Derek and I each were lucky enough to have a ton of time off after Alice was born. I went back to seeing clients in Kalamazoo when Alice was about 5-6 weeks old, but that doesn’t really count because I was only gone for a few hours each time – no big deal. I have a great boss at Pine Rest and she let me come up with a plan for my leave that worked best for my crazy hours (half days on Thursdays/Fridays and every other weekend). I went back to Pine Rest on the weekend before Memorial Day but I don’t do the weekday hours until July. I wasn’t too terribly concerned about going back on the weekends at Pine Rest because my partner is my amazing friend and weekends are pretty relaxed. Derek went back full-time the day after Memorial Day. I was a little nervous about him going back because that meant that I was home with Alice full-time, which was a huge transition. At this point, he has been back for a week and a half and I am glad to say that being home with Alice has been amazing. We have a good routine and I feel really confident that I’ve got this thing down. If you had asked me to be home full-time with her 6-8 weeks ago, I would have cried. I would have done it. I would have survived. But I would have cried. We are so lucky and thankful that our jobs allowed us each to take 10 solid weeks off. I hope that we have this same opportunity for each of our children, but I am beyond thankful that we could do this with our first baby. I think that it not only helped Derek build a relationship and bond with Alice, but it definitely helped me. I don’t know that I would have coped well if we had been a typical new family where the dad went back to work after a few days. I truly believe that because Derek and I were both home together we each were able to take the time we needed to adjust to such a huge change.
If you’ve spoken to me at all since Alice has been born, you’ve probably heard me say this at least once:
In theory we all know that having a baby means you have to mold your life around them, but in practice it’s really difficult.
I have a Masters in psychology and have worked with kids and teens for years and years. I know that having kids is a significant change. I know that their needs come first most of the time. I know that I won’t be able to do things or go places whenever I want. I know that when babies cry it’s because they need something or something is wrong. I know all these things. Duh. But when it really came down to it, it took me a while to realize what that meant for me, what that meant in practice and not just in theory. I have to be 100% honest and say that the first few weeks were really hard, and I think that a lot of the difficulty was because I struggled with being able to step back and remind myself of the theory of it all. The intelligent, adult, functional part of me knew that when she was crying it was because she needed us and not because she was trying to break me. If I had been watching from the outside and saw someone else in the same situation, I would easily have been able to think of what she might need or ways to calm her – but in the situation all I could think was “stop crying.” I had a hard time remembering that she was just a little baby, a human being, that needed me. I had a hard time with having sympathy and empathy toward her and not just toward myself. My biggest obstacle with becoming a mom was to stop being stubborn, whether intentional or not. If she just ate 45 minutes ago but was crying and couldn’t be soothed I was stubborn to the idea that she needed/wanted to eat again. When she was two weeks old, Derek went to bowling for the evening and I was home alone with her for a few hours. She cried the entire time he was gone. the. entire. time. So naturally I cried for pretty much that whole time, too. Usually every week after bowling he would stop at Little Ceasars across the street from the bowling alley and get me crazy bread because on Tuesdays it was only a dollar. That night I called him crying, so desperate for him to come home as soon as possible that I couldn’t even fathom him spending the extra 5 minutes getting delicious crazy bread. Looking back at this, I feel incredibly guilty and almost embarrassed at how I struggled with coping and having a new perspective on my changes – even though I knew they were coming. That is why I believe that having Derek home with us for so long was such a blessing for all of us. It allowed us to be able to be the “outsider” in situations and give the other one ideas of what might be upsetting her or how to handle it. It also let us take breaks. There were times when I needed to be alone. I needed it and I’m sure he did too sometimes. I think that if I had been alone during those first few weeks I wouldn’t have been able to take the time that I needed to figure out the whole parenting thing. I think that I would have been resentful at the fact that I was home alone all day while he got to leave and that resentment would have destroyed me, my relationship with Alice, and my relationship with Derek.
It has been really important for me to be honest about how I have coped with this transition. However, being honest is very different from complaining. I do not and will not complain about being a parent. I wanted this and I love this. I truly, 100%, with every ounce of me love this. But sometimes it’s hard – and sometimes I struggle – and sometimes I need time to change my perspective. And talking about that is not complaining. It is honesty. I find so much strength in talking with my friends that are parents. Having kids can be really emotional, isolating, and stressful. Lots of times it feels like you have to put on a face like you’ve got everything under control and know just what to do, even if that’s not the case. I don’t like that feeling. I am thankful that I have such great relationships my husband, friends, and family where we can be honest and seek help/advice/support without feeling bad.