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[personal profile] msagara
When I wrote my post on help, I had a second topic I wanted to address. As it happens, I wrote about a number of things in between, but I haven’t forgotten.

I’ve written about my oldest son in a number of posts. Everything in this post is only indirectly about my son. It is mostly about me, about my first year-and-a-half as a new parent, and about the evolution of love as an act of endurance.

From my own experiences, it seems to me that raising children - a first child, especially in the first four years - is as much about endurance as it is about love. We develop the ability to endure because we have a very strong sense of responsibility. The child is ours. There’s visceral biochemistry involved.

I knew, in the hospital, whenever my son cried. Whenever any child cried, I would tense, wondering if it was mine - but the minute I heard his voice, there was no question. I knew. Also: he cried. A lot. I hated to have him away, but at the same time, I was exhausted, in pain, and in the severe stress I generally am when I’m stuck in an unfamiliar environment and strangers don’t think twice about walking into the bathroom when the door is closed and I am sitting on the toilet. Ahem.

If we have a strong, visceral attachment to our newborn infants, we also have doubt and fear and uncertainty, and in spite of the fact that the bundle which has now entered our life like a cluster bomb is new and entirely helpless, we also have things we need. As adults, we address our wants and needs, often with far less damaging consequences than our early attempts as teenagers. As parents, or as mothers, the needs of our child are now considered tantamount; they are to subsume all our needs, because: baby vs. adult. As adults, we’re expected to somehow become ideal. We warrant judgement and mockery if we fail to live up to the ideal of motherhood as it is held, often by people who will never experience it except as a very disappointed child.

Actually, that’s unfair. I don’t know about any of the rest of you, but as a childless woman myself I was highly critical and often judgemental about the parenting of other people. I would see a child having a tantrum in public and I would think: My mother would have killed us if we had done that or no child of mine is ever going to do that. I knew, of course, having had no children of my own, that there was a right way to raise children so they would behave perfectly. (I didn’t say any of this out loud, and I am profoundly grateful that I didn’t - because I say most things out loud, and this one deserved to be buried so deeply it never sees the light of day again.)

You may all laugh at me, now. I knew it because it’s easy to know this when there’s no experience of the absolute truth of the 24/7 that is motherhood. So, first and foremost, motherhood was humbling. It was humbling because all of the certainty I’d once held--the unkind certainty--that I would raise perfect children was staring me in the face.

It taught me two things. One: that I had been so wrong if being wrong were a crime my children would have been single parent children within the first week of their life. Second: if I could be that wrong about something so important, how wrong could I be about other things? How much did what I “know” reflect my total lack of experience and my youthful hubris? It changed not only the way I looked at parenting, but also the way I looked at the world. It forced me to dig deeper, to try to see the truth of a life I might never otherwise live.

It made me far less judgemental.

But I was still at sea, here. I understood ‘love’ as it pertained to me, my husband, my friends. I understood that I felt most loved where I was seen and known as myself. Love was grounded in respect, respect in knowledge. I loved my husband for who he was.

I loved my parents in a different way, but I will tell you, I have fought with no one in my life as much as my mother and I fought during my adolescence. Not even my sister. We clashed time and again over areas of respect and knowledge and inconsistencies.

I had never thought about loving a baby. I had--as so many of us do--assumed that that all-consuming love would hormonally kick in the minute labor was over and the infant was bundled and placed in my arms. I knew - I flatter myself here - how to love other people.

But…a baby is not quite a person. If an infant has likes, dislikes, they’re not immediately clear. Babies do not have shareable opinions; they do not have life-defining philosophies. They are not, however, an entirely blank slate: they exist in potential, with character traits that arrive, hidden, at birth.

How does someone who has struggled to an adult, sane, and rational definition of love & human interaction then interact with someone who … has not? How could I love someone who I did not know, and who did not know me?

#

When GEnie was still active, I went from being childless to being a mother. My son did not sleep unless he was held. If he was put down, he woke and screamed until he was picked up. He could not just be held either, unless he was asleep; he required motion. Sound. Visual stimulus. He could not, in fact, be put down - at all - until he was able to crawl.

We believe, at this point, that his stomach was not entirely fully formed (this is not infrequent with babies), and he was therefore in pain. Stimulus distracted him from that pain. So we had to hold him -- face out, arms supporting that position - and bounce him gently up and down. He would not sit in a stroller until he could walk. (We tried. Twice. He simply would not stop screaming until he was picked up.)

My husband worked three day weeks for the entirety of his vacation, because it gave him more time at home for the longest possible period. And I will admit up front that I deeply envied him the ability to go back to work. He could: answer the phone. Eat a meal. Go to the bathroom, all without the certainty of interruption. I would put my son into his car bed and go to the bathroom while he screamed his lungs out, at home.

Sleep was…a thing of the past. It was fractured, broken, and hugely variable. I was, to put it mildly, a wreck. I was also a new mother. The latter almost guarantees the former. Lack of sleep is a subtle torture, and it eats away at everything. I do not think I have ever cried so much as I did during my oldest son’s first two months of life; I was exhausted. Again: new mother. This is common.

But we’re often afraid to say this because it works against the Hallmark version of the good mother. It makes us sounds as if we don’t appreciate baby boot camp. And it is boot camp. You don’t get proper food, you don’t get proper sleep. You do everything on autopilot, and some things, you do not do at all. The house was a mess.

I was not a Hallmark mother. I was desperately trying to get a book finished on deadline because I had assumed that it would not be difficult to find one hour out of a day in which to write. One hour. It was, as it turned out, almost impossible. So: stress. It was the first time I had not been working full-time since we were married. And we needed the income. It wasn’t optional. I did not make much money writing, at that time - but the little I did make was required.

I kept waiting for the happy glow of sentiment that would make this all seem worthwhile and pleasant. I felt like an alien. I would go to meetings with other mothers and they all seemed happy and content and I felt like a monster. After our sixteen week meeting with the labor coach and the parents in that class, I turned to the labor coach, feeling like an utter failure and said, “Why is every other baby but ours sleeping through the night?”

She gave me a very funny look and said, “Oh, they’re not.”

