelmed with new parenthood and the long, long hours of his job that life has slowed way down. So to be honest, the house isn't the cleanest right now, we're trying to fulfill orders for our patient photography clients during Behr naps, and we both pretty much collapse from exhaustion at the end of every day. I'm not throwing a pity party here, just telling it like is.
Look, I started off this being a Mama thing with very shaky, timid steps. It was hard because I had a selfish mindset (wait...I still struggle with that one). I was nervous and unsure of myself and so very, very tired. But now, even though most days I still don't have a clue how I'm going to muster up enough energy to make it to the end of the day, I've seen a change in myself. I'm finding the rhyme & rhythm of my days as a mother. It may not look like yours does, it may all change tomorrow, but I'm surrendering to this phase of my life. Jesus Christ has ordained it to play out in this way. And more and more I'm seeing myself transform--only through His grace! Into someone beautifully worn through and through. The real + true someone I was created to be.
“Real isn't how you are made,' said the Skin Horse. 'It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.'" -The Velveteen Rabbit.
So to any mamas out there in the awkward, miraculous, tiring trenches of the first year. Please know that I, for one, understand. I'm right there you. I know the endless diaper changes, sleepless nights, and the joy of kissing pudgy baby rolls. I know you feel defeated too often. I know you haven't had a shower or changed your hair from a messy bun in days. I know you want do better with house chores and ministering to others but you're just too worn out right now. And you know what? If I could tell you anything it would be this: Walk in confidence, woman. Of all the humans on this planet, God chose to bring that child into your life. Letting the truth of that really sink in leads us to the realization Jesus has thus equipped you to handle all the individual struggles that come with caring for the beautiful, tiny human(s) in your life. Isn't that relieving and empowering to think about? Finally, I wish to extend grace upon grace to you. And maybe a hot, stainless-steel mug of coffee (I was going to say 'cup of coffee' because it sounds cuter but we all know that when you're caring for babes your coffee cools down way too fast in a cup, amiright?)
Anyway, I never know how to end these ridiculously long blog posts so I'll just say this: Thanks for taking time out of your already busy day to read my words. I hope in some way it encouraged you and helped you know that you aren't alone. You're doing a great job, all of you tired and lovely mamas. You really and truly are.
ps. as always, you can see more daily snapshots and read super wordy captions about our life on my instagram account: @breabird