GROWING PAINS FOR GROWN UPS
First a disclaimer. The beginning of this book may sound a bit dark. That’s just because I’m going to talk about many of the things that no one tells parents-to-be. But hang in there. I love being a Mom. I adore my kids. And parenting can be truly wonderful. However, the whole truth is more interesting, and considerably more helpful, than the cheery clichés.
The truth about parenthood is rarely discussed with “outsiders.” There’s an unspoken agreement that if you aren’t a parent you won’t “get it” when told of the realities. And then of course if you DO believe it, well, maybe we’d all stop having kids and the species would die off.
You see, there is a great deal of loss involved in having kids. To be sure there is much that we gain, but I’ll come to that later. No one talks about the other stuff so let’s give it voice.
For many, “the losing” starts with trying to get pregnant. The test goes positive and we dance with glee. Then we lose the baby in a miscarriage. When I lost my first pregnancy, I told many of my closest friends and family. I needed the support. It hurt. A lot. But what really amazed me was to learn that 9 out of 10 of my closest women friends and family members had gone thru their own miscarriages…and never told a soul!
Only when I opened up to them did they feel they could tell their stories. There’s all this dark secret pain and loss left unspoken by couples trying to conceive. In fact, many studies have shown that up to one in five pregnancies ends in a miscarriage.
When we lose a pregnancy we also lose a bit of our illusion of having control of our world and our bodies. We couldn’t stop the miscarriage. We might not get pregnant again. We have these terribly powerful desires only to discover we may be helpless to fulfill them.
Many couples also go thru some form of fertility treatment which can compound the feelings of loss. Time and again that little pink line never shows up. Time and again you fail to conceive. Maybe your eggs aren’t good. Maybe it’s the sperm. Maybe it’s your uterus or someone’s scarred tubes. Maybe no one knows why. Maybe the miscarriages start to line up…
That’s a lot of heart break and loss for something that started with such hope and anticipation.
Some couples turn to donor eggs or sperm in their determination to create a family. A tremendous gift this donation of eggs and sperm. An amazing gift of life. And yet to accept someone else’s genetic gift you must first give up on your own genetic footprint. It’s lost forever from this world.
So, your unconscious sense of your body as young and perfect…poof…gone. Your sense of control over your life and body and destiny…poof…gone. Maybe your genetic history …poof …gone. And with each personal loss comes individual growth and change…always a wee bit painful that “growth and change” stuff. But ultimately, way down the road, maybe a good thing?
And then suddenly you’re pregnant and it looks like it’s gonna stick this time. Depending on how much loss you’ve had getting to this point you may feel light and joyous or utterly terrified.
As a woman, I’d always wanted to experience pregnancy…to feel a life growing within me. During my years of fertility treatment, I’d look on pregnant women with such desperate envy. But life is full of irony and it’s usually at your expense! So, I didn’t just get pregnant. No, no, no. I got pregnant with TWINS at age 45!
The first thing that hit was mind-boggling exhaustion and the helpless claustrophobia of the trapped. Before getting pregnant, I was biking 60-100 miles a week, weight lifting, hiking. I’d planned how to modify my bike so I could ride well into my pregnancy. Ha, ha, HA!
Instead, I woke up a few weeks into my pregnancy and was so exhausted after walking the 15 feet from my bed to the bathroom that I had to rest. I’d shower while leaning against the wall and then have to rest afterwards. I’d find clothes and have to lie down before getting dressed. I was unable to work more than a few hours a day and couldn’t get to the office before 10am.
The nausea hit early and never went away. Neither did the exhaustion. Nor did the chronic constipation. I learned to think about how I’d get thru the next hour. I lived one hour at a time hour after hour and day after day.
I was on blood thinners and baby aspirin and developed gestational diabetes. I watched my food intake and blood sugars like a hawk and managed to water-walk at the pool daily up until the last two months. At that point, the exhaustion was so bad I couldn’t walk from my car into the gym.