“But they all said they were.”

“They’re lying. Or they’re defining “through the night” in a way that does not actually mean what the words say.”

I am, at heart, a very straightforward person. A geek. I said, “But--but why would they lie?”

And she said, “for a hundred different reasons. No one wants to look like a bad parent. No one wants unhelpful advice. No one wants to listen to their parents criticize them for their parenting. It’s much, much easier to say ‘yes’ when asked if the baby is sleeping.”

#

I had all the biological impulses, all the physical reactions - to his crying, for instance - but they were dissociated from me. I was even afraid to touch him too much because I had hated being touched as a child, and if he hated it, he had no way of expressing it, no way of telling me to keep my distance. I was trying to treat him as if he were another independent person. Flailing.

I would start emails and finish them hours later, in bits and pieces. I asked most of my friends not to call because I couldn’t answer the phone without screaming (his) or crying, and on the off chance that he fell asleep, I could at least sit down with him, instead of the constant walking and bouncing - but the phone would wake him.

So: I was isolated, I was exhausted, I was a zombie. No two months of my life before or since were as difficult as the first two months of life with my first child.

When I did finally, slowly, come back to a very changed life, my son was fifteen months old. At fifteen months, I fell in love with him. But it took that long before my fear of failure, my lack of sleep, my inability to instantly emotionally bond stepped out of my way.

Did I share this with my son? No. What very little energy I husbanded went into time with him. I learned to smile. I learned to laugh. I sang instead of speaking (because that often caught his attention). I would lie down on the floor, on my stomach, to play with him. For hours. The vacuum cleaner made him scream. He instantly panicked if it was turned on. Multiple attempts to acclimatize him to this sound utterly failed. So, I may have mentioned the house was a mess. My husband would take the baby out for a walk, and I would do the noise-making cleaning. Or, you know, collapse on the couch and stare listlessly at the ceiling.

I did not mention GEnie by accident.

GEnie was a board that hosted a lot of authors, and each was given their own discussion topic. Each author set the tone for their topic; they were their own moderators. There were topics I loved because of the discussions they hosted, and topics I avoided because of the flames.

But one author’s topic caught and held my attention. She was a respected SF author, and she had married a man who had a six year old son. She had dogs. She got along well with the six year old until the day he found out that she was marrying his father - that his father and his mother would therefore never live together again. Then, he became insecure.

Her husband worked the usual Monday to Friday out of the house job; she was a writer, and she was therefore home. So she undertook the childcare. Children were not part of her future plans before she met her husband, and she found herself entirely lost at sea. She did not want to replace the child’s mother, and she didn’t want to step on the child’s toes or disrespect his boundaries; she wanted to give him respect & room.

Yes, you can understand why these discussions caught and held my interest. It was like gazing into a mirror. But she was willing to talk about these things in public because she was not the child’s biological mother. She talked about her sense of alienation; of being outside while keeping an eye on the children, and realizing she had far more in common with the grandmothers and caretakers than she did with the mothers. She spoke about the way her life was reduced to shopping for children’s clothing, grocery shopping to make meals because if she didn’t meals were on a very shaky schedule, and school duties.

And she said one thing, one day, for which I had to comment. She was at a low point in her entry into motherhood, and she was certain that had she been the child’s biological mother, she would not have any of these feelings. She would have that bonding, and that instant affinity, that would somehow make life just work.

And so, I said, and this is paraphrase because I don’t have the GEnie records for those topics anymore; I just remember the sense of the discussion, “What makes you think that biological mothers don’t have this reaction? What makes you think we don’t get tired, we don’t feel lost, we don’t wonder what happened to the lives we struggled so hard to build? We’re just as lost when we start. They don’t have mandatory parenting classes. The only difference is we don’t doubt that we are the child’s parents, because demonstrably, we are.”

And she said, “Wait, wait. You mean you’ve felt this way as a biological mother?”

And I said, “Oh yes. I think a lot of us do, but we don’t normally speak about it because we don’t want to look or sound like bad parents. We don’t have doubts about our feelings that we can blame on not being biological parents--demonstrably, we are. But we have the same fears, the same sense of inadequacy.”

And she said, “I have to think about this.”

I don’t know too much about what happened to her after this. She left GEnie, and I had so little time to spend on-line that I kind of left everything for a while, because my oldest child was very, very time intensive and as he slept less, there was no time for much else. Son, writing, and household chores. Sleep was still not plentiful.

But by this time, I accepted the responsibilities that I had chosen. I learned to endure the endless days of play-doh in the breakfast nook (I mean this: we could be there for four hours). The 5 minute walks between the house and the playground that took almost an hour, because every pebble had to be inspected, every crack in the sidewalk, every small twig. I learned to see the world as my son saw it, and to try to find the joy and the humor in it because I had to do it anyway. I grew to love the time because I was old enough to teach myself how to do this. I threw much of myself into his life because, among other things, it was my job. It did not come naturally, to me. I had to work at it.

But, you know, writing came naturally to me - but writing well enough to be published most assuredly did not. Parenting was the same. It’s just that writing was not and had never been a 24/7 thing.

Was I perfect at parenting? Hardly. But I was good at keeping the frustration to myself on most days. On the days I simply couldn’t - well, we had timeouts for those, and when my son was two and a half, I could stick myself in my room for ten minutes without risking hideous injury on his part.

And years later, I read an interview in LOCUS with this author, and she spoke with happy--and great--affection of “my kid”. It made me smile, because although I did not read or correspond with her again I understood that she had chosen to make the same journey that I had.

Date: 2012-06-14 12:53 am (UTC)
chomiji: Akari, the shaman from SDK ... more to her than you might imagine  (Akari - autumn colors)
From: [personal profile] chomiji

Thank you so much for posting this.

I had similar experiences when I had my daughter, and the sleeplessness threw me so far out of whack that I went into post-partum depression. I joined a mothers' support group, only to discover that I was the only one who seemed to be having any problems with her baby. At our final session, one woman sought me out to thank me. Her little boy was colicky, and she hadn't felt like speaking up, but she was comforted by my confessions. I'm glad I was able to help, but it wasn't exactly the experience I was seeking.

