Thursday, April 25, 2013

The First Year: Impressions of Motherhood

In my last two posts, I talked about breastfeeding and how I've been adjusting to motherhood physically and emotionally. Today, I want to talk a little more about my general impressions of motherhood: the most surprising and challenging aspects, and my favorite part of all.

The most surprising thing about motherhood

I touched on this a little in my final letter to Ellie. For me, the most surprising thing about motherhood has been the depth of emotions and instant fluctuation between them. Before the baby was born, I "knew" that it would be difficult when she cried, that sometimes I wouldn't know how to help, that it would be tough and frustrating. But how that really feels - how difficult and how frustrating - is something you simply cannot really understand until you sit there, at the end of a long day filled with baby screams and mama tears, not knowing what to do to soothe your little one and just wanting to make everything better. It is a frustration that shakes you to your core, that makes you question yourself as a mother, as a woman, as a sane human being. It is mentally, physically and emotionally draining.

And in the beginning, at least for me, there were many, many days where that was just my life - where Ellie was just generally pissed off, and I was doing the best I could, but sometimes, my best just wasn't enough. She might settle if I bounced her on the exercise ball, and I would bounce her until my arms ached and my back was nearly spasming and I simply couldn't bounce anymore...and then she'd cry again as soon as I stopped. Sometimes she would settle just if I held her and walked around, and I would pace until my feet hurt, singing to her and trying to soothe her to sleep. But then I would sit, and it would start all over again. Sometimes, if I wanted to eat lunch, I had to just put her in her swing and listen to her cry or not eat at all. When Eric was home for dinner, he and I would take turns eating while the other bounced her on the ball so we didn't have a screaming baby soundtrack for our meal. These were the days when I just tried to make it through the days in increments - just get through this hour on the ball. Just get through this feeding. Just get through this nap. I divided my life into tiny chunks and at the end of each one, I was triumphant that we had made it through. By the time Ellie was in bed at night, I felt equally exhausted and victorious. It was a challenge to say the least.

Poor Ellie having a rough time

But that wasn't all there was to it. Not every day was like that. The ones that were shook me, made me feel isolated, frustrated and out of my element. But then, she would smile. Or laugh. Or cuddle in close to me. Or make that turtle face I loved. Or coo oh-so-sweetly. And then, no matter how frustrated I had been just seconds before, all that would melt away and all I would feel was deeper love than I ever imagined, love that seeped into my soul and made me feel, without a shadow of a doubt, that I was meant to be right where I was. This baby was meant to be my baby, and I was meant to be her mama. We could get through anything, I loved her more than anything in the world, and I would do anything for her. That feeling is the greatest high.

That face cures all ills.

So, simply put, the most surprising thing to me was how deeply I felt every emotion related to parenting, and how quickly I could go from one to the next and back again. At the end of the day, the feelings of happiness, pride and motherly love trump all (and eventually, Ellie got a little happier about being in the world!), and now my most overwhelming feelings are easily fulfillment and love. I can't say I've forgotten those difficult early days, but I feel okay about them now. I know I did my best for Ellie and now that I know her better, I feel like I understand her more and I'm just so insanely proud to be her mama.

Admiring my baby girl

The biggest challenge of motherhood so far

Given my last answer about those difficult early days, you might think those were my biggest challenge, but I'm not sure I would classify them as such. Sure, Early Angry Ellie was definitely a challenge sometimes, but doing what I needed to do to take the best care possible of my baby was not a challenge. And frankly, I just didn't know any better. For all I knew, all babies needed constant motion to be soothed. Maybe all babies required their mother's presence to nap. All I knew is that this was what Ellie needed at the moment, so that's what we were doing. It may have been difficult but it was also simple - just do it.

What I am finding most challenging, at least at this point, is getting over my own insecurities to make sure Ellie is spoken for. For example, if I have concerns about her health, I have to make myself call the doctor as many times as it takes until I am satisfied. This can be tough for me because I am a very shy person, and I particularly hate talking on the phone. I worry a lot about what people think of me. The old me would be more inclined to just "wait it out," lest the doctor's office people think I'm crazy or annoying or dumb for calling with so many questions. But that's stupid. Logically, I know that's stupid. But the old me could generally get away with it, because it was only my well-being at stake. (As a related side note, I never realized how little I really care about my own well-being/health/safety until I had a kid. Things that once would have gotten the "wait and see" treatment now demand immediate action. The car is making a weird noise? Better get it checked out immediately, because Ellie is in the car. Got the sniffles? Medicate yourself because you don't want Ellie to get sick. And so on. It's kind of funny.)

