I remember sitting at so many baby showers before I had a baby, listening to that moment where everyone shared advice for the mother to be. Some was good (“Take ANYTHING from that hospital that isn’t bolted down!”), some was bad (“Make getting your body back for your husband asap a high priority!”), and some just didn’t make sense in the moment (“ICE PACK PANTIES”).
Now that I have survived about the same time with Henry out of the womb that he was in it, I have my own advice:
Set a timer.
This timer will be your link to sanity, your Inception-esque spinning top, the thing that let’s you know that you might feel like you are losing it, but you can do this – because what feels unbearable is only a matter of minutes. And you can do anything for a matter of minutes. That timer will be what you cling to when the short period of pain or suffering or tears feels like it will never end and it will swallow you. Set that timer and hold on – you’ve got this.
In the beginning, when nursing hurts, and it seems like all you do – set a timer. You will hear that baby cry and you will hate yourself for it, but sometimes you won’t want to answer. You will want to roll over and stuff the pillow over your head and go back to sleep, or walk out of the house and let someone else be stuck in that chair for another endless nursing session. But you can’t do that. So set that timer, and settle in. When you feel like it has been ages, just look over and know that it was only 28 minutes, and you did it, and you can do it again. And you will watch the timer get shorter, as you both learn what you are doing.
When you decide to start pumping, to make those bottles that give you little slivers of freedom – set a timer. Because nothing sucks worse than pumping (pun very much intended), and you will hate it. Because if nursing hurt, than pumping might really hurt, and you will sit in the fetal position on the floor, sweating and crying and staring at the picture of the smiling woman on the hands-free pumping bra box. And you will scream profanities at her in your head, because her hair is done and she is conducting a conference call in a suit while she pumps and there you are, working so hard and getting so little. And your husband might suggest that maybe you should try pumping in a pencil skirt, and you consider hurling the pump at his head, but decide to laugh instead. And you feel like that pump is eating hours, days, of your life, but then you look at the timer and see that it’s been 6 minutes, and you relax, just a little.
And when you do manage to pump enough for that bottle and you break free from the house – set a timer. Partially because you aren’t footloose and fancy free anymore and you have to be back, but partially to remind yourself the power of 49 minutes alone walking around the block or grabbing a coffee down the street or driving to Trader Joe’s by yourself just to eat samples and buy flowers.
When you are working on developing a schedule, trying desperately to carve order from the chaos of your life – set a timer. Work on a rhythm, even if it will take a long time for that repetitive pattern to actually be a set schedule. But those intervals, looking down and seeing that ah yes, it has actually been 2.5 hours since the last feeding, so the baby is probably just crying from hunger not because they have contracted a rare viral disease that will kill them, those will keep you sane.
If you decide that it’s time to sleep train, and you know there will be tears – set a timer. There is no pain like hearing your baby cry, that baby that you love more than life itself, the one who desperately needs to get and give more sleep. So you have decided to let them fuss just a little, in hopes that they will start learning to sleep somewhere other than your exhausted arms. That seemed like a good idea when they were cooing in your arms, but now they are there in the crib, screaming, and you are sobbing outside the door because you are the meanest-worst-no-good-awful-hateful-mama EVER. Or at least, you are until you look at the timer and realize that it has been 2 minutes and 36 seconds. Because no one told you that crying babies slow time to such an extent that eternity slips in. You say you will give him till 4 minutes to stop crying… and it happens. Or it doesn’t, and the timer justifies you in sweeping that baby back into your arms and trying again tomorrow.
And then one day, and I promise you, Oh Weary and Haggard mama, you will realize that you forgot to set the timer before you nursed. You just picked him up and nursed him, without special pillows or covers or props or chairs. It didn’t hurt, and you wouldn’t have minded if it lasted longer. And he laughed at you afterwards, and you laughed at him, and you aren’t even really sure how long he ate but you know he’s ok.
And you stop using the timer when you pump or go out, because those things are easier now, and that tiny baby isn’t so tiny and can go longer without you. He eats food now, and you long ago accepted that formula will not be the thing that keeps your baby out of college, and you do what both of you need to do to survive.
And the schedule doesn’t feel daunting anymore, because it is just there like a simple outline of how the day might go, but it bends and flexes, creating order, but also space, in your days.
And he doesn’t cry at all when he goes to sleep, and sleeps long and deep. You barely remember those early tears, only the way he giggles and flaps all his limbs when you come in to get him after naps. You aren’t upset when he wakes in the morning, only excited to go in and cover him in kisses.
But then you start thinking of the other timers.
6 minutes until he is too fidgety to nurse any longer and wants to speed crawl away from you and explore. 3 months you guess, until he won’t want to nurse anymore at all. 4 years until he starts school and your days won’t be cycles of snuggles and naps and piles of books on the floor. 7 years until he doesn’t need you to read the books for him. 10 years until he starts getting too cool to want to hang with his mom. 17 years until he goes to college. 20 some years until he maybe gets married, and you aren’t the most important woman in his life.
And that timer? The one that kept you sane? You hate it. You thrust it far away, not just out of sight, but deep into the recesses of darkness that lap at the corners of life. Go slow time, you whisper as you see that little boy sucking his thumb as he sleeps at night. Slow down.
So set a timer. And know that one day, you will stop setting it. And that, dear Mama, is the best and worse news that I can ever give you.