Now, 20 years later, I can easily understand that of course all these Type A Washington DC moms wouldn't want to confess that something wasn't going well.

Date: 2012-06-14 03:07 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] msagara.livejournal.com
Thank you so much for posting this.

And thank you for reading. This is kind of the first part of a discussion about where the concept of love as an act of endurance comes from. I think it’s necessary when dealing with children.

But I think it’s vastly less positive when dealing with adult relationships.

Date: 2012-06-14 02:47 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] fadethecat.livejournal.com
This was tough to read.

I want to have children. I'm actively trying to have children. And I admit that, on reading all of this--which is about love, and the happy ending--my visceral reaction is "Oh hell, I don't ever want to do that." I worry that I'm too selfish to be any good at being a parent, especially if there's not the warm fuzzy overriding sense of Perfect Parenthood that Hallmark wants me to believe exists.

I am not good at endurance, and I don't know that I could do that. And having a kid doesn't have an easy back-out option. There is no point at two months in where you can go "On second thought, this isn't working out. How about a goat instead?" Thinking about this kind of commitment, and the way someone else gets to define my life for years and years, terrifies me. Which makes me feel like a bad person.

But it's probably for the best that I think about this beforehand, and not afterward.

Date: 2012-06-14 03:05 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] msagara.livejournal.com
Thinking about this kind of commitment, and the way someone else gets to define my life for years and years, terrifies me. Which makes me feel like a bad person.

I don’t think you should in any way feel like a bad person for this. If anyone other than a baby took over and controlled almost every aspect of your life, people would be concerned; they would tell you upfront that this wasn’t healthy.

Children are a source of joy - but there’s a lot of mundane, tired work interspersed with those moments - and I think if people were more honest about this one of two things would happen:

1. No one would ever have children. This would obviously not be the best thing for the shape of our society as it stands.

2. People would have more realistic expectations and a better sense of how to define boundaries of their lives in a way that allowed them to fulfill their needs as a person without losing sight of their role as a parent.

Date: 2012-06-14 03:30 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] fadethecat.livejournal.com
Reasonable and realistic expectations are certainly wise. I suspect a lot of my frustration is with how gendered it is. I'm sure having an infant is rough on both parents, but if I acquire one, I will be the one who's parenting 24/7, while the spouse is not, for basic financial reasons. And...dammit. I want to be a father. I want to be a parent who comes home and gives someone else some time off, and gets to be the Good Parent who dispenses treats and fun, while someone else does the constant slog.

But that's not likely to happen. Nor is a perfectly equitable division of labor. I want to be a parent; I just don't want to be a mother.

Date: 2012-06-14 03:45 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] chrysoula.livejournal.com
Even when I was 10, I wanted to be the daddy, even though I didn't really understand why at the time. :-)

I still get cranky that I'm the primary caretaker. I'm a lot more short-tempered than I used to be, even getting six hours of sleep sometimes. (I have a 3 month old and an ASD 4 year old.)

Oddly, I never expected Magic Love. I _did_ fear personality-warping hormones, because I kept encountering people who would tell me how much they changed once they had a child. And people who would start defining themselves as Darienmommy and so on. I feared and dreaded that, but... it didn't really happen.

I will say, at least if you don't have an ASD kid of the sort who requires constant attention, that the 'kid defines every aspect of your life for the next N years' is partially Mommy Culture pressure. With even a moderately helpful coparent, a clear sense of your priorities, and a refusal to accept external ideals about Good Mommyhood, you can keep some parts of yourself. And kids _are_ pretty cute, which can make up for quite a bit.

(And it says a lot about the social parenting thing that part of me shies from even saying this because OH NO MICHELLE AND OTHERS WILL JUDGE ME BAD PARENT!)

Date: 2012-06-14 03:49 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] fadethecat.livejournal.com
Ahhhhh, the erasure of self into ParentOfChild. I do fear that. (It is reassuring to know, from reports of various people, that it doesn't happen. Talking constantly about the child is inevitable, if child is taking up all time and thought processes, but not necessarily the Existence Is For Child part.)

I do some judging of parents, because I can't help it. But I keep my mouth shut--I have not yet actually encountered a parent being abusively wrong--because I can help that. I also know that all my judgments are being formed based on limited knowledge of circumstance, and my not needing to provide constant small person care on virtually no sleep. I can't even care for myself on low sleep, much less a demanding infant.

Date: 2012-06-15 12:56 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] salanth.livejournal.com
That's funny, because my aunts and uncles were always referred to as Child'sMom/Dad when we got together. It's a Korean thing. I still don't know their names... Of course, it would help if I was any good at Korean.

Date: 2012-06-15 12:42 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] janni.livejournal.com
I get pretty frustrated, too, with how we're a culture of Blame the Mother (if everything isn't perfect) and Praise the Father (if he plays any role at all in the caretaking of his own child, however small).

Date: 2012-06-14 09:35 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] bohemiancoast.livejournal.com
I think we have broken our society a bit. Here's the way it's supposed to work:

As an older child, way before you have kids of your own, you start to take on some of the responsibilities for your siblings. As you move into young adulthood, you naturally find yourself occasionally accompanied, in whatever you are doing, by younger kids. Plus, more of those responsibilities. By the time you have children yourself, you not only have plenty of experience of handling a wide range of different children, but you also have a network of other people, from younger adults, and other people with kids the same age as yours, through to your own parents and their siblings, who are taking care of some of the kids some of the time. In this way, the burden of the first few months (which [livejournal.com profile] msgara described in an unvarnished and unexaggerated way above) is significantly lifted, and your confidence in your abilities is greatly increased.

This notion that we should raise our children perfectly, by ourselves or with a little paid professional help, and be actively suspicious of other adults who take an interest in them, is hugely pernicious. I remember vividly one morning when we were staying in a hotel in the country, and another guest, a woman in her 70s I'd guess, offered to take my children down to see the duckpond and feed the ducks. And of course I said 'yes', but not before I'd had that instinctive 'I shouldn't let a stranger have charge of my kids' response. That instinctive response was completely wrong, and less extreme versions of it restrict life, not just for kids, but for the adults around them as well.

