Friday, October 18, 2013

Unexpected joys and hardships of parenting so far

That picture was taken 1 week after Adelyn was born. So much joy and exhaustion. So much that was unexpected.

I recently wrote a post that included my favorite baby products.
On a more important and serious note, that same friend had asked what the most unexpected joy / hardship came with transitioning to be a mama was for me? Well of course, if you know me, I couldn't just give one joy and one hardship, I had to write a novel.
Here's what I wrote.
The first unexpected joy and hardship was surrounding sleep and scheduling. A friend recommended a book called Babywise: Giving Your Infant the Gift of Nighttime Sleep. Her little boy was a great sleeper, and she said this was the general method they used. We didn't have any other thoughts on the matter, and the philosophy made sense to us, so we figured, what the heck!? The gist of Babywise is - from day 1, parents are in charge, which ultimately makes your infant feel very secure. It is different from 'on demand feeding' which is where you feed the baby whenever they want for how long they want. Rather, you work to get the baby on a nursing "schedule," which will set their metabolism and help them sleep in longer increments more quickly, and more soundly. In my personal opinion, the method worked great for us. But we learned that it's not a science. I remember thinking the book made it sound like a formula - put in A + B and out pops C. (Although it's been a while since I actually read it.) Generally we found that the principles were super helpful and worth sticking with. Adelyn was sleeping 12 hours through the night by 12 -14 weeks old. But, it's not like you never look back. There are growth spurts, and rolling, and teething, and moving, and vacations, and and and. The book might mention all that, but I don't remember that. I just remember thinking, "if I do xyz, then I'll have a great sleeper." I'll get to how this relates to a hardship in a minute... 
Anyway, I think it's worth a read, and at the very least, it allowed both Ben and I to think through our sleep/ feeding philosophy together. It's funny - i think before reading it, we assumed Ben wouldn't have much of a role in the whole feeding thing since I'd be nursing; but it turns out his support and encouragement and willingness to think through (and listen to my thinking through) the day in and day out scheduling decisions was HUGE! and really beneficial to us as new parents. we were on the same page, and i didn't feel all alone in determining her needs, just because I was nursing
As for your question about the unexpected - it's hard to pinpoint one. but i think one of the biggest unexpected hardships was how quickly the pride/ guilt mentality snuck in. I had no idea I would feel prideful over my baby about sleeping well and on the flip side, the feel guilty or like a failure if my baby didn't sleep well. Like I said - the Babywise method worked. and I think it's great. But for me, (and another similarly minded/ personality friend of mine) the temptation was to feel prideful in "success," as if I had it all figured out and was superior to my other new mommy friends who didn't. whew. thank the Lord he broke me of that quickly.
i have to reiterate - i think the principles of their method are really great & we will definitely be using it again if possible. BUT, i feel cautioned against the temptation to think i'm oh so awesome if my baby responds well and is a good sleeper because of it. Honestly, I now just feel thankful for God's grace in teaching us how to parent, even in the little things and short season of spit up and nursing and being awake in the middle of the night.
Moving on. 
another unexpected hard thing was how it changed the dynamic of our marriage. we knew it would. most people don't assume they'll add a child without any changes, but we didn't really know exactly what and how it would change. a lot of things were positive - new experiences; new things to seek the Lord's direction on; new understandings of God as a parent; seeing each other flourish in a new role; and so much joy from getting to know our daughter together. one hard thing though was how there were so many monotonous things to talk about. 'boring business things' as we called them. it doesn't sound like a big deal, and I don't know that it was a HUGE deal, but it was surprising and frustrating to be so tired and then spend the energy we did have talking about boring business things. how to care for/ refrigerate breast milk. how hot to make the bath. please get jammies. should we go on a walk before or after she eats what should our nighttime routine be she's waking early from naps - what do you suggest please thaw the beef at noon. please put the chicken in the crockpot on high for 6 hours. please get these 3 things at the store on your way home. okay so you'll be home to get addie at 3 and i'll pick her up from you at 4:30 don't forget xyz for the diaper bag for church.
it all sounds so silly. we really tried to be simple. not too much extra baby junk that was unnecessary. not too much fuss and hassle. but again, because we wanted to THINK through parenting decisions (small as they may seem in those early days), it took discussing to be on the same page. and those conversations are kind of neutral; definitely not exhilarating and romantic. and to top it all off, you can't have sex for the first several. [just being candid here, people. you were warned.] so, all that was an adjustment.
we learned how to have those conversations though and how to still pour love and affection and fun into each other. and it was a short season, even though in the moment, those first few week felt so so long.
one of the most unexpected joys was seeing God in a new light after becoming a parent. mostly, the revelations were new inner understandings of things I already understood with my head. i knew God sent his son because he loved us and would sacrifice anything. I didn't know how it felt to be willing to give up anything for your child. and I knew he loves us when we're difficult, but I didn't know how it felt to love your child when they're difficult and imperfect. and i had never felt such instant unconditional love before. it's different than marriage. Not better or worse. Just different. anyway - i feel like this joy is ongoing, something we're still experiencing.
other surprises - labor was painful. for me though, i had basically forgotten about the pain in a heartbeat when she came out. (that's not true for everyone.) recovery was PAINFUL. and gross. [people tried to warn you, but they just can't. and then you go through it, and it's like you join this club of every woman on the planet who's given birth. and then you can say "ohhhhh." and you all have this secret inside understanding. but if you want more details, i'd be happy to try to warn you. :)] the water breaking is the weirdest feeling ever. the level of excitement when you wake up and check the clock only to realize your baby hasn't woken up in 8 hours for the first time is INDESCRIBABLE!! when baby discovers her/his voice, they use it LOUDLY and non stop for a few days. the pacifier will in fact not definitely lead to nursing problems. but it might allow you to sleep for more than 2 hours. (i'm sure some babies experience nursing problems with a pacifier - i'm no expert; just giving our experience.) it is okay to let the nurses take your baby in the hospital overnight. you are not a bad mother if you want them to. i sometimes feel SO EXTREMELY FRUSTRATED when she's not sleeping well. that is hard.
nursing. I figured baby would come out and she would just know how. she didn't. And it was hard. it felt like an eternity. it was emotional and time consuming. but, we met with a lactation consultant several times in the first few weeks (which insurance covered), and ultimately I'm SO glad i stuck with nursing.

It's funny. That's where I ended the note to my friend, and in one sense, that feels like a lot. On the other hand, it feels like it doesn't even scratch the surface. Can words even begin to describe parenting? Perhaps a better writer than I can attempt, but it sure does feel like something I could write forever on. Don't worry. I'll spare you.
I'm sure the joys and hardships will come and go and change with each new season in our lives as parents. But for now, we are in the baby/ small child phase and it is what it is. 
Well, there it is. my heart on the page. whew. that's probably enough for one day.
Are you a parent? What have been your unexpected joys and hardships along the way?