But to be totally honest, I kind of agree with these intrusive pedestrians. Because, really, they’re exactly correct: I, and all the other moms out there, really do have our hands full (even if it’s maybe not always in the way that they mean).
Yesterday afternoon, I was walking my children along the sandy beachfront path a few blocks from our home (which sounds idyllic, except for the fact that, as I previously stated, I had both of my children with me, and it was afternoon, so one or both of them really should have been sleeping), when an older woman walking an alarmingly bedraggled-looking beagle, neither of whom I knew in any capacity, stopped, raised her eyebrows at my 32-week pregnant belly, and said “Girl, you’re brave.“
I feel like a lot of internet moms would have had a field day with this comment. It was pretty intrusive. And a little bit rude. But I surprised both her, and myself, when my immediate reaction was to laugh. I even peed my pants a little (although that isn’t too unusual for me at this point). The older woman smiled, gestured to my stroller, and wished me “good luck with all that,” as she continued to drag her dog down the sidewalk.
And I kind of love that woman, because I’m pretty sure she’s me in 30 years.
Having two children under four is a wild ride. I definitely do have my hands, and my pockets, and my patience-pouch full. And in a few short months, we’re “bravely” throwing another kid on top of it all.
The decision to get pregnant again was not an easy one. In fact, my husband and I talked about it basically every night, for a year. Because, as the aforementioned stranger implied, having a third kid is pretty scary.
Sure, the risks of pregnancy are scary, as is the financial burden of three children, and the fact that I’ll be officially outnumbered whenever the kids and I leave the house without my husband. But for me, what scares me the most is the first, and arguably the cutest, part of parenthood: the newborn phase.
The newborn phase has never been my favorite. In fact, I can honestly say that I hated Cara Dumaplin (Of Taking Cara Babies fame) long before it was “cool” to hate her, largely because she told me that her $120 sleep training course would magically allow me to “love the newborn phase.” Spoiler alert: I paid up, and it didn’t happen.
During my first pregnancy, I worried about whether the baby would be healthy, and how I would survive delivery. The prospect of giving birth was so foreign and overwhelming to me that I couldn’t really look past it and imagine what the days and weeks immediately afterwards would be like. And so, like most new moms, I brought a beautiful, healthy baby home from the hospital, only to be bombarded by the real challenges that, despite taking all the right classes, and reading all the right books, no one really told me about.
During those first few weeks, I was shocked by how insane true sleep deprivation could make me feel. I was shocked by how much time my baby spent sleeping, yet how little I was able to accomplish during the day. I was shocked by how foreign my body felt, how difficult breastfeeding was, how much it hurt to take a gosh darn poop, and how overwhelming and unpredictable my emotions were.
While all of these perfectly normal side-effects of early motherhood were difficult, the sadness that seemed to linger at the edge of every beautiful moment was the most surprising, and frightening to me. While I had experienced periods of real sadness before, they had all been brought on by, or correlated with, difficult, or truly saddening life events. Never before had I had so many reasons to be happy, yet felt so darn bummed out all the time.
When my second child was born, he slept less, and got sick more, and the “baby blues” I experienced with my first were a little closer to navy. While, the second time around, I had a better understanding of the connection between my crashing hormones, and my bummed out brain, it was even harder for me to give myself grace, and space to sit in my emotions–largely because I now had a daughter who was there, and watching me, all the time.
This time around, I’m still worried about the health of my baby. I’m also worried about the delivery, and the epidural, and the Apgar score, and whether or not I’ll be able to pee when they take the dang catheter out. But I’m mostly worried about feeling sad again, and having two tiny pairs of eyes on me as I try my best to find the sunshine in what is normally a very cloudy time for me.
When that lady on the boardwalk told me that I’m “brave,” she probably meant it facetiously. If my kids were old enough to understand her, I might actually have been mad, and would have had to make it clear to my kids that they are not, in fact, the burden she was implying they were. Because my kids are absolutely adorable, and, right after my husband, the absolute greatest blessings in my life.
But despite her implicit sarcasm, that “you’re brave” transported me into the mind of a future version of myself, perched on a well-worn rocker in the middle of the night, wincing in pain as a I try to get a squirming newborn to latch before his whimpers become cries loud enough to wake up the entire house. It made me imagine an afternoon spent playing puzzles with my kids, and being awed by their perfection while simultaneously feeling completely overwhelmed by sadness. I saw myself sitting at a boisterous and joyful dinner table as the sun goes down, unable to focus on my daughter’s lighthearted tales of her day because I’m somehow incapable of tearing my mind away from its fixation on the seemingly endlessly-dark night ahead.
But as much as I am fearful of this third postpartum period, I am so much more excited about what it represents. Because, despite the undeniable challenges we’ve endured together, my kids have completely transformed my life for the better. And while the beautiful parts of their childhoods are often the ones I most want to celebrate and remember, the hard ones also matter too.
When I think about my kids watching me struggle, and feel sad, and wonder, out loud, if I can do it all, I feel a little bit heartbroken, but also a little bit proud. Because life, in general, is pretty hard. As my kids grow up, they are going to be faced with challenge after challenge that is unlike anything they have faced before. If they do it right, they will have periods in their lives where they suffer, or feel like a failure, or wonder if whatever they worked so hard for was really, actually worth it. And while they likely won’t remember the 6-8 weeks after their littlest brother was born, I hope that some part of my struggle, and my efforts to rise above it, stick with them as a reminder of what real life, and real bravery, really looks like.
I know that at some point in the near future I’ll be zombie-walking through the grocery store with three screaming kids in tow when someone passes me and yells, “you’ve got your hands full!” without making any attempt to actually help. And I won’t resent them for it. Partially because I won’t have the mental space to process any more emotions, but also because they’ll be right. I do, and will, always have my hands full, and I’m so eternally grateful that I was brave enough to make it that way.
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