But now that it's Ellie's well-being in question, I'm having to force myself to suck it up and speak on her behalf. I just have to. She can't do it herself and it is my job to make sure she is taken care of. So if I have a concern, I call the doctor. If I feel somebody said something inappropriate about her, or is treating her poorly, I have to get over my avoid-at-all-costs approach to confrontation and speak up for her. She deserves a mom who isn't shy or timid when it comes to her needs, so I am forcing myself to step out of my comfort zone and speak up. Ellie deserves nothing less. And hopefully, I'll come out of it a more self-assured person, too.

This little girl is counting on me!

My favorite thing about motherhood

I'm going to go with a cop-out here and say it's a tie. Lame! I know. But really, I can't choose between two: watching Eric as a father and watching Ellie become her own little person.

I always knew I wanted to have kids. It was just something that I knew would be a part of my life, since I was a little girl. I felt the same way about going to wasn't a choice, it was just what I was going to do. But after marrying my high school sweetheart, the love of my life, that desire for children became a little more complex. I didn't just want to have children for my own sake, I wanted them for Eric, too. I wanted to watch him as a father and to build a family with him. And let me tell you, the realization of that vision does not disappoint.

Eric is a phenomenal father. He is so involved in every decision. He loves to play with Ellie. He misses her while he's away and I know all the pictures I text him throughout the day always put a smile on his face. He lights up when he sees her and he is so kind and gentle with her. I've said before that I love the tone of his voice when he speaks to her - it's so sweet and loving, and different than anything I've ever heard from him before. Each time I hear it, it makes me fall in love with him all over again.

And the feeling is mutual for those two. Ever since the beginning, Ellie has adored her daddy. There were many times when he would be the one who could most easily soothe her on the ball. If we were out at an event and she was cranky, she would only fall asleep in his arms, nestled against his chest. When he gets home from work, she nearly sets the floor on fire as her little legs go scoot-crawling across the house at the speed of light to get to him as fast as she can.

Watching Eric as a father and the love that those two share has so intensely altered our relationship. I love Eric so much more and in such different ways now than I ever have before. I never would have thought it possible to be more in love with him, but it happened. Seeing him in this role has been so incredible and I'm so thankful to have him as my partner on this journey. Ellie is so lucky to have a father like him.

Ellie and her daddy!

As for my other favorite thing about motherhood, it has been watching Ellie growing into the person she will be. So far she is independent, outspoken, silly, active, smart, inquisitive, loving, and happy. My most favorite part is looking back on her early days and thinking about her behavior then and realizing, "yup, that was so Ellie." For instance, remember Angry Ellie described above? I strongly feel that she was so unhappy because she wanted to constantly be exploring her world but lacked the means to do so yet. When we carried her, she wanted to be carried facing out so she could see everything in front of her. She loved the constant bouncing motion of the exercise ball. She loved the fresh air when we went for walks in her stroller. And when she was finally able to use her hands to really manipulate and explore her world, she became exponentially happier. Now, she is still in a seemingly constant state of motion, always off to explore the next thing on her radar. She's stubborn, and is insistent on what she wants to do. If she is thwarted, she let's you know she is not pleased. Going even further back, when she was still in utero she loved to rest her feet up in my ribs a lot. I would push her down only to be rewarded with a swift kick before she settled back in. In retrospect, that was just so Ellie - already feisty, opinionated and stubborn from the get-go!

In just one year I feel like I'm already getting a pretty good impression of the person Ellie will ultimately be, and I love to watch that personality fully developing in real time. She is one incredible little girl. I can hardly wait to watch the rest of her life unfold and to know the person she becomes. I love her to pieces.



Lauren said...

Such a sweet post, you are one awesome momma! :-)

Dad/Grandpa said...