I do think that people with the geek tendency tend to overthink this though; a lot of people who would enjoy parenting and would do it well don't have kids because of this crippling 'but what if it's a terrible mistake' fear.

Date: 2012-06-14 05:02 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] fadethecat.livejournal.com
While a lot of the issues that come built-in with the huge extended family that all lives in close proximity and interacts regularly freak me the heck out, I do agree that childcare--both preparation for, and actual performance of--has been done a terrible disservice by the loss of that structure. And I don't know of any graceful way to recapture it, short of moving towards (not Heinlein style, please) group marriage or other tightly-knit family setups where infant care doesn't end up descending one person. Or at most, two, at which point one or both of them are probably also trying to hold down full-time employment... Sigh.

Date: 2012-06-14 03:36 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] wldhrsjen3.livejournal.com
OH, my goodness. Thank you *so* much for posting this. My first child - my daughter - was born the winter our farm faced economic ruin. My husband and I were young and had been married less than two years. Although we knew we wanted children, she was a bit of a surprise. It didn't help that everyone in his family told us we were too young to be parents (I was 22). I spent most of that winter alone, overwhelmed, and completely unprepared for the emotional turmoil. I was exhausted, stressed, and deeply, profoundly afraid that I was going to be a colossal failure as a mother. But I couldn't verbalize any of my doubts or worries - because I was a *mom.* I was supposed to be filled with bliss at the sight of my darling baby's toothless gums. I was supposed to be some serene madonna gently rocking her placid infant, not a wild-haired woman trying not to cry as her baby fusses at oh-dark-thirty in the morning. And even if I could have told anyone how I felt, everyone else was busy with more important concerns.

It took me a long, long, long time to realize that what I felt was probably normal. It took longer yet for me to feel that I was doing okay as a mother.

And now, suddenly, all those old doubts are hissing in my ears. My daughter is now twelve and everything I thought I knew about parenting is slowly twisting inside out. Sometimes she needs independence, sometimes she craves reassurance. Sometimes she wants to be treated as my little girl, and sometimes she's sassy and opinionated and hormonal. Sometimes we push each other's buttons and I just... gah. I could ramble on, but I'll just say that your words are so comforting to me. Thank you for your honesty. *Thank you.*

Date: 2012-06-14 04:05 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] msagara.livejournal.com
It took me a long, long, long time to realize that what I felt was probably normal. It took longer yet for me to feel that I was doing okay as a mother.

I think the truth is we always feel like we’re not quite doing enough. We’re not quite doing okay. Because our children our enormously important and if we do a bad job, they bear that burden forever.

I actually think this is normal. But people have different ways of coping with that fear; sometimes people drown it in metrics. Sometimes they drown it in really weird pissing contests.

And children always change because they have to - they’re growing up. It means we can’t even had rules that work and rules that don’t; we can’t be rigid and deterministic because there’s such a balance between being realistic and breaking spirit. So, yes, I consider it a much harder job than writing a novel. Or even several.

Date: 2012-06-14 09:42 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] bohemiancoast.livejournal.com
I think this sense of 'I'm not quite doing enough' is universal. I'm pretty unlike most mothers (my daughter laughs hysterically when I say this, and says 'understatement of the year') and I always discount the things I do well (though I am never going to buy my kids ferrofluid *again*) and fret hugely about the things I do badly.

Date: 2012-06-14 03:38 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] comrade-cat.livejournal.com
Wow. This strengthens and renews my decision never to have children. I can't deal with lack of sleep. I either sleep or have a nervous breakdown.

I'm surprised there aren't more incidents of moms either suiciding or abusing given the depression rate in this country. But I do have a sense in the abstract that other people do lack of sleep better than I do. The trouble is that they don't do it *as well as they think they do*.

(I don't want this to come across as a criticism of you! Just sort of my horror at the idea of being in that predicament. And of course the slight unease that I am closer to people I've seen who abuse/neglect than I usually think.)

Date: 2012-06-14 03:50 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] chrysoula.livejournal.com
New moms have lots of nervous breakdowns. :-) Biology helps them sleepwalk to do what's required, sometimes. Sometimes coparents help. But there's still moments of sitting next to a sobbing baby sobbing yourself. Then life goes on.

Date: 2012-06-14 04:07 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] msagara.livejournal.com
I'm surprised there aren't more incidents of moms either suiciding or abusing given the depression rate in this country. But I do have a sense in the abstract that other people do lack of sleep better than I do. The trouble is that they don't do it *as well as they think they do*.

Look up Infanticide. Actually, seriously - the first time I looked it up I was really surprised; it’s a very, very light sentence given to parents of children from birth to age 18 months (or it was when I looked in Canada) and it applies to mothers. It’s an old law, so I think the insanity by sleep deprivation and postpartum hormones was known, understood, considered both a crime - and a tragedy.

Date: 2012-06-14 04:01 am (UTC)
rosefox: Green books on library shelves. (Default)
From: [personal profile] rosefox
I feel deeply fortunate that many, many of my friends have written posts like this at various times, and talked honestly about the stresses and difficulties of being parents. One of my partners wants to have a child in a couple of years, and I feel like we're going into that situation really well-informed.

I'm also really glad there are three of us to help with child-raising, and that we're all old hands at dealing with chronic insomnia, jetlag, and delayed sleep phase syndrome, and at knowing when we're being irrational because we're sleep-deprived. I'm actually rather looking forward to the "boot camp" nature of parenthood in hopes that it will help all our bodies learn how to sleep whenever sleeping is possible, the way soldiers and doctors do.

I truly have no idea how people raise children with a less than 3:2 adult:child ratio.

Date: 2012-06-15 12:46 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] janni.livejournal.com
I remember, just out of college, visiting a friend and her husband and their infant twins. Two other friends were with me, and I felt like that ratio, 5 adults to 2 children, was actually about right. :-)

Date: 2012-06-14 04:21 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] galeni.livejournal.com
Oh GOD yes.