Many women have nice, pleasant pregnancies. But not all of us do. In fact, some women struggle and yes, suffer, thru what they had hoped would be a time of joy. Ah well. “Life is what happens while you’re making other plans.”
And thus, for some of us, the loss of the long-treasured pregnancy of our imagination…happy, relaxed, and full of contented nesting. Poof…gone.
Have you pictured how your baby will be born? Home? Hospital? Birth center? Doctor, mid-wife, or doula? Who will be there with you for this life changing and joyous occasion?
I very much hope you get to choose these things and that events unfold as you envision them. But don’t blame yourself if things don’t go as planned. There’s a lot you don’t really have control over in this growing of babies thing.
As for me, by the time my “birth experience” arrived, I was so miserable that I just wanted the babies OUT and the suffering to end. My pregnancy was high risk and complicated. So, we arranged a nice planned C-section… that turned into an emergency when my blood pressure dropped thru the floor and the baby’s heart rates shot up.
For me the lights were going out, everything was going black, and the room was erupting in controlled pandemonium. I was on the verge of losing consciousness and the world was dark. I heard the anesthesia attending lean into the resident and say, “Push 10 of neo.” The resident replied, “It’s in.” The attending, “Push another 10.” The resident, “Already on its way.”
And then, as the medication brought my blood pressure back up, the lights came back on for me. I heard a baby cry. My doctor said something about “cord wrapped around her neck” then another baby cried. My husband later explained that when the baby’s heart rates showed stress my OB just flew into overdrive and that wonderful woman had pulled both babies out in record time.
Fortunately, those anesthesiologists also pulled ME out of my downward spiraling blood pressure!
They brought me the babies to look at but, frankly, all I could think was, “yeah, okay. I see ‘em.” There were no trumpets or choirs or anything that felt remotely glorious or even triumphant. I was too drained from months of confining and claustrophobic pregnancy and the seeming chaos of delivery.
Kevin on the other hand was as high as a kite! He paced between holding my hand and peeking at the kids. Joy suffused his face and he was already besotted with the babies.
At this point I was physically and emotionally exhausted. I didn’t want to see the babies. I didn’t want to hold them. I just wanted a chance to recover. To feel well again. It’s ok to feel these things. Pregnancy and delivery can be hard, hard going for some women.
Don’t feel bad if you’re not oozing love at this point. You will connect to your baby(s). Sometimes it’s at delivery. Sometimes a few hours later. Sometimes days or weeks later. It’s ok. Your body just spent 9 months feeding and growing that cuddly little parasite…or two..or dare I say th..th..three!
It’s okay if you need a break before you’re mentally and emotionally ready to throw yourself into the endlessly selfless giving that is our bizarre ideal of American motherhood. You may find, however, that your partner has already fallen in love with the babies for you.
That’s what I could see on Kevin’s face even in the delivery room. Love and joy and wonder.
I very much wanted Kevin to have these first minutes of his baby’s lives. So, I sent him away to follow our twins to the nursery. There was a problem with that, however. You see, some women can experience uncontrollable shaking and shivering after a delivery, especially a C-section.
A friend had warned us about this. His wife had been alone and shivering while he held his twins in the nursery. Did we listen? No. I’d sent my mother and husband to the nursery. So, here’s some advice. Make sure someone is with a new mom after the C-section!
It wasn’t Kevin’s fault. I’d sent him away. But you can learn from us. Being alone, paralyzed, and shaking after delivering babies can be quite scary. This pregnancy and delivery stuff is not all glory and grace.
If you’re reading this and pregnant, don’t get worried. Many, many women have nice normal pregnancies and deliveries. On the other hand, if you’re pregnant and not “lovin'” the experience, well sister, you’re not alone. There are many women who do not have the glowing, rarified experience of pregnancy and childbirth that is so casually promised to all.
