I don’t remember the first time he said it. But I do remember how enraged I felt as the baby was screaming, our sanity was departing, and my husband uttered the following words:
“Maybe he’s hungry.” T. W. H.
I wasn’t holding anything sharp at the time, which is obvious because I am not writing this from a women’s penitentiary. But I unleashed a verbal barrage, of this I am sure. My well-meaning partner was just looking for a solution, as men do; he’s a problem-solver. But the solution he offered were my boobs, and I was all, “My body, my choice! P.S. I’m going to KILL YOU.” To him, my fury was an overreaction. To me, in my hormone- and exhaustion-addled state, it made perfect sense. After all, with three words my best friend had just attacked my intelligence (Thank you! My tiny little woman brain never even thought about hunger!) and my love for our child (I thought about hunger and decided I’d rather let him starve). It’s the Stevie Wonder of insults, doled out as advice by people who are blind to its infuriating qualitieslike those who ask me, the now-mother of two, if I’m going to “try for a girl.” Because my life will just be forever incomplete if I only get to buy tampons for myself from now on.
“You have no idea the damage that having a kid did to my marriage,” a friend confided over brunch and Bloody Marys recently, and I was all, “<glug glug glug> YA HEARD?” Because my husband, whom I do consider my best friend (who else watches the same shows I do, laughs at all the same things, and sleeps in the same bed?) and I took a hit during those newborn weeks the first time around, and we’re still recovering (and, apparently, are gluttons for punishment, since we welcomed #2 last month). Physical and mental and emotional depletion, combined with a healthy dose of feeling completely incompetent, have a way of not highlighting each other’s good qualities. And whether it was my tears-out-of-nowhere, my threats of suicide, or my kicking of random inanimate objects around the house, my BFF had plenty of reasons to return my frustration with him right back to me.
This desire to maim the person you love most is just one of the inherent contradictions that accompanies becoming a parent. Here are a few more.
I want to leave. But I can’t leave.
If you’re a woman who has decided to nurse her baby, you find out that the designation of “24-Hour Milk Buffet” carries with it an entire luggage set worth of baggage. There are the hormones that accompany this endeavor and render you a victim of emotional roulette. There is the physical exhaustion (boo!) that comes with burning calories (yay!). There is the weight of being the sole provider of the material that keeps your child alive. There is the fact that your husband doesn’t have milk-boobs and you resent him for this. The buck stops with you, is what I’m saying, and it stops every two to three hours (give or takesee below). Your chest is now connected via a biological thread to your child, and like an ankle bracelet on a Hollywood starlet, it renders you only able to go so far. Your sense of independence feels like it just endured an attack from Kathy Bates in Misery. And, just when you started to lose that pregnancy weight, none of your damn shirts fit because you’re now Dolly Parton minus the hair and talent.
And when I do leave…
I granted myself the gift of a solo Target trip recently (a.k.a. my husband pushed me out the back door and encouraged me to “take my timeplease”). And where do you think I went as soon as I got there? My tired feet and barely-there-brain propelled me to the baby section, where I mooned over newborn clothing and pictured it on my month-old son. After a minute or so of this, I began to wonder if he was okay. I meanmaybe he was hungry. Then my boobs started to hurt, and the people around me were annoying by being sothere, and I wondered why I ever left the house in the first place. Welcome to Parenthoodthese constantly-conflicting emotions (see also: rage and guilt; love and resentment) will be your companions THE ENTIRE TIME YOU ARE HERE.
The rules areTHERE ARE NO RULES.
Allow me to share with you a fun fact from one of the baby websites I’ve been obsessing over recently. It concerns the phenomenon of growth spurts, which occur at intervals in a child’s life and, in the newborn phase, require an increase in frequency of feedings. THAT MEANS STEP IN LINE, MILK BUFFET!
Common times for growth spurts are during the first few days at home and around 7-10 days, 2-3 weeks, 4-6 weeks, 3 months, 4 months, 6 months and 9 months (more or less). Babies don’t read calendars, however, so your baby may do things differently. (thanks, kellymom.com! THANKS FOR NOTHING.)
Did you catch that verbal tomfoolery, reader? The near-overlapping of those numbers and the reminder that BABIES DON’T READ CALENDARS, which may just as well be followed by, “So good luck figuring that out, mother f***ers!” This kind of uncertaintyfrom the experts, no lessonly feeds the natural self-doubt that plagues all parents when it comes to how good a job they’re doing. Allow that self-doubt to take a seat beside the conflicting emotions mentioned abovewe’re all going to be here awhile.
I’m only getting started here, and feel free to add your own thoughts in the comments. But what I’m saying is that parenthood is not for the faint of heart. It is an emotional roller coaster through some rough terrain that can leave you questioning your choices and identity on a daily basis. But by far the biggest contradiction of the endeavor, and the part science has not yet explained, is how a process that involves so much emptying outof time, energy, resources, attentioncan, when you least expect it, be so fulfilling. There you are, eyes barely open at the end of another long day (though the years are short, I hear), and you catch a glance of your offspring regarding you with a beatific smile and something that looks like love in his eyes. And just like that, the universe slides into place and everything makes sense. In fact, everything feels even worthwhile. You begin to understand how servanthood can lead to freedom and frustration can give way to love and how the life you led beforethe one that was so fun, undemanding, full of optionswas so small compared to this new, fixed, and tethered one. And in that moment, being a walking contradiction doesn’t seem so bad when you’ve got a tiny hand holding yours for the journey.