Motherhood is hard.
With that, the following must be said before I start. I’ve come to realize from witnessing discussions among other moms that this is quite possibly one of the most sensitive subjects there are. Doing things differently is somehow viewed as accusing others of doing things wrongly. Many seem to take immediate offense to any statement on how you parent. So I must say, this is not an attack or an assertion that my way is the right way. I'm not bragging about my parenting choices nor judging anyone else's. I'm simply voicing my thoughts on my own situation as a new mother.
First off, I must say that I have one baby. One relatively easy, remarkably happy baby. I can only imagine how magnified these challenges (and more) must be for a parent in a more difficult situation and/or with multiple kids. Still, this is hard. I’d call myself a “stay-at-home” mom, but that would be an inaccurate moniker considering I’m incapable of staying at home, but by the common definition of the term, that’s what I became a few months ago and that’s what I plan to be for the next couple of years, and that’s the type of parenting to which I refer (specifically for a baby, because that’s the extent of my experience thus far).
This is the most physically, mentally and emotionally demanding role I could ever imagine being in.
Breastfeeding falls into all three of those categories. There are the obvious physical requirements of the task itself, on top of the initial pain and adjustments experienced in the beginning (all while recovering from the intense bodily trauma of childbirth). The knowledge that a helpless little human is reliant entirely on your body to stay alive is mentally exhausting. The fact that you are the only person capable of providing sustenance can be a pretty incomparable burden. Especially the first couple of months (for me anyway), the stress surrounding nursing was at times unbearable. Sources of information on the subject abound with conflicting advice and in-depth theories, all stating completely different (and oftentimes opposite) methods of how to do it “right.” There’s getting over the embarrassment you may have previously felt exposing your chest in public (which I do frequently with little to no qualms now). There are the people who express dismay ranging from discomfort to anger (emotions which should in no way actually be associated with the natural, healthy feeding of an infant) just by bearing witness to the act. There is, in fact, a time and a place for breastfeeding: Anytime the baby’s hungry and anywhere I damn well please. There’s also the time commitment, which is essentially ALL the time the first couple of months. Thankfully though, all the difficulties of breastfeeding have become fewer and less severe with every week that’s passed since she was born.
Being a baby’s primary caregiver isn’t a job that you can ever truly take a break from. If I’m lucky enough to be able to leave the house alone for 45 minutes, I can guarantee I’ll spend every one of those minutes worrying about whether she needs me, regardless of if she’s perfectly content and in capable, caring hands.
Also, babies are HEAVY. I thought I was fairly strong before pregnancy, and stronger by the end of pregnancy, but I was weak compared to what I need to be now. Since my baby decided she hates the stroller and views it only as a seat from which to scream, I use a carrier for a good 4+ hours every day. I can relate very well to the anecdote about the farmer who goes out to the barn every morning and lifts a calf over his head until eventually he's able to lift a cow. I'm still waiting for her increasing weight to surpass my growing strength. Surely that day must come, at which time I expect my legs to give out and to lie collapsed on the sidewalk with her strapped to me like a turtle on its back.
And then there’s getting everything else done. Keeping a baby fed, clean and happy could easily take up the entire day, but there's plenty more to fit in if you don't want to live in squalor and disarray eating take-out every day (I don't). Laundry is never as hard (or as contaminated with fecal matter) as when you have a baby. Cooking needs to be rushed into the shortest possible time frame. Doctor's appointments need to be gotten to. Shopping needs to be slotted between feedings. And every task has to be completed with your attention split between it and your baby, so if you’re not content with half-assing everything (I’m not), there’s a lot of slack to take up with extra effort.
I admit, I daydream about having a regular job. I recently redesigned my resume for fun, even though I won't be needing it for at least 2 years. I browse job postings with futile yearning, as opposed to my past self trudging through many workdays watching the clock and complaining. (Of course, I am fully aware that if my situation were reversed I'd fantasize all day at my desk about being home with my baby instead.) I’m torn by simultaneous feelings of gratitude and resentment toward my husband's full-time job. On one hand, he's working so that I'm able to care for our daughter without having to divide my time and attention between her and employment, for which I feel incredibly lucky. On the other, leaving us for work each morning seems very much like a daily 8-hour vacation, and some of the more trying days I just can't help but be jealous. I'll let it be said though that he does as much as absolutely possible to ease my burden when he is with us, short of breastfeeding.
Mothering is a job unmatched by any other. And while this is focusing on the fact that it’s difficult, it being also unbeatably rewarding is not lost on me. Being with my baby every moment to witness each development and see all her smiles couldn’t be replaced by anything even remotely as satisfying. Even as I’m counting down the days until I can get a full weekend away from her, I still sometimes miss holding her even when she’s napping. It’s an experience I feel privileged to be having with a little person I couldn’t imagine living without now.