On Living in the Trenches
Our baby boy arrived on April 15th, nearly 5 weeks ago. It feels like yesterday, it feels like eternity ago, it feels like he’s been here the whole time. Our family feels complete, and my heart is full. Isabella taught me how to love unconditionally, and now I love without struggle.
Everything is so different this time. Where the first 6 weeks with Isabella were a fog of numbness and depression, I’ve felt (mostly) happy, present, and balanced this time around. I’m head over heels in love with this little boy.
So it’s hard to explain why I’m still ticking off the days till the baby stage is over.
When I go out with the kids, Isabella walking by my side and little Barrett snuggled on my chest in a sling or a wrap, people notice. And I grit my teeth every time they do.
I avoid eye contact with the little old lady at the grocery store who slowly wanders my way. I keep my eyes straight ahead on walks, ignoring the woman who looks towards me with congratulations on the tip of her tongue. I pretend I don’t hear the bank teller’s hushed-but-loud-enough-I’m-obviously-intended-to-hear-them comments, “What a cute baby!” and “Aww, so tiny!”
Usually the well-meaning interluders are older women who miss having little ones, or younger women whose children are just old enough that they’ve forgotten the hard parts about having a baby. Or, maybe they just genuinely loved the baby stage. It’s been well-established on this blog that I am not one of those women.
When people look at me knowingly with a smile on their face, I think most of them are imagining that my day-to-day experience (though challenging, certainly) is an idyllic baby paradise that looks just like a Johnson & Johnson commercial, where my infant and I stare deeply into one another’s eyes and smile and bond, and soft light pours in through a window, and I have showered within the last 7 days.
But this is what it’s really like:
I’m living in the trenches. It’s warfare, and I’m just keeping my head down and trying to make it through the day. And yeah, it’s been a while since I bathed. At least I’m alive.
Don’t get me wrong- I couldn’t possibly love this little dude more. I’m crazy about Barrett and Isabella. Before I had kids, I didn’t know you could love someone – someone so little and helpless who can reciprocate nothing – so damn much.
Parenting babies is my refining fire, a blaze I cannot put out. It makes me better, stronger, yes. But the process brings my every heinous imperfection to the surface. It’s valuable but it’s also painful, ugly, and really, really hard.
We fought for a noble purpose in World War II, but the reality on the ground was muddy and bloody and perilous.
I genuinely appreciate congratulatory comments from people who actually know me, even if they don’t understand what it’s like for me. But what I appreciate even more is when fellow soldiers say “hang in there,” or “me too, mama.” I love when veteran parents tell me “you’re doing great,” and “keep fighting, it’s worth it, I promise.”
I don’t need pressure to enjoy every single second because it “goes so fast,” or stories about how much worse it will be when they’re teenagers. I need validation, commiseration, and the assurance that it eventually gets better.
I can’t be the only one. Caring for a newborn, working a terrible job, getting through the semester, going through counseling… Who else is in the trenches with me?
We’ll get out eventually. We will.