It’s been eight weeks. 56 days. And I have yet to lose my mind.
I don’t say that to be flippant, or to minimize the seriousness of mental health disorders. I mean it quite literally. Last time, by the time No1 was 2 months old, I was unable to bathe her, was completely overwhelmed with daily tasks and was flying into rages daily.
That’s not to say that the last 2 months have been easy. Newborns are not easy, but the first two weeks gave hint that No2 *might* just be the relaxed baby we had always hoped for. When she became aware of her surroundings at around 3 weeks, everything changed. She is fussy. Demanding. Sensitive to noise. And likes to nurse only if the stars are aligned and I am holding her head in my soon-to-be-arthritic left hand while bouncing in the bathroom. I have had my moments of bursting into tears, usually as a result of No2 screaming while I attempt to
torture feed her. I have snapped at my toddler, who seems to think that a sleeping baby is her cue to stomp like a tyrannosaurus rex and has mastered the fine art of the guilt trip at the age of 3. And I have locked myself out of my house with both kids outside in the cold.
And despite all that, I still feel like me. I may be an exhausted version of myself, sensitive to the lingering anxiety, but I’m me. Able to deescalate when I feel the tension rising. Able to ask for help. And able to let some things go.
I think the biggest difference (besides the medication) is that my expectations are different this time. Lower. More realistic. Instead of expecting to be dressed by 9 every morning, I expect to be in my pajamas until at least noon. And dinner has predictably come from a frozen entree bag most nights. The other nights? It’s come from a friend or our favorite pizza place. And I expect to get no more than 3 hours of sleep each night.
That’s not to say I’ve got it all figured out. Any time I’ve felt overwhelmed or tense in the last several weeks, it’s a result of my expectations being too high. @Hopin2BeHappy stopped me in my tracks several weeks ago when I was stressed about breastfeeding, saying something along the lines of “you’ve been breastfeeding for a whole four weeks now and think you’re an expert, lol.” She meant it in the kindest way possible though I’m pretty sure she was worried she hurt my feelings. But her tweet hit the nail on the head. I *did* think I would have it figured out after 4 weeks. And if we were still struggling, that meant I was a failure, right? It wasn’t the beautiful Madonna and Child experience I had pictured in my head, so I fretted over how to make it better and whether to stop altogether. @Hopin2BeHappy’s tweet allowed me to speak to how I truly felt and therefore realize how ridiculous it was. Of course I was still having trouble at 4 weeks. Breastfeeding is hard. As soon as I allowed myself to continue to be a rookie breastfeeder, the stress and anxiety surrounding it shrunk. We’re on 8 weeks now, and still struggling. But feeds no longer have me in tears and I’ve adjusted to the idea that nursing might not be exactly what I wanted it to be. It can still be good enough despite not living up to my expectations.
High expectations are not always bad. They can motivate us to create, to share, to master. Setting clear expectations is a key to parenting with kindness and predictability. But when we enslave ourselves to them, we set ourselves up for disaster. The danger lies in setting goals and never reevaluating them. I thought by lowering my expectations, I had mastered the anxiety that plagued me when No1 was a newborn. I forgot that sometimes you have to adapt them along the way to your situation…redefine success, if you will.
These days, success is a baby who is gaining weight, even if I have to sneak feeds in while she is sleepy or feed her in the sling while bouncing on an exercise ball in the bathroom. It’s a toddler who watches more T.V. than I am comfortable with. It’s kissing my husband goodnight in passing as we change shifts, trading children for sleep. I expected to be a more attentive friend than I can be at the moment and you know what? I’m adjusting that too. Because no one else is wanting any more of me that I can give at this time. I’m the only person doing that injustice.
Self-care lies not just in taking time out for yourself, but paying attention to the assumptions you make about (and grading scale you place upon) your time in.
Tell me. What expectations of yourself do you hold that are keeping you down?