They told me I’d be tired—that I’d be really tired. What they didn’t tell me was that “tired” would not describe how I felt during the first few weeks with you around. I really haven’t experienced much sleep deprivation in my life, aside from the odd sugar-fueled high-school youth group lock-in, or the occasional all-nighter for some project or deadline or other. Sleep deprivation at those levels is ugly, but manageable, and easily fixed by a nap and a couple of nights’ full rest.
So yes, they told me I’d be tired. But what they didn’t—and couldn’t—tell me was that I would experience the sort of exhaustion that manifests itself in near hallucinations—the sort of exhaustion that overrides most normal human daily needs, like using the bathroom or eating; that you would be tongue-tied, and spend the first weeks of your life nursing for up to three hours at a time, desperately trying to get enough food; that I would wonder if it was normal, if there was something wrong with me; and that I would stumble about for a few weeks in a fog as thick as gravy. They didn’t tell me that naps would be both as alluring and as elusive as a white tiger.
They told me I’d have my hands full. What I didn’t know is that you would be the kind of little one that would persistently refuse to be put down—ever, day or night. You would scream in the car seat, the bouncy seat, and the bassinet, the ring sling, and all other baby carriers—and you would only sleep if I held you, or laid you so close beside me that I could feel your tiny breaths on my collarbone. I didn’t know that, for a full month and a half, I would not have a hand free to type an email or make myself a meal or fold a stick of laundry unless I was willing to lay you down and listen to you scream yourself hoarse. I didn’t know that I would get good—creepily good—at picking up things with my toes; that I’d learn to wash one hand at a time and to do my hair and makeup in the car every single day because I couldn’t get to it before we left the house.
So yes, they told me I would have my hands full. But I couldn’t possibly have understood what it would really mean until you came hurtling out of me after 21 hours of labor and into my arms; not until, during our full stay in the hospital, you never slept in the bassinet beside me, not once—you insisted that I hold you all night long, and the nurses insisted that I not sleep while holding you due to liabilities and safety. They didn’t tell me that after a 21 hour labor on 1.5 hours sleep, I would only get 5 hours of sleep spread out over two nights in the hospital; that I would spend most of the nights following your birth staring down at you, mystified as to why I couldn’t put you down while you were sleeping, and being poked and prodded by nurses to stay awake.
They told me I’d be emotional. What I couldn’t have possibly anticipated was the specific cocktail of emotions I felt when we brought you home from the hospital, and all I wanted was to run away, far away, because I was so overwhelmed at the prospect of taking care of you, and so thoroughly, mind-numbingly fatigued already. I thought to myself that it was impossible, and I was incapable of caring for this clawing, clutching, tiny creature who had my uncle’s widow’s peak, my husband’s eyes, my family’s olive skin…
So yes, they told me I would be emotional. But there was no way I could have known how deep the feelings of inadequacy and fear would run, and how immediately so—that I would look longingly at the car and wish I could get in it and drive away, and realize that I couldn’t. I felt immeasurably guilty for feeling trapped and overwhelmed by somebody so tiny and helpless and beautiful. I felt ashamed that I didn’t feel bonded and connected to you instantly. How could I have known that I would not know how to articulate those feelings to anyone, even my husband? I spent so many silent hours during those first few weeks looking down at you and wondering how I was ever, ever going to do it—how I was ever going to be your mama, when all I felt like was a frightened little girl.
But there were a few more important things they couldn’t prepare me for; they didn’t tell me about the gut-wrenching need I would develop to care for YOUR every little need; the unutterable joys of experiencing your first real smiles, and what a shot in the arm they would be on days when I could barely scrape together matching clothes for myself; the indescribable sweetness of your tiny fingers against my skin as you nestle and feed in the wee small hours; that I would be deeply gripped by a love for you which no words could ever reach; that you would burrow down into the depths of my heart, never to be removed, come hell or high water. I love you with a fire and a fierceness hitherto unknown to me.
I would fight a lion to protect you; I would wrestle any serpent, slay any dragon, battle any dark and dastardly force to keep you. Love is not an adequate word for this, but it is all I have. I love, I love, I love you.
So no, they didn’t tell me. They couldn’t; I just had to see for myself.
***edited to add: my husband tirelessly cooked and cleaned and served me hand and foot for the first six weeks of Will’s life. so I *did* eat…I just couldn’t cook. :) thought it might be good to honor William and let the internet know… ***