We just met today on my walk through town, and I’m just not sure I said the right words to you. I did try, but I wanted to try again.
My schedule was off today. Really, we—I and my two children—were all off today. I had so much caffeine that my heart felt like it was skipping a beat. I’m not proud of that, really, but it is the reality and the result of another night of poor sleep (the baby is partially to blame, but I take responsibility, too; I’m a horrible sleeper). The baby took her nap this morning, and so we missed our morning walk—the one we all count on to start these long, summer days. So, instead, we took an afternoon walk to the candy store, stopping quite a few times on our way to chat or for my older son to pet someone’s dog. If we had walked at our normal time, we wouldn’t have met you, so I’m glad our day wasn’t going as it normally does.
We were almost home when I sensed someone close behind us. I turned, quickly, to assess the situation, and I saw your orange double stroller. I waved, embarrassed that I had turned so quickly to look, and we kept walking. But I decided to stop, and I yelled, “I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to stare. I was just wondering who was behind me.” And I waited for you to catch up, taking a sip of my coffee as you walked down the sidewalk.
When you were closer, I saw the babies in your stroller—two small babies, one asleep and the other awake, his piercing blue eyes picking up the light from the sun. We made small talk about the kids—your two babies, my 1-year-old daughter, and my 6-year-old son—and as we stood there, I was happy my “baby” was really not a baby anymore. I have loved my infants and have been blessed with them, but the beginning is just so hard, and I could sense that feeling in you.
After talking about the kids, I asked how you were doing and you told me the walk was therapy today. I should have told you my walks were therapy every day. Every damn day my walk is therapy. But I didn’t, and you, instead of giving me a canned answer, answered me honestly, telling me about your struggles with breastfeeding and how you had just stopped breastfeeding your twins.
As you told me this, I could see you fighting back the tears as you pushed your hair from your face. You explained and explained the difficulties you and the babies had with breastfeeding, and I listened, trying to make my face as soft as I could, trying to make my eyes tell you that you didn’t need to explain at all. Maybe you’ve been dealing with people who feel like they deserve an explanation. Or maybe you needed to explain, for yourself. And I was happy to listen. I told you that I understood and that while this didn’t feel like it was going to be OK, it really was going to be OK. “Time will pass and this will all be fine,” I said. But I walked away feeling like I didn’t say enough, and here’s what I wish I would’ve said to you:
1. Listen, this parenting thing is hard.
This parenting shit is so damn hard. And no one really tells you. It’s so hard to love someone so much you feel like you might break in half at the thought of disappointing them. Work through the pain and don’t be afraid to feel it. When I was a new mom, I was afraid, but I’m not anymore. The parenting part hasn’t really gotten easier, but I’m learning how to deal with my heart being outside of my chest, in these little people I so lovingly created.
2. You have fed your babies, and they are healthy and thriving; in the end, that’s what matters.
I know you are so disappointed that you had to stop breastfeeding, but listen: They are eating. You are feeding them. But, I do remember when I nursed my son for the last time. He had weaned himself and I was so sad. And I was shocked at the sadness and the tears. Suddenly, after so long, I had my body back, but I felt a void. I think that may be what you are going through now. I will tell you that part does get easier, even though it feels like it won’t.
3. Do not feel guilty.
Maybe you don’t at all, and that’s great. I hope you don’t. But just in case, try not to feel guilty. This is particularly hard, really, while raising humans. I feel guilty every day about something I said or did, or what I didn’t say or didn’t do. I think it comes with the territory, this “mom guilt,” so let’s help one another with this, okay?
4. It’s hard, but it’s so great.
You are in the trenches now. The babies aren’t sleeping. They had trouble eating. But the best is yet to come. This hard work? It pays off. I saw you watching my son walk my daughter down the sidewalk, and I saw you looking at what you called my daughter’s “little, white teeth.” The pure joy these two give me (when they aren’t driving me crazy) is amazing. I am so honored to be their mother and to watch them grow.
5. Try to be kind to yourself.
You’re doing the best you can, and while that might not feel like enough right now, it is. Keep taking the walks; the fresh air really is healing. I won’t tell you to take a nap when they do, because I hated that advice. Just care for yourself in the time and ways that you can.
6. Finally, keep walking.
Let’s walk together. I drink a lot of coffee, I eat a lot of chocolate, and I swear more than I should. But the walking is therapy and I need it too.