My two are now 23 and 25 and my son gets his BA on Friday. And I still worry I'm being too pushy, not pushy enough, not good enough. Doesn't help when my daughter tells me she wishes I'd insisted harder and made her work more.

The book The Good Enough Parent helped me a lot. I had to learn parenting from books because my parents were abusive monsters, half the time. Definitely no template to work from except Don't.

GEnie saved me, and I went back to work to save my sanity. I'm not a natural nurturing parent but I love them both and did the best I could. That has to be enough, I guess.

It's the hardest job in the world to do even moderately well, and harder if you're imaginative, smart and empathetic. (Raising a toast to you.)

Date: 2012-06-14 05:33 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] nightsinger.livejournal.com
As the first-time mother of a four-month-old, albeit a very "easy" (inasmuch as any four-month-old is ever "easy") one... thank you for this, and for all of your parenting/family posts.

I have been reading closely and enjoying and finding points to mull upon in and consider things in new lights from each of your posts on parenting and family, especially the recent series of them. And I have to say -- thank you. Thank you for writing them, and thank you for saying these things that no one else has said, or at least not in the way you have! They speak to me (especially this one -- I'd highlight specific sentences, but I think I'd end up quoting too many paragraphs to be reasonable), and I find them to be a great comfort, in addition to the rest.

I've spent the last three hours trying to put the baby to bed; as I got to the middle of reading this post, he finally fell asleep. So thank you for that, too -- even though it's just a coincidence of timing, I'll give you a share of the credit. ;)

Date: 2012-06-14 07:35 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] msagara.livejournal.com
I've spent the last three hours trying to put the baby to bed; as I got to the middle of reading this post, he finally fell asleep. So thank you for that, too -- even though it's just a coincidence of timing, I'll give you a share of the credit. ;)

I found the infant stage so very hard; two was easy in comparison. In fact, pretty much every age was easy in comparison *wry g*. But...there are happy things I miss so much from that age now. It’s why I love other people’s babies - I see the cute and the sunshine, but it’s not me that is going to get broken, terrible sleep and multiple diaper changes.

Seriously, in the early days, there was one four hour stretch in the middle of the night where we had to change diapers 10 times. We really do laugh about a lot of things now - but at the time, not so much.

My husband was also really good about rushing home to provide baby relief. He honestly felt that going back to work was easy in comparison - and that helped.

Date: 2012-06-14 05:40 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] spiffikins.livejournal.com
I was talking to a friend of mine today - she has an 8 month old son. They've had it rough - baby was born with a heart defect and he spent his first 3 months in hospital going through multiple surgeries.

She was telling me how much she *hates* Blue's Clues - but baby boy *loves* it - so every morning they watch Blue's Clues because while he's watching that show, he doesn't fight her on eating - and she *needs* to get him to eat as much as possible to keep his weight up.

She said to me "we never planned on having him watching tv at 6 months - it wasn't in the Plan".

But - as she's figured out - there's the Baby you *imagine* having before he arrives - and then there's your Real Kid - and you learn to do What Works for the kid you *actually* have.

Date: 2012-06-14 04:50 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lyssabits.livejournal.com
Re: Blues Clues

I'm not a fan either, but honestly, it's the LEAST offensive of all the other kid's shows I've watched. I remember loving Sesame Street as a kid but now I can't stand to watch it. It's so.. busy. Loud. It and most other kids shows make my teeth ache with the over-acting and the squeaky voices. (I now have a lot of sympathy for my father who used to complain about the anime we watched as teens and frankly, most of my friends, having "squeaky high voices". He had definite preferences over which friends of mine he didn't mind, most of whom were male or mellow girls with deep voices. ;) ) Blues Clues is boring but that's precisely what I like about it now. ;) I literally can tune my brain out and NOT PAY ATTENTION to it.

Date: 2012-06-14 06:39 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mizkit.livejournal.com
I also cried for two months after my son was born. My mother was convinced I was suffering post-partum depression, but I was suffering sheer freaking exhaustion. Also the cat was dying, which really didn't help, but yeah.

I also thought it would be easier than it was to find just one hour a day to write. I have never been so grateful that I worked so hard to have 8 months of maternity leave, because I would have died if I'd had to write a book during that time.

And I, OTOH, was sort of embarrassed *to* fall in love with my son instantly. I didn't think that bizarre wash of hormones or whatever would hit me like that, and I found it...stereotypical and vaguely embarrassing.

Seriously, a friend of mine and I were discussing the whole insane personal/societal expectations of mothers from the moment pregnancy is announced, and we kept talking about writing the Practical Guide to Pregnancy & Baby's First Years, in which the first question of "You're pregnant! Are you excited?" could be legitimately met with, "No. I'm tired, my feet itch, I have to pee all the time, and I find none of this exciting. Perhaps when there is an actual baby I will be excited, but right now? No."

Because Jesus, you'd think you'd confessed to torturing teddy bears if you say something like that, but it *cannot* be that unusual of an experience. I got excited once during my pregnancy, when I lost my mucus plug and I thought, "Baby sooner rather than later!" The excitement lasted about three and a half minutes.

Date: 2012-06-14 06:46 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] http://users.livejournal.com/_ocelott_/
I was lucky enough to be in love with my babies before they were even born. With my first, a combination of post-pregnancy hormones and issues with breastfeeding caused me to break down sobbing in the hospital, which was apparently enough to convince all the doctors I was suffering from post-partum depression. (I wasn't.) Interestingly, the literature they give you in that situation very clearly states that it's perfectly normal not to instantly love your baby, that there's nothing wrong with you if you don't feel like you're bonding, that millions of new mothers feel this way and it's ok, you've only just met this baby and you have plenty of time to develop those feelings later on. Would be lovely if they'd explain that to new mothers beforehand, instead of using the information as damage control afterwards...

Date: 2012-06-14 10:33 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] http://users.livejournal.com/la_marquise_de_/
Having watched several of my friends raise their children, I am filled with respect and awe for them.
Thank you.

