When my older son was born I was in pure survival mode for months. I had no sense of what age I liked best (though I had had preconceived notions that I would adore the newborn stage) because I was not really experiencing motherhood emotionally or physically. My postpartum depression and anxiety kept me emotionally detached even when I was physically present (which at first wasn't too often, anyway).
Later in his infancy, I had mostly recovered and was capable of his physical care and had begun the bonding process that the PPD had prevented early on. It was at this point that brief, but poignant, moments of joy appeared. It was glorious to celebrate both his life and my true survival of the most horrific experience ever on his first birthday. Things were beginning to look up, and while it took at least another year for me to overcome some of my learned behaviors and thoughts around his sleep and my confidence, I was feeling the love, so to speak.
Then, he entered what I'll call "the preview of the teen years"...the teen months. At 13 months, I realized that my "easy baby" was becoming more and more interested in play, as developmentally appropriate, but that he lacked independence and that he was very "needy" in terms of attention, affirmation, and physical affection. This manifested itself in sleep problems for my child who had slept through the night at 11 weeks, and was now getting up at least 3 or 4 times a night as a one year old. And because we had created such a dramatic and lengthy bedtime routine (thanks to my PPA and obsessions around his sleep), he expected a bottle of milk and to be rocked for thirty minutes. Every. Single. Time. He. Woke. Up. Yep...10:30pm, 1am, 3am, 4am...no matter what time it was we had to rock him until he was in a deep sleep or he'd immediately pop his head up over the crib rails and cry, "Nuggle, Mama?". My husband, the softie, could not stand to hear him cry at all and so any attempt at even controlled crying or other "sleep training" was fruitless. In our tiny house there was no escape from pin drops, let alone toddler wails. During the day, he'd want to be held and read to or to play t-ball with adult engagement at any and all waking moments. There was no rest for the weary and because he was still acquiring his language skills, he could neither express, nor grasp the way we tried to negotiate balancing independent play with interacting with mom and dad. He'd also had a full-time nanny his whole life and was an only child. A recipe for one high-maintenance kiddo, I know.
When L1 was almost 18 months old, I was so ragged from sleep deprivation, suffering from anxiety for 18 straight months, and changes in my work and family stress that my body finally threw up the white flag. I had pneumonia. I was told to take a week of nothing but rest, but my husband's job was (and always has been) one that requires him to work 10-12 hour days in the office and to always be available and responsive, even when home. I had also been moved into a part-time position from a full-time one, which meant that I did not have full-time childcare any longer. Did I mention that my nanny was on maternity leave and I had just fired my child's temporary day-care provider? Yep, so I was sick as a dog, and had a non-sleeping, whining 18 month old without any childcare. A couple of days into the pneumonia I remember turning on an episode of Sesame Street and begging my toddler to watch just a few minutes of it so I could lay down on the couch. He had no interest and began walking back and forth from the toy cupboard to my side as I lay there, whining for me to play with him. I began to sob, and his whining quickly turned to crying, as well. We were both a mess. We needed such different things of each other and felt helpless to get them.
I met with my therapist a lot during that period as I struggled to overcome that last hurdle. I felt stuck at "80% better" and I felt like I was becoming hopeless again. While I was no longer overcome by depression and anxiety, I also felt that I didn't find the joy in motherhood that I was "supposed to feel". Instead of longing for my baby to cry out "Mama!" over and over and