It’s 16 weeks after the birth of my first child, and my rosy-cheeked, new-mom glow has been replaced by dark circles and tears. I’m just so tired. I’ve never been so tired. I’m suddenly sure I can’t do this anymore, but I can’t take it back. There’s no returning the baby.
I’m 28 years old and married. This was a planned pregnancy, vitamin rich and excitingly tracked with everyone’s favorite 1990’s pre-birth book, What to Expect When You’re Expecting. The book, dog-eared and highlighted, now lies under a stack of newer books on things like breastfeeding and how to get your baby to sleep through the night. “Ferberizing,” we call the sleep method, after the doctor who has written the best-selling Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems. It’s a method that my own child is not buying into.
Four times a night, my daughter is awake and crying. Four times a night I am, too. Even when my husband gets up to feed her breast milk that I’ve pumped like a dairy cow earlier that day, I lie in bed, awake and weeping, chapped nipples leaking like crazy, drippy faucets. It’s overwhelming, this parenting thing. I love this baby. But sometimes, I want to send her back.
One afternoon I completely break down. I lose it. My husband is at work and the baby won’t stop crying. I can’t seem to, either. I have no family in the state in which I live and my friends are all at work. In the mirror I see a woman I barely recognize, still wearing last night’s pajamas at 3pm. I do the only thing I can think to do—I call my mom.
Thank god I have a mom to call.
She hears the weariness and utter exhaustion in my voice, and she hears the baby screaming in the background. Then she gives me some of the best advice any mom can give, or get.
“Put the baby in her crib, where she’s safe,” she tells me, “and let her cry. No one has ever cried him- or herself to death. Then go outside and sit on the porch. Take a deep breath. Stay there for ten minutes. I promise, she’ll be okay.”
Aaaah. I’ve been given permission to be imperfect.
This is, it turns out, exactly what I need. Even with only one child rather than six, I’m not Mrs. Brady. No one is Mrs. Brady—even Mrs. Brady! As for me: I’m doing my best, and parenting is harder than I ever realized.
I stop crying. It’s okay to feel sometimes like I want to give the baby back—even though I so deeply I love her. And when I go back inside after my few minutes on the porch, it’s remarkably, gorgeously quiet. My daughter has cried herself to sleep; she’s just fine.
And so am I.