The last ten weeks have been…a gigantic mindfuck of a blur. I don’t want this to be a parenting blog and for privacy reasons, I’ll hold back on the nitty gritty of my experiences, but…I need to talk a little bit about what I’ve learned in the last few weeks.
I had given myself six weeks to “luxuriate” in postpartum insanity. I was not going to work on my dissertation. I was not going to worry about dieting or any of that nonsense. I was just going to figure out how to parent, how to breastfeed, and take care of this little squeaking person in my arms. As soon as the baby fell asleep, my husband would command me to put down my smartphone and sleep. We ate frozen meals and ran the laundry 3 or 4 times a day if we needed something clean asap and didn’t care about the water bill. I stopped recycling. It was GO GO GO time and our priorities were cut in stone: take care of the baby, survive, be kind to each other. Everything else could slide.
But when six weeks was up, I decided it was time to “get things in order.” This is understandable: I was exhausted. None of my clothes fit. Deadlines are looming (grad students don’t get “maternity leave”). Everyone, who is so gentle with the glowy pregnant woman, suddenly becomes impatient with the fat, frazzled “mommy.” I began googling “baby nap schedule” at 4am. Every day was out of my control and in the hands of a 7 week old, chubby faced tyrant. We love our baby and have no regrets but…well, I just really, really wanted control over my life again.
My husband and I both felt fat and exhausted and guilty/ confused when these negative feelings popped up. It is contradictory of course. Part of me wants him to grow up, sleep longer, use the toilet, use language…and the other part of me cried when packing away the newborn clothes that he outgrew. I felt angry that I couldn’t cherish these early weeks more because they seemed to conflict with all my other Go Getter plans. I kept thinking, if only I could control the baby’s schedule better then it’d be the best of both worlds.
Control. Isn’t that the underlying motivation for all “Self Help” seekers? We feel like we lack control over our lives, the outcomes of our endeavors, ourselves and our bodies. We talk about motivation, goal setting, self cultivation as processes of self controlled self-formation. For so man of us, it is all about self-control. We also talk about relationships, communication, finding the “Right” people to love, love us, mentor us, socialize with, etc. To some degree, we hope we can also control the people we interact with.
From week 6 to now (about week 10), I tried to regain control. This wasn’t consciously plotted out in my brain, mind you. But, I started going to the gym for 30 minutes in the morning…but that wasn’t consistent because, you know. I read parenting books and followed their instructions on how to make sure the baby took good solid naps and good full feedings, all in order to regulate his daily rhythms. Haha, sure, okay. Plus he had shots, then we went out of town, growth spurts, wonder weeks, then we had a heat wave… And as stupid as it is, I still felt like a failure and couldn’t understand why. Finally, I realized that deep down, my goal wasn’t to find balance, peace, or a rhythm that worked for my new life. My mistake was to hope for “control” over the universe and whittle everything down to suit my goals. As you can tell, such an attitude is just futile, painful, and self-sabotaging.
Be like water.
Yesterday I was like, hm, this baby…is a baby. He is a little baby too. I have to respect this reality and understand that most babies still eat every 3-4 hours. Most babies will not sleep through the night or have a consistent nap schedule for at least a few more months (if ever). And who cares because I need to observe and understand THIS baby — he might be on a totally different schedule for a while. That is okay. And suddenly, I was back to being okay with it all.
The psychological shift also completely changed my physical well being too. For a while, I’d wake up in the middle of the night to feed the baby and think “omg hurry and eat I’m sooo tired, go back to sleep arrggg” and then fitful sleep for mom and baby both. But now, I understand that I just need to be up. So I’m up and I’m calm. I review kanji while I breastfeed. And I take an extra nap in the morning to make up for it.
As I wrote to myself months ago for my 2014 goals, instead of aiming for perfection, I should aim for mindfulness so that I can be a better parent and partner in those sleep deprived moments of frustration. The goal is to find acceptance with the Here and Now, adjusting as i go along, and not fretting constantly about the Ideal Situation or What If Tomorrows.
This all can’t be about self-control. It HAS to be about mindfulness.