Date: 2012-06-14 11:05 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lily-bless-her.livejournal.com
I love my children dearly, I never planned to have any - but just wasn't very good at the actual planning not to have them. I am not a natural mother - I breast fed because I knew I would be rubbish at preparing bottles. But it has been a very hard road. I envy these parents that are able to hand their beautifully behaved, sleeping through the night babies, to anyone and going out and having 'social' lives. I could happily strangle the next parent that tells me that their child slept through the night at 6 weeks. I felt a failure. Mine were 3/4 before they slept through the night. Now, they're comatose most of the time. I have been told it was due to them having very active enquiring minds. Ha!
They are now 21, 20 and 14 and the challenges are different but still there. I spent one afternoon recently advising son and heir One, that the fact that he was in Chelmsford, was a bit worrying, when he was on his way to a heavy metal concert in Birmingham from Swansea (bless him, he was going with his girlfriend and was taking earplugs as he is sensitive to noise), I then had to tell him what train he had to get next, where he had to change, what platform he had to get to...isn't the internet a wonderful thing?...interspersed with several conversations with son and heir two, who was trying to find Manchester Art Gallery - I'm afraid the conversation got a bit heated..'It's a bloody large building with colonades, you must be able to see it'...all this and having a whinging daughter wanting to see her favourite programme on the internet. In the end all three were happy - one found the o2 arena in time, one said 'ssshhh' when I phoned him 'I'm there now' and the manic pixie settled in to watch some incomprehensible rubbish programme. I was exhausted. But happy. All were doing what they wanted and I was relieved. I think that is the essence of parenting. We do the best we can, with the abilities we have and then let them get on with it.
I still don't sleep, I still worry, I'm still chronically short of money, I do have a social life (I belly dance), I have done the best I could and I think they have turned out pretty well. I'm very proud....now I'm off to the next challenge.

Date: 2012-06-14 12:34 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] roseaponi.livejournal.com
I wonder how much of the "ideal mother" image comes from that rosy glow that gets cast over memories? I suddenly remembered so many things about dealing with my first baby when I had my second. How to arrange pillows so that I could catnap while serving as a baby mattress. How to assemble the tube/bottle finger-feed thing. How to deal with poop emergencies. How to keep calm and do first aid at the sight of baby blood. Knowing that as soon as their heads are through being soft, they will be as hard as little bowling balls and will get slung back into your face, and you will have either a fat lip or a swollen nose or possibly two black eyes afterward.

Hallmark people had their babies long enough ago that it seems so survivable now. :)

Date: 2012-06-14 02:42 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] birdhousefrog.livejournal.com
Yeah. What she said. Oh my. The first four months were hell, as you say, though she was, by comparison, an easy baby in many ways. But her being easier didn't mean that I bonded. I didn't. I ran back to work and turned her over to a nanny. Then to daycare. In the end, that didn't work. The learning delays showed up. In a preschool video, I saw how stressed she was being taped, trying to remember her name...and she was FOUR. That was when I quit, told them to find a replacement. That was when daycare stopped, though I kept her in preschool. That was when I knew that my husband (who had desperately wanted a child) wasn't going to give up his job, but someone had to.

And, alas, that was just the tip of the iceberg. Within a year, I had my fist assessment of just how far off any "normal" curve she was. And my first list of suggested interventions. Eventually, the psychologist suggested that I get a student to babysit a few hours a week because I was clearly losing my sanity.

I don't regret the sacrifice, the taking up of this responsibility. She is now on her way to being a teenager and able to hold her own among "normals." She has talents that I've had time to open up for her, such as weaving as a way of expressing her love of color and pattern.

But yes, I hear you in terms of what it's like to be a new parent. And yes, I hear you in terms of learning not to judge other parents, though I still cast an evil eye at parents who don't know how to take a firm stand and nip a public tantrum of 'want, want, want' in the bud.

I'm just shocked that these little tiny things don't come out with a guidebook, an operating manual. :D

I still envy parents who have kids that require much less maintenance than mine does. I envy parents who have kids that WANT to be part of the greater world, interact with other kids, say "bye mom!" and take off. I still resent interruptions when my head is full of a tax calculation or some fictional world. But nowadays, I just ask if it's something that HAS to be done/answered/handled right then. And if it is, I do it. That's my job.

And I'm rewarded for it with a great deal of trust and love from her. I'm rewarded by her increasing self-reliance and independent spirit. It takes her longer to get there, but she WANTS to be independent and self-reliant. So I must have done something right.

My parents can't remember being as concerned over parenting, except when a sister developed epilepsy in her teen years. I know my sisters weren't as concerned. Both of them worked full time. I was the one who had the child with the greatest need.

I met someone when she was about two who was honest enough to say that she still resented her son at age five, that anger wasn't uncommon. It was such a relief to hear that. I wasn't alone in my feelings.

And that person on Genie? Hmmm, I might know who she was. She might have been my writer in residence at Clarion, who certainly had similar circumstances.

Oz

Date: 2012-06-14 08:09 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] msagara.livejournal.com
And I'm rewarded for it with a great deal of trust and love from her. I'm rewarded by her increasing self-reliance and independent spirit. It takes her longer to get there, but she WANTS to be independent and self-reliant. So I must have done something right.

Yes, this. My son was in no way an easy baby; he was not an easy child. But: he was such a sunny little kid. He was generous, he was as helpful as we let him be.

I worked from home - and my parents would come by in the early days so I could at least get a couple of hours of sleep - because my son did not sleep at night at all until he was about 2 months old, and then it was spotty. He was a champion napper. He took naps, period.

He liked other children. He frequently didn’t know how to interact with them, and because of the ASD it was hard. I envied my husband the ability to go to work, because it seemed like a break, a vacation - but at the same time, in the end, my son needed someone at home. He needed someone who could see the world through his lens and try to explain it to him. So: envy, yes, and some resentment, but also: necessary. It was necessary, and we did the work.