And it doesn’t mean you did anything wrong if your personal experience is not so wonderful. There are some things you simply can’t control. Meanwhile, just hang in there, you will feel TONS better once those kiddos are born and you get your body back from the wild throes of jacked up hormones. You will feel better again. I promise.
You will not, however, get your old life back. That is gone forever. Yes, your new life will be loaded with riches. Still, you just might mourn that old life more than you thought! And, recognizing this loss will help you understand part of what’s going on for mom and dad in the first few years of parenthood.
You’ve spent your life to date learning the skills of adult independence. Professional skills. Relationship skills. Adult-child-of-older-parents skills. Financial skills. Home care and budgeting skills. For a while now, you’ve probably been cruising along with a fine since of mastery over your life. But babies are gonna set up a whole new learning curve.
They show up as blindingly cute little lumps that don’t sleep, pee and poop constantly, and often fuss… a lot. And they are utterly completely helpless and utterly completely innocent.
You will discover they have their own personalities from day one. Within one year they will progress from wiggly half blind lumps to walking, understanding speech, and starting to talk. They change and grow and develop at an absolutely phenomenal rate.
Do you think all those adult life skills you have will prepare you for parenting? No, they will not. It’s a whole new skill set. And just when you master the skills of the newborn stage…they change! And now YOU have a whole new set of skills to learn too! Holy mackeroly! You used to feel confident, accomplished, maybe even capable. Now you discover you haven’t got a clue! AND life as you knew it is on its head!
You will not be working late and you will be stressed to the max about the need to do so. You will not be stopping at the gym on the way home from work nor grabbing a quick bike ride in the long summer evenings. You will not be sleeping in any kind of normal pattern. You will be waking up way too early. You will not have any time for hobbies, reading, classes, or extra responsibility at work.
You will be doing a TON of laundry. Your house will be a mess. You’ll find yourself worrying about how much lead is in balsamic vinegar? How much arsenic is in rice? Mercury in tuna? Fire retardants in sofa’s? You will not have the time or energy for your partner. (more on that later!) You will feel confused and at a bit of a loss about what has happened to your life. You’ll start to wonder just exactly who is this person inhabiting your body?!
Perhaps you’re familiar with the concept of “developmental stages.” Babies, toddlers, kids go thru them as they are confronted with new challenges. Sometimes this process is, shall we say, rocky. It’s hard having to figure out EVERYTHING.
What they don’t tell you is that parents are also going thru developmental stages of their own each time their child changes. You will be continually faced with new challenges, new skills needed, new priorities that clash with old ones, new emotional baggage to address. It’s gonna keep you on your toes.
In the first year, you will rarely feel a sense of mastery over anything. My kids were 5 years old before I even occasionally started to feel like I’d gotten some small grip on parenting. And usually, right when you’re feeling all slick and supermomish, something comes along and firmly puts you back into the rank and file of the clueless.
So, “why?” you ask, would anyone have kids?? Well, here’s the thing. On the one hand, you’ll be wondering how you could ever have made such an insane mistake. Yet, at the same time you’ll find you don’t really want to give them back. The love you will feel (not always) will be intense.
I remember the moment that I realized I truly would step in front of a train to save them. I’d do anything to keep them safe from harm. Really, truly anything. They are amazing little beings and watching them grow into themselves is such an astounding privilege.
You will see the whole world again fresh though innocent eyes. Ladybugs, ants, dirt, and water that falls from the sky will all be new. They trust you absolutely and you’ll strive with all you’ve got to be worthy of that trust.
Loss is a part of growth. Parenthood is a time of exponential growth for adults. It comes with some loss and some pain. But it also opens new doors to the world. It stretches us to be more. And it brings these new little people deep into our hearts.
Many new parents are wholly unaware of how hard the first year can be. But now you know. And with that conscious awareness you can step back a bit when the going gets tough, and realize that this too shall pass. That it’s just growing pains for grown-ups. That as you accumulate growth and skills you’ll feel better. It will be better. And remember, “no guts, no glory.”
Remember…No Parent is an Island!