It’s not just you: Parenting really IS this hard

One week after our oldest child was born in 2009, it … wasn’t going well.

She wouldn’t latch. She wouldn’t settle. I developed mastitis. Twice. 

For the first five months of our daughter’s life, she would only settle if she was being held. So my husband and I took three-hour shifts holding her. Around-the-clock. For FIVE MONTHS.

Eventually, we discovered she was lactose intolerant and put her on soy-based formula. Within hours, she slept better than she ever had, and the three of us finally got some proper rest.

But, man, those were some rough months.

This is the face of an anemic woman who gave birth four days ago and hasn’t slept since. Not the bringing-home-baby pic I imagined.

That was my history then, when a year later, a friend of mine was six weeks into motherhood and struggling.

In sympathy and support, I wrote her an encouraging email. Truthfully, I wasn’t sure how she’d react.

Her response, though, was gracious: “It means so much to know that someone else truly understands what I’m going through. Thank you, Thank you, Thank you!!!”

I’d forgotten all this until a few days ago. But, when reminded, it occurred to me that other new parents might find this helpful, too.

So I’ve printed that old email below, hoping it helps. (Why do I have a copy of an email I sent almost 10 years ago, you ask? I’m an inbox hoarder. That’s a story for another post.)

Those first few weeks with a new baby can be magical. Or, you know, hellacious.

Hat-tip to you, mamas and dads of newborns. You’re doing great.

(P.S. Wondering if your “baby blues” are postpartum depression? Get information here.)

The new world order is confusing for babies, too!

Hello, my friend —

Let me guess how you’re feeling:

Tired. Exhausted. This isn’t how you thought it’d be. You just want to enjoy your daughter, but you can’t. You’re miserable. You feel out of control. It feels impossible to cope.

You don’t know how anybody ever manages to take care of their child/children and the house and work… You feel like all you do is pump milk. It takes forever. THEN she has to be fed.

You feel incompetent, like a bad mother, like this parenthood thing isn’t what you expected and you’re not sure if you’re up to the task. All you want to do is cry, scream, run away…

Does this sound familiar?

I wouldn’t be surprised — because it’s EXACTLY how I felt for weeks after my daughter was born. It’s SO HARD. And it feels like you read everything from other moms who are talking about this unbelievable love they feel and they’ve never been so happy, etc., etc., and you’re feeling exhausted, hormonal, you’re still recovering physically from the birth and you’re just so NOT happy, even like maybe having a baby was a mistake.

All I can say is this: It does get easier, you will learn to cope and you all will bond as a family.

Babies are HARD.

Don’t feel guilty if you can’t figure out what she wants/needs or if she doesn’t settle right away. They’re just figuring out the world, too, and sometimes, nothing really is wrong other than they’re … not happy. Just like you.

Take turns with your husband getting a little alone time, even if that’s just going in the other room. Have one person sleep in another room while the other one is up with your baby. You NEED sleep. So does your husband. And get out of the house, even for a few minutes.

One of the best things Adrian has ever done for me, was that, about a week after our daughter was born, I was DONE, had had enough, was miserable. Adrian wrapped her up, put her in the stroller for the first time and said, “We’re going for a walk.” It was 9:30 at night, but I went along.

And it was SO GREAT, just to have 15 minutes as a family, a nice, quiet few moments that FINALLY felt a little like what I had imagined. It’s tempting to stay inside all day and just rest, but my advice is to get out sometimes, even if it’s just to walk around the block. You’ll feel a TON better. Nap when you get back if you want.

Anyway, this is just a little note to let you know that, no, it’s not you. This is how it is when you first become parents. Having a baby upends your life in a way it’s impossible to understand until it happens to you. But, week by week, it gets better. You’ve already gotten through a lot of the worst part.

Just pray for patience, lean on your husband, let him lean on you, do the dishes when you can if it makes you feel less claustrophobic (that helped me); ignore the dishes if that’s what works for you; don’t worry about housework.

It will get better. You will feel like a family. You will love her. She will love you. It just takes time.

Cut yourselves some slack, give each other a hug, and hold on. You’re weathering the new-parenting storm just fine.

— Lots of love, from those who have been there

Give it time. These smiles happen.
Kirsten is a native Wisconsinite who married a Brit, moved to England and happily ended up in Madison in 2010. She and her husband, Adrian, are parents to Sophie, Charlie and Susannah, who fascinate and exhaust their parents pretty much every day. A former newspaper reporter, Kirsten now supports mompreneurs through her website, motherbility.com. She's also a mini-expert on traveling with kids. (Always answer "Should we go to ... " with "yes." Bring toys, snacks and an excess of patience.) She and her family camp every summer, usually in state parks, because they love outdoor living. And s'mores.

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