Date: 2012-06-14 08:32 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] birdhousefrog.livejournal.com
Not trying for a lovefest, here, or validation, but YES! She has always liked other children, but couldn't decode them at all. I've been her interpreter for years and she's finally getting there a bit more. We even had our own language until she was about six or seven, short hand words where "fish" meant "The Little Mermaid movie." The psychologist warned that if we didn't reach her NOW, she would eventually fold into herself and give up on other kids. That while she still wanted to connect was the time to do the interventions. And it was a full time job. Her kindergarten year she was out of my hands for exactly 3 hours. I was a wreck by the time she was in first grade. We live in the country and I could barely do any errands (longer distance drives) before I had to pick her up. At 10:50AM. And then run her to her various appointments and therapies.

And? If you're passionate about your career? Going off the office is indeed a break, a vacation. The psychologist helped us work through that, too. Daddy became the fun man who came home and read to her at bedtime for 30 minutes or more. Every single night, night after night, sometimes the same stories over and over and over, doing Scooby Doo or Jack Frost imitations. Which also paid off. She READS. We thought she never would, it took so long, but she reads and reads now. It's edged out tv, thank goodness.

Like you, this isn't about sympathy. It's about the fact that nothing prepares you for this. My boss told me that having a child was like going through a door. Until you do it, you can't ever know what's on the other side. And that's very true. I saw a whole new world and saw the way people interact with my child. And I also saw that what's on the other side of the door isn't the same for everyone. And that each person has to figure out what they can bring to the job. I've finally begun to stop berating myself for not being good at this job, not as good as some, at any rate. I've put my heart and soul and brain into it and that's about as much as a parent can do. I do believe some people love it as a career. The rest of us embrace it as a job, an obligation and then find joy in it where we can. (or go nuts)

When the news covers some woman who killed her kids, I can't judge. The world seems to want to pillory her, but I can't. To me, it's infinitely sad. We failed her and failed her kids somehow, somewhere. She needed help from someone and it wasn't there for her. She broke under a load I'm familiar with.

Date: 2012-06-14 03:13 pm (UTC)
kate_nepveu: sleeping cat carved in brown wood (Default)
From: [personal profile] kate_nepveu
Thank you for writing this post.

My kids were/are only mildly difficult as infants, relatively speaking, and yet there were and are days when the black humor of "did not expose on hillside" is the best I can say about the day.

(Oddly I had instant emotional bonds but I could never tell their crying from any other baby's that might be going down the hospital hallway.)

Date: 2012-06-14 08:02 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] msagara.livejournal.com
My kids were/are only mildly difficult as infants, relatively speaking, and yet there were and are days when the black humor of "did not expose on hillside" is the best I can say about the day.

My mother had a less black sense of humor, so in the early months, I had to be careful what I said - but I found black humor so helpful.

Date: 2012-06-14 05:08 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lyssabits.livejournal.com
I never cried so much as when my kid was born. (I had written, "was young" but then remembered the screaming, weeping breakdown I had at 3 am last week.) The new breastfeeding revolution is no doubt great for kids, and certainly in some ways a lot easier than bottles.. but it also suffers from the same problem of over-sanitation as most aspects of motherhood do. IE, everyone tells you how wonderful it is, how natural and easy, and how you're a terrible mother if you have problems or dislike it.

My son and were a horrible nursing pair for the first 4 or 5 months. I was in constant, agonizing pain for MONTHS that turned out to be unresolvable. Some women just have sensitive nipples and no amount of lanisoh or correct positioning will cure that. (I went to a breast-feeding consultant and everything. Positioning was fine, no thrush, nothing they could fix.) My nipples finally stopped feeling like they were aching and on fire all the time when my kid was 4 months old and was simply nursing less frequently. ;) And nothing has made me feel worse about myself than the month-long nursing strike he went on at 3 months old. It was like tangible proof that a) I was a horrible mother and b) my son hated me and would always hate me. He was literally rejecting my attempts to do what I'd been told was the best thing I could ever do for him as a mother. I look back at my despair then and chuckle now that he's 2 and STILL BREASTFEEDING OMG WHEN WILL HE STOP????

For me, the time between 6 months and about 12 months were fairly idyllic. Our nursing problems finally went away, he was sleeping enough that I wasn't a wreck (he still doesn't sleep through the night at 2 years old) and he was a fairly chill infant when he was awake so I had time to do things like read books or play computer games. Then he became a toddler. Now I yearn for those immobile days because he is a terror. He is NOT a chill two-year-old, and he's sleeping even worse now. Not so much up all night, but he definitely doesn't sleep enough hours so he's cranky and stubborn all day and I have an incredibly short fuse. I wish I could learn to find the joy in the 5-minute-walk-that's-actually-an-hour but I can't. I just end up throwing him over my shoulder and walking him there myself while he kicks and yells. Sigh.

Date: 2012-06-14 07:54 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] msagara.livejournal.com
I wish I could learn to find the joy in the 5-minute-walk-that's-actually-an-hour but I can't. I just end up throwing him over my shoulder and walking him there myself while he kicks and yells. Sigh.

In my case, it helped that I didn’t have to be at the park; the park was the place I went to amuse my son. So if he was amused for an hour on the way to the park, it was pretty much the same thing, for me.

My mother lives close by. She would bring me groceries, or my dad would take my son out and we would go grocery shopping. If my mother did not live nearby, I wouldn’t have always had the leeway to take an hour on a five minute walk, and in that case, yes, there would have been some unhappiness.

My goal with the small child was to keep him amused. I did not read a book for his first four years of life. The only computer game I played, I played with my son. But I’d reached a point, given his early months, of being delighted and relieved when he was not crying, because he literally cried if he was at rest until he was about 8 months old. Collicky does not even begin to describe it.

Date: 2012-06-14 08:18 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lyssabits.livejournal.com
My husband can do the aimless wandering around the neighborhood thing. Probably because he only really does it once or twice a week.. But I am too impatient. It was always something I worried about when analyzing my ability to be a parent and it turned out to be exactly the problem I thought it would be. I get antsy when he's just screwing around, I feel like I'd rather let him screw around at home where I don't have to chase him out of the street and away from the cars. Or make sure he's not going to steal another kid's toys. Or fall off a play structure and break his neck. Or or or.. ;) If taking him to the park was the only time he was happy and relaxed I'd probably be a lot more happy to do whatever he wanted. Since my kid is easier, I tend to be more resentful when he's taking me away from my preferred environs.

