The best advice I’ve gotten about becoming a parent was actually advice given about the process of trying to get pregnant. The logistics of getting pregnant were overwhelming, to say the least. Picking out sperm, where to buy it, when and how much to ship, to store, how much to buy, when to start trying, which ovulation prediction kits to use, which tests I needed to get, not to mention the long check-list the fertility center required we complete, etc., etc. – it’s enough to make you feel like crawling under the covers and doing nothing (which is basically what I did for a few months). In the midst of one of these phases and feeling stymied and stuck by the process, we turned to two friends who were experienced lesbian moms for guidance. They told us that every phase about having a baby was completely overwhelming while you’re in it and feels like it’s insurmountable and will never end – but then you get through it and look back thinking it was a piece of cake while being consumed and overwhelmed by the new phase.
Common sense, yes, but the most helpful words we heard. At the time I was struggling with a particular fertility test (because tests are covered by insurance and sperm is not so best figure out if everything is working right before you start dropping hundreds on sperm each month). The whole process scared me and I was thinking the likelihood of getting to the other side with an actual baby was impossible. The words of my friends became my mantra and indeed I got through it – and of course once I did, that phase I had just completed felt so simple upon reflection. But I was able to approach the next step in front of me – inseminations, which seemed truly impossible – with a little more confidence.
This advice has continued to be my mantra. When I was in the epic Two Week Wait (the first time) to find out if I was pregnant I tried to remind myself that two weeks would, in retrospect, seem short. When I was 40 weeks pregnant and not sleeping and struggling to believe that I would not be pregnant forever, I told myself that once the baby was born I would look on that period as a blip. (In truth, the end of pregnancy was so terrible for me that I have not yet come to see that period as a “blip” per se but it’s getting more and more small by the day).
And now that my baby is 3 months old I’m looking back on those first few weeks as the short but precious window that I can’t believe ever felt infinite. And I have a lot of pride about the aspects of those first days and weeks that were hard for me but I’ve since figured out. Breastfeeding was a slog and did not come easily. As my baby wailed on my boob rather than eat, I felt scared and so frustrated and not a little bit like a failure for not being able to feed my child. But we pushed through and he now eats like a champ and seeing him gain weight based on my milk alone makes me feel a kind of power I’ve never known before. When he slept more during the day than at night I wasn’t sure how we would ever reverse that but we stuck with our bedtime routine and eventually saw it flip around. When he was just starting to sense he might have hands I was rooting for him as though he might never get these – and now he happily sucks his thumbs almost as equally as his pacifier to sooth himself.
And now that I am nearing the end of my maternity leave, I’m feeling the flip side of this advice. When my baby was first born, the prospect of three and a half months ahead of me was like looking out on an ocean where you can’t see the land on the other side. But soon those days became swifter and easier and without realizing it, I’m a few short weeks away from going back to work and leaving my baby boy for 8 hours a day. This too shall pass – even the best moments. It’s as hard a pill to swallow as a parent as it is essential medicine in the challenging times.
I know, too, that that first day back will feel neverending and like a marathon. And that first week will feel like the equivalent of three. I won’t believe I will ever get to the finish line and be back at home with my baby for the day or the weekend. So I will again repeat to myself that this feels like the endless, insurmountable forever now but it will give way to the next phase soon.