I have spent the last few weeks watching A LOT of Gilmore Girls. It’s a show I’ve watched in the past and with the new nugget at home it’s a great show to have on in the background.
See, a lot of being a new mom has entailed feeling really, really lonely. When my dad was in town he talked about the people he works with who need the TV or radio on in the background. He talked about how he was so happy with himself that he didn’t need the fake company. My dad’s personal psychology aside, the truth is that I need the fake company in the form of TV characters. I spend a lot of my day hoping that my day will come to an end, I can put my son to bed, and get 45 minutes to myself before I must to go bed to be somewhat adequately rested.
Ronan doesn’t yet have enough attention span or energy to fully interact with me for more than a few minutes, and I spend a lot of the day keeping him calm and holding my breath until he wakes up again. My days feel held hostage by my tiny human. I want to get projects done, do some work, write, read, hell even work out, but the capacity and ability to do all of that evaporates because of how unpredictable he is.
These last two weeks were particularly hard. Andy was in tech and he was gone from roughly 8am to midnight every day. I was usually up when he woke up and asleep when he got home. All the hours in between were just me and our son. I didn’t realize just how many decisions I made with Andy until he wasn’t here. It started with the simple choice of whether to leave the swing on or off during Ronan’s nap. Sometimes if I let it continue to swing after he fell asleep, he would wake up. Sometimes if I turned it off, he would wake up. What made the difference only the internal synapses of my son’s brain will know, but I had to play that guessing game every time I put him down for a nap.
And let’s clear up that phrase “put down for a nap.” This is not actually how this process goes. Usually I would be holding my baby, feeding him, letting him hang out on his Mat of Neglect/Self-Sufficiency, and then he would start crying. I’d realize that he was likely tired so I’d start to rock him, I’d rock him some more, and more, and more. Sometimes for 30 minutes we’d rock. And this rocking didn’t happen in a rocking chair. It happened standing up, baby in arms, swaying back and forth. Do that for 45 minutes and tell me how your body feels afterwards because mine felt exhausted.
If he managed to fall asleep during that time, I’d try to lay him down in his pack ‘n’ play, a portable bassinet/crib, but because the pack ‘n’ play was helpful to Mommy and he had a sixth sense about easing up on Mommy, he would wake up about 10 minutes later and the rocking would start over.
I got desperate at one point and a friend gave me her old swing. Ronan had taken to delightful mid-afternoon screaming fits, likely because he wasn’t actually getting naps that were restorative, and was so distraught that there was very little I could do to help him fall asleep. He would sleep in my arms, making it impossible to do anything. We have all these beautiful romantic notions of motherhood. One of the primary images is a mother with a sleeping baby nestled in her arms with her supremely white couch/sheets/living room behind her. She always looks so peaceful with her sleeping baby next to or on top of her.
For me, I was getting overloaded by the sensation of being touched for so many hours a day that I would hold him and just start to cry to relieve some of the tension and anxiety. I’m sure other moms know the sensation that comes with the phrase “touched out,” but if you haven’t experienced this, it’s the physical equivalent of having to look at strobe lights all day. It’s overwhelming and constant and has very little relief. The only real cure is space from being touched. Which is why the baby who would fall asleep on me or wake up after being put down was so damn problematic.
So the swing saved the day. He would go into it and a within a few minutes be completely relaxed or asleep. These days I have to sometimes add the help of a pacifier, but it is still the magic seat.
But having to make the minor decisions about the swing added to all the other decisions one makes during the course of the day left me overwhelmed and anxious.
We talk about decision fatigue among adults in their working lives. It is well documented that if we don’t automate as much as possible people become overwhelmed and lose more and more capacity to deal with sudden stressors. I was already overwhelmed with decision fatigue before the baby came along, but I was lucky to have my partner to bounce things off of. Then I went from having help half of the time to having help none of the time.
I’ve said many times the last few weeks that nothing could have prepared me for being a parent. There is no amount of research, reading, or talking to other parents that could have helped me have a sense of what this experience would be like. So I can’t adequately explain how overwhelming it is because I don’t have an appropriate frame of reference. I now understand the great divide in our society between parents and non-parents. I don’t have animosity or even feel like I’m better than my friends who are not parents. I truly lack the words to explain the experience of going from managing oneself and all that a singular life brings with it, to managing a whole new being who can’t communicate or make their own choices and is constantly barraged with new experiences. How do you help that new being through all of that whiplash?
As it turns out, I needed Lorelai and Rory in the background to remind me that someday my new being will be grown and may even be able to have coffee and witty conversation with me.