It's funny the way I feel about help though. I'm glad my family doesn't live near by, because ever since the boy was born they've been MAKING ME CRAZY. I resent it when they try to help me. Often times because having them around seems to create more problems for me. But at the same time I resent not having more help. But then having people other than my husband help me makes me crazy and feel bad.. it's a horrible cycle of never being satisfied and it's not fair to anyone.

Date: 2012-06-14 06:38 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] artbeco.livejournal.com
Yes. I love these posts of yours, they're so honest and so well written. We had twins, with just me as the sole person at home during the days. We found out the hard way that neither of us could function on less than 5 hours of sleep a night for too many nights in a row, and we had to work shifts. There was very little sentiment and bonding involved, it seemed like; we didn't have the time or bandwidth for anything except managing to feed and change and rock and all the rest, constantly. I still call those early months the 'warm heavy ham' stage, because the babies resembled... well, warm hams, at least while they were sleeping. Awake, more like screaming piglets. We did learn to love them, but that entire period was all about endurance and I learned a lot of really really hard things about myself and selfishness and needs and the unrealistic expectations that we put on parents, especially new parents. A support network is so essential, and we didn't know that. Endurance was the key for all of us, really.

So thank you for writing these. Much food for thought.
*hugs*

Date: 2012-06-14 07:45 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] msagara.livejournal.com
We had twins, with just me as the sole person at home during the days.

Having one newborn infant in the house gave me a whole new world of respect for parents of twins. At least with one child, when he sleeps, there’s some break. There’s no guarantee that twins will, oh, sleep at the same time.

I learned a lot of really really hard things about myself and selfishness and needs and the unrealistic expectations that we put on parents

It’s the expectation that somehow, imperfect people will be ideal, perfect parents, that seems so wrong to me now. There is literally no other circumstance in which we’re expected to be consistently perfect and loving 24 hours a day. And the thing is: we want to be those perfect mothers. We want that. But we don’t come to parenting as perfect people, obviously. I think we learn how to be parents.

Most jobs are 40 hours a week. High end jobs are 60 hours a week. But parenting really is 24/7. You are always on call. In the early months you are not just on call.

wait, so they're not sleeping through the night?

Date: 2012-06-14 07:28 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] hillary80 (from livejournal.com)
This is fascinating reading, but I have to admit as a new mom, I'm stuck at "they're lying about their kids sleeping through the night." They are? Because my five month old most definitely does not sleep more than 4-5 hours at a stretch on a good night and I've been astounded by all the people saying that their babies are sleeping for 12 hours.

So reading that made me feel so much better!
From: [identity profile] msagara.livejournal.com
I admit that wasn’t my first thought either - which is why I asked the labor coach. I wanted to know what I was doing wrong.

Mine did not sleep through the night in any reliable way until he had all his teeth, fwiw.

That was something I was told by a nurse on Santa Claus parade day. She said her daughters settled in fairly easily - but her son, no. He didn’t sleep through the night until he had his second year molars.

My son got his “second year molars” when he was four. But both of my kids had very, very dense jaw bones; the dentist said he would have bet that they wouldn’t break teeth without surgical intervention, given the xrays. But my oldest got his first teeth when he was almost a year old. Baby teeth did not arrive until then. And when they did, we panicked because it wasn’t the front two - it was the ones to the side.

He looked like a little vampire :)

But we phoned a friend whose mother was a dentist, and she said: as long as the children have teeth by the time they’re two, it’s normal. They don’t worry.
From: (Anonymous)
Our pediatrician said that medically "through the night" is defined as 5 hours, at least in infancy. As parents who were really, really looking forward to more sleep, that was incredibly disappointing and disheartening news. But it did lower expectations closer to our reality, so at least we didn't continue with the fear that something was wrong/we were terrible parents because our kid didn't sleep as well as others we heard about.

Date: 2012-06-15 02:59 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] cymrullewes.livejournal.com
I am once again sincerely grateful that my daughters were born healthy, had no issues breast feeding (except the first on the right side and the night nurse cured that with her finger. I paid attention but never needed that trick again), the older two slept through the night from 3 weeks and 2 weeks (the youngest was 3 years before she slept through the night), that their dad changed the dirty diapers so I only had to change the wet ones and he worked from home, and now at 17, 12, and 10 they are people I want to hang out with and they want to hang out with me.

I still apologize to my Mom whenever they do something that upsets me and I remember doing at their ages.

Date: 2012-06-26 03:24 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
I'm so glad you wrote this. With a lot of work I got my older one to sleep thru the night by about 8 months but the younger one didn't start to sleep thru the night until about 3 years. And then it was only occasionally. As I really don't do well without sleep it was difficult and I still cringe to think about my attitudes about my husband. Lack of sleep makes me a very quiet person who erupts unexpectedly. Now that they're older, life is better as for the most part everyone sleeps.
Though I felt isolated it was nice to have friends that I could occasionally speak/email with and it helped a lot. The interesting thing was that if I wasn't moving in the first few months I would tend to fall asleep and I discovered that you can fall asleep while talking even when you're desperately trying to stay awake so you can have some adult conversation.
I have also found that now that most of us are a little able to speak about the "dark thoughts" that enter your mind when your child is crying for hours and you would really like to get some sleep. Mostly I was terrified that I would end up on the front page of the paper but luckily was able to deal with things. A mom who lead our mothers' group helped when she talked about going outside while leaving the baby inside (crying) just to get a break.

Date: 2012-06-26 08:19 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] msagara.livejournal.com
A mom who lead our mothers' group helped when she talked about going outside while leaving the baby inside (crying) just to get a break.

Come to think - a friend thanked me for being a bit blunt about the exhaustion during the first year of my oldest’s life, because when she was going through those early months herself, she could old on to what I’d said and feel that the exhaustion and roller-coaster emotions that come from it weren’t abnormal or Bad somehow.

Date: 2012-07-01 11:19 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Somehow I don't think anything can really prepare you for the level of exhaustion faced by many parents. Knowing that you aren't the only one helps a lot.

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