I have three children. A daughter who is almost 11 and two sons, one who is 9 and one who is 6. I cried when the ultrasound tech told me that my third child was to be a boy. I cried because the only reason we decided to have a third was because my middle child, my son, he was hard and I wanted a do-over. My reaction was visceral to the idea of doing it again. “I can’t,” I told my husband with tears in my eyes, “I can’t do that again.”
He was the kind of baby that didn’t sleep ever and took up every single ounce of energy I had to give. He came a mere 15 months after the birth of his (premature) sister because he was the baby they told me I’d never be able to have. “You have an extremely large septum in your uterus,” my doctor told me as she was stitching me back up from an emergency c-section. “You should never have been able to carry her as long as you did. I’ll be surprised if you have more babies.” That tiny wrinkled, hairy baby that clearly wasn’t quite cooked when I held her the first time, she was my miracle.
Having an only child wasn’t part of the plan – we both wanted a big, loud family – so I declined birth control at my four week check-up. I declined because I wasn’t even remotely interested in preventing the very thing I wanted the most. The thing they told me I could’ve have: A sibling for her.
She was the perfect baby. Once we got past getting her back to her birth weight and we figured out how to breastfeed, we rocked. I rocked her in my glider while my husband laid on the floor of the nursery. We rocked that stroller that I spent months researching and we rocked the perfectly installed car seat. She slept through the night by the time I went back to work. We all smiled every single time we glanced at one another. She was perfect. Our family was perfect. When we laid her down with her tiny little arms above her head, my husband and I grinned smugly at each other, made a V sign (VICTORY POSE) and went downstairs to enjoy one another’s company. It was a change from our life before kids but a good change; the best change that had ever been made.
I got pregnant with her brother when she was eight months old. She couldn’t even crawl yet and had just started eating solid foods. She was still a baby and I was having another one. Our excitement and joy and wonder and complete astonishment faded quickly.
My son was different from the second the pregnancy test read positive. I bled heavily for six months. Every single week they told me that I was losing him and every week I had to listen to the ultrasound tech say “positive fetal heartbeat” in her most surprised voice. I got progesterone shots in the butt every seven days. I laid in my bed while my husband watched the light of my life learn to walk. I worried and I worried and I worried. It felt doomed from the very beginning so I clung tightly to my VBAC birth goals, to any semblance of control I had over a completely unpredictable situation and when my water quietly broke in the middle of a cold, dark November night, I showered and methodically packed my hospital bag. I called a friend to come and hang out with my girl and we headed to the hospital. It was an easy labor as far as VBACs go, everything it went exactly according to plan. No drugs, no repeat c-section, immediate bonding time after birth. On paper, it was perfect. I had conquered. I felt like the most powerful woman in the world.
Except that I wasn’t.
Our difficult nursing experience was just the beginning of our problems. I brought him home to a daughter I adored, a husband I adored, a couple of cats and a life I ADORED… and he cried. He cried all night. He cried so much that when he was 13 months old, I packed my kids up for daycare, kissed my husband goodbye and drove myself straight to the crisis center. I was done. Spent. Cached. Over it. I just wanted out. I wanted my life with my daughter and my husband and our cats and our fairy tale back. I saw no way to get it back other than to RUN. I told them I either needed to run away or I needed to end it… and there was no room for negotiations. I couldn’t do any of it anymore. I couldn’t pump. I couldn’t fake fun stuff with my girl while he cried anymore. I couldn’t pretend that it would all get better someday. I had wanted this baby, I had wanted him more than I could ever possibly want anything ever again in the history of the world and I couldn’t rock him 24 hours a day or listen to him scream for one single second longer.
I was done.
They referred me to a therapist, gave me some drugs and sent me home with my (very disappointed but trying to be supportive) husband. I was ashamed; the shame I felt was suffocating. I tried to talk a few close people in my life and their response was always the same “Oh, I had a colicky baby too. S(he) didn’t sleep much. It gets better.” Every time I confided we started the same dance; the my-baby-was-harder-than-your-baby dance. Everyone knew exactly how I felt except theirs was worse. Theirs was always worse. I don’t have to tell you how disheartening this felt as I battled my own feelings and frustrations and inadequacies as a mother.
Because this is what we do, right? We belittle and we shame and we compete. We look at other people’s social media’s profiles and we judge. We judge how white their kitchen is or how they hire someone to help them clean their house. We secretly roll our eyes when they post something about how lucky they are because surely they are lying and then in the next breath we belittle them for not being happy. We shame them because we have it worse than them and sometimes we even shame them because we have it better than them.
I made a pact to myself a long time ago to try to play a positive role in the lives of the people I come across, a pact that has gotten more and more difficult as I’ve watched the world get more and more ugly.
Your friend confides in you that her new baby is hard? Avoid the urge to go waltzing back through memory lane and unload all about how hard you had it and just say, “I’m so sorry to hear it, here’s some food and a pat on the back. YOU CAN DO THIS.”
Someone you know just remodeled her kitchen and excitedly posted pictures of it on Instagram? Avoid the urge to compare it to your kitchen and allow yourself to feel inadequacy and shame and just smile and say, “I’m happy for you! That looks like a lot of work and I’m proud of you” instead.
Your sister dyed her hair red? Avoid the urge to judge them for talking about themselves (eye roll) and just say, “CUTENESS OVERLOAD. You make me smile.”
Your friend asked for advice on her kid who wants to do nothing but play Fortnight? You don’t need to lecture her on why she shouldn’t be letting him play that game in the first place. You shouldn’t automatically assume that she knows less than you; the only valid assumption is that she made a different choice than you. Try this instead: “Oh, that’s frustrating, my kids get fixated on things sometimes. Set limits. Stay strong. You got this. Here’s a glass of wine or a gift card to Target.”
We all are fighting our own demons, our own battles, our own tiny humans that are sucking the life out of us one day at a time. For every single struggle we have, there is someone out there with it worse. I know that. You know that. But I really wish we’d stop looking at it like that. When we do, we take away one another’s ability to feel, to experience life, to cry about the bad and celebrate the good. And what is life anyways if we can’t feel it?
We are all flying by the seat of our pants, hanging on for dear life, just hoping we aren’t screwing up our lives completely. The least we can do is be on the same side.