When It Gets Easier

by Erica Desper

It’s been 9 years since I became a Mother – an experience I looked forward to my whole life. After spending many years caring for other people’s children and educating parents, I felt overprepared. Given all I knew and had experienced, I was convinced the transition and the journey would be easier for me than it was for most. {Cue the all-knowing laughter of veteran Mothers everywhere.)

To say I was wrong would be an understatement. My third trimester was plagued with severe carpal tunnel that led to chronic insomnia. I would watch the sun rise every morning, crying as my last chance to sleep slipped away. His arrival followed many hours of back labor and resulted in a grade 3 tear {downgraded from grade 4, lucky me!}, emergency surgical repair, and enough blood loss and iron supplementation to cause my bowels to become severely and excruciatingly impacted for days. I survived and recovered and had this precious bundle of joy as my reward. And I thought, “Now this will get easier.”

And it did…for about a week. Around the second week of my son’s life he “woke up” and realized he had left his cozy womb for the outside world and he didn’t like it one bit. Instead of sleeping angelically between feeds he was discontent for no apparent reason and needed to be bounced and shushed and held 24/7. Then my milk came in and woah. That kicked off countless weeks of pain throughout and between feeds. It literally felt like there were glass shards in my nipples and my baby was chomping on them. We treated for thrush with no result and, low and behold, it was vasospasm or, as many would think of it, Raynaud’s Syndrome. {Yes, you can get that painful, blue finger phenomenon in your nipples!} My breastmilk supply was so voluminous that my son was clamping down to ease the flow and the nerves, in response, were constricting and causing poor circulation and pain. So, I read up and started taking a B vitamin and put warm compresses on my breasts before and after each feed. I block fed to reduce my oversupply and finally could feed my son without drowning him. We had figured it out and survived and again I thought, “Now this will get easier.”

Only now we were six weeks into this journey, and I had to go back to work, caring for 3 little boys. Granted I could take my son with me but that isn’t as lovely as it sounds when you’re 4 months sleep deprived and caring for a colicky baby who is still figuring out how to nurse. We learned how to feed in the carrier so I could make dinner and help with homework and build K’nex while giving my son what he needed. He screamed for all car rides and the commute was 30 minutes each way, so I learned how to blast the white noise and drive while reaching back and rubbing his head. And we both cried for most of those rides. Once home, it was time to pull out the hair dryer and bounce on the ball to stop the crying and help him to sleep for bedtime. Around the 4th month the episodes of crying subsided and then stopped. The colic, or whatever you want to label it as, disappeared. And I thought, “We survived. Now it will get easier.”

In terms of the crying, it did. Now I had an older baby who no longer cried for inexplicable reasons but who needed to be entertained constantly. No toys would hold his attention. He needed changes of scenery all day long and he still wanted to nurse {at least!} every 2 hours day and night. I learned that a “high-need” baby was a thing and that I had one. Don’t get me wrong, my little guy was happy most of the time. It was just so draining to get and keep him that way. My husband and I began taking shifts in the evening and overnight and seeing very little of each other. We couldn’t get more than 20 minutes into a movie without him waking, crying, soothing him back to sleep and repeating so we just stopped trying. I couldn’t even remember what it was we used to do to connect and recharge with each other or for ourselves. I refused to leave my son with anyone because he required so much and didn’t feel comfortable letting him fuss or cry. We were drifting from each other and I was losing sight of myself. Sure, I was crushing it as a Mother and sacrificing to give him all he wanted and needed but who was I as a person, a wife, a daughter, and a friend? Those aspects of myself started to grow fuzzy in my mind. Of course, I was so chronically sleep deprived that I couldn’t remember anything so “fuzzy” was no surprise. {The milk often ended up in the cabinet and the cereal box in the fridge.} Fast forward through my 15th month with no more than a two hour stretch of sleep, postpartum depression, separation and divorce, and my son growing into an intense toddler and then a headstrong school age kid with sensory processing challenges that lead to anxiety and issues with self-regulation. One challenge seemed to flow into the next like a series of hurdles on a never-ending track. Granted that track was paved with just enough joy, happiness and laughter to allow me to bend rather than break.

I know these challenges are not at all unique to my transition into motherhood and I realize that mine may pale in comparison to yours. Each journey is rough in its own ways and places. I don’t share this as a plea for sympathy but, rather, as a call to action. Or, at least, a call to realization. All along my way I would speak {i.e. cry} to friends, strangers and the Universe and ask, “When will this get easier?! When will my kid finally become easier?!” And most would offer up some precise age or stage when it would be so. “Oh, just make it through the first six weeks. Then it will be easier.” Or. “Really, those first three months are just so tough. Then it suddenly feels so much easier.” And, “That first year is really a doozie! If you can just get past that you’ll be golden.” Their reassurances reminded of learning to swim with my Dad as a child. Reaching out his hands he’d say, “Swim to me. You’re almost there.” And just as I would reach his hands he would back up and say it again, over and over. As that memory surfaced, I wanted to scream out, “I know what you’re all doing!!!” Here I was, doggy paddling my heart out, barely holding my head above water to reach a finish line just outside of my reach. That was my “Aha!” mothering moment.

What if this never gets easy or even easier? What if my kid was never going to become easier? What if I’m struggling to reach something that isn’t going to appear? More importantly what would happen if, instead of waiting for things to feel easier, I accepted things would eventually feel different? The hurdles looming in front of us would soon be behind but different ones would take their place, and often with little distance between. That nothing lasted forever – not the bad and often not even the good. What if I just shifted my mindset and tried to appreciate those parts of our journey that were enjoyable & rewarding and understood that the parts that weren’t were fleeting, or at least not forever. It was as if I traded that labored doggie paddle toward an unreachable goal for an efficient swimmer’s stroke and grabbed hold of the wall, catching a deep and long-awaited breath. I had survived and I could see my journey more clearly. And NOW it would finally feel easier.

I’m not saying it’s always rainbows and unicorns for me now. My son is a joy {except when he isn’t!} and I wouldn’t trade him for the world, but I can still be heard screaming at the Universe {and sometimes friends and strangers} often enough. But I’m no longer striving for something elusive and up ahead. If you ask me when your own journey will grow easier, I won’t offer up some magical age or stage. I won’t back that up as you draw closer, stringing you along. Instead, I’ll tell you maybe it won’t. Or at least not in the way you think it might. I’ll also tell you that it will soon feel different and, if you make peace with that, you will survive and maybe even enjoy the swim.

 

Erica Desper founded Confident Parenting in 2012, as a certified baby and child sleep consultant offering group and private counseling for families struggling to get their baby or child to fall and stay asleep. Erica has supported hundreds of families in and around the Main Line and Philadelphia area and internationally to improve the quality of their families’ sleep. She is also mom to son, Jaiden who, as a baby, was very good at crying and not very skilled in sleeping! She was named “Best Way to Get Everyone Some Sleep” by the Main Line Parent and Philadelphia Family communities in 2017, “Best Sleep Consultant” by the Main Line Parent community in 2018 in and “Family Favorite” Sleep Consultant by the Philadelphia Family Community in 2019. For more information about sleep or potty training support or her approach to sleep learning, visit www.beaconfidentparent.com.