My youngest is about to turn eight, and today I started poking around for his birthday book in preparation to write my annual letter to him. (Read: in hopes that I wouldn’t completely forget to write my annual letter to him.) When I found the leather-bound treasure, feeling a little nostalgic, I turned back to the beginning to read my very first letter to him and my own words made me catch my breath.
“I’m not going to lie and say that this first year was easy. It was not. It was one of the greatest challenges of my life so far. But, I think we’ve made it. I hope.”
“Greatest challenges of my life so far”?
That seemed like a bold statement, especially since I had been through some pretty traumatic things prior to that. But, looking down at the picture of his little face, I instantly remembered it—like deep-down-in-my-bones-and-the-pit-of-my-stomach remembered it. I felt my shoulders tense just at the thought of it. The absolute torment of it.
My youngest son cried/fussed/whined/screamed anywhere from 8 to 12 hours each day, every single day—like it was his job—with very rare exceptions, for the first 10 months of his life. Yes, 10 months. Thank heavens he was so worn out at the end of the day from his full-body protesting that he mostly slept at night. I’m honestly not sure what we would have done if he hadn’t at least been sleeping some. (And yes, we saw a million doctors, specialists, nurses, naturopaths, shamans, and witch doctors over the course of that first year, and we did all the tests, read all the books and blogs, I stopped eating all.the.things and tried all the potions…but that’s not what this post is about.)
I have many people in my world right now with little babies. Tiny, heads-still-smelling-yummy, bundles of warm snuggles…and some of those swaddles of preciousness cry an awful lot. And those parents spend much of their time and energy trying to figure out why and make it stop. Today, when I read my own words from those few years ago, I suddenly felt very connected—anxiously, frantically connected—to those friends with tiny, crying babies right now.
I remember pouring over that tear-streaked little face, begging for some signal, some glimmer, some miracle that would tell me what I should do. I remember the utter helplessness. I remember the guilt of thinking, I’m the mom. I’m supposed to know. I’m supposed to be able to fix this. When the truth was that, most days, I was just barely holding on myself.
So to those of you treading water right now with the little ones, this is for you.
I see you.
I see that enormous deep sigh as you brace yourself to get up and, once again, try to soothe that crying.
I see you stretch your back and arms and neck, searching for some relief from all the holding/bouncing/walking/rocking/swaying.
I see the tears of frustration, fear, exhaustion, loneliness, and end-of-rope-ness that come so easily and readily at the first sounds of fussing.
I see you grasping at those moments of sacredness—when your baby is peaceful and resting—feeling torn between relief and total awe of that tiny creature; torn between your desire to just sit and soak it all up and your need to go do one million other things.
I see you dig down deep to just make it one more minute, one more hour, one more day, one more week…and I see you find a strength and resolve you didn’t even know you had.
I see you look longingly at your pillow and wonder if you’ll ever spend enough time there to be rested again.
I see you surrender to the endless piles of laundry, astonished that such a small thing can make so much of a mess.
I see you online—reading, researching, studying, learning—trying to figure out the thing that hasn’t been tried yet.
I see your guilt-ridden look as you tell your other children that you can’t, that you don’t have enough arms, enough energy, enough anything to meet all their needs.
I see you in the kitchen tirelessly working to keep everyone fed and healthy, all the while wondering if food is the solution or the problem. I see how overwhelming that is.
I see your relief when someone shows up to hold, listen, hug, help shoulder the burden for awhile, like a burst of crisp air for your weariness.
I see you walking, strollering, swinging, swaddling, singing, bouncy-chairing, baby carrying, driving—oh, the driving—while you pray for rest and quiet for your little one. And for yourself.
I see the eruption just under the surface.
I see the exhaustion at the edges of your eyes.
I see the desperation of the day-in, day-out grind.
But let me tell you what else I can see because I’m not right there in the middle of it anymore; the luxury of some distance means I can also see some other things I want you to know about.
I can see the end of it.
And there is one. Somehow, somewhere, there will be relief.
Nothing is forever, especially not this.
I can see that your confidence will grow from this place of struggle.
I can see how you are learning to trust yourself, your instincts, your child.
I can see that child—a baby no more—happy and loved and oblivious to this season of sacrifice.
I can see the development of a vital tribe forged with those who love you and love that baby, those who show up and stand beside you, and that tribe will be around a lot longer than the fussing. And you’ll be grateful for it.
I can see how you are being pushed to grow—more patience, less control, more vulnerability, less fear—and this more-grounded version of yourself will mother your children even better than you do now. I promise I can see that.
So while it’s true that I’m still up to my ears in mothering, it is also true that many of the early seasons of motherhood have come to a close. The youngest face that stares up at me now is nearly eight. It is tear-streaked much less often. There haven’t been diapers or pacifiers in my house for years. I don’t walk the sidewalks with him at 2:00 A.M. anymore desperately singing a woeful Patsy Cline song and wondering what my neighbors must think. And the horrible tennis elbow I had for months from carrying him constantly finally did go away. (But not the laundry. Turns out, that actually never ends.)
I have even had many nights of good sleep in a row.
And you will, too.
It is all right that it’s hard. It really is.
You and your little bundle of screams are going to be OK.
He/she won’t even remember it, thankfully.
And what you’ll remember will be part of your story about how motherhood challenged you and changed you, for the better.
So take a big, deep breath.
Rally your tribe.
Ask for help; accept it when it’s offered.
Sing louder than that baby cries.
I can see you and you’ve got this.