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Jul 7 2014

The Trauma of First-Time Parenthood

By at 10:02 am

Tamara-newborn-nap

When we brought our newborn daughter home, she nursed around the clock with a ferocious latch. It felt as if I was putting my nipple into a stapler and then having the milk sucked out by an expensive Dyson.

If I were a first-time mama, I would have been convinced I had no milk and faulty nipples. I would have probably also convinced myself that my baby was tongue tied, lip-tied, or whatever bad-latch karma was going around the internet at the time. But what I now know to be true, after successfully nursing her two older brothers, is that I always have nipple sensitivity in the first few weeks and my daughter was gaining more than enough weight, despite a small mouth and slightly shallow latch.

As expected, after two weeks it all went away. She still nurses around the clock, but it is normal–even biological–for her to want to be nourished by me, held by me, and comforted by me. She won’t always want to be this close to me.

When we brought our newborn daughter home, she would wail at the top of her lungs if she wasn’t within six inches of me. Every night from 4 a.m. to 5:30 a.m. she would scream. She was fed, diapered, burped, held, and rested–yet she screamed at the same time with the same piercing decibel.

If I were a new mama, I would have been Googling “colic” or reading articles about how if a baby’s cortisol levels are elevated from crying for extended periods it can cause permanent brain damage. Instead, my husband and I held her, shushed her, and bounced her around our bedroom until she finally found sleep. And after four weeks, she stopped screaming at 4 a.m.

This week the New York Times ran an op-ed titled “The Trauma of Parenthood” summarizing recent studies which conclude that new parenthood is jarring, isolating, and under-supported by society. Parenthood, “despite it being the toughest job you’ll ever love,” is actually causing both men and women to be less satisfied with their lives, marriages, and in many cases, both partners exhibit signs of clinical depression.

As someone who has been open about my struggle with the postpartum anxiety I experienced when my first son was born, I absolutely agree that, “becoming a parent is one part blessing, one part trauma.”

As someone who watches my husband care for my three children and I with boundless love and understanding only to have none (NONE!) of his own needs met for months, I absolutely agree that, “the circumstances parents face are often demonstrably miserable.”

Several weeks ago my husband was bouncing our screaming daughter in his arms as we half smiled to each other about how it is almost endearing that infants get so worked up for seemingly no reason. Over her screams we reminisced about what was hard with each of our children when they were this age–our firstborn not latching; our second with an undiagnosed dairy allergy.

This playful, patient banter was so different than the days and weeks after our first son was born. I remember sobbing tears of inadequacy as my husband looked at me through bleary eyes and said, “Why didn’t anyone warn us about THIS PART?”

The part where you think you are supposed to have all of the answers. The part where you take home a helpless human with no instruction booklet. The part where you have to go back to work after six weeks and restaurant owners ask you to feed your baby in a bathroom. The part where you forget how connected you and your husband once were as you fight over bath temperatures and take turns waking each other up with irrational nightmares that your baby is buried amongst the pillows in your bed.

I am not trying to add to the “this too shall pass” lip service that society uses to minimize the experience of first-timers. Truthfully, the only reason I am a semi-competent third-time parent is because I’ve already experienced the mess that is first-time parenthood and the scars are imprinted on my soul. And while my mind, muddled by years of chronic sleep deprivation, has blocked out most of it, I know it was awful, it was wonderful, and we survived. I know imperfect parenting still produces children who know they are loved beyond measure. I know a calm reply and listening ear are more important than organic milk. I see tiny glimpses in my 4-year-old that I’m not totally screwing it up, even if that glimpse is just him saying “please” and “thank you” unprompted. I know my husband and I found our way back to one another enough to make two subsequent children and revel in the tiny bodies that fill our bed before dawn each Saturday morning.

I absolutely love parenthood and I’d have a dozen children if my husband agreed to it, but being a first-time parent is truly something I’d never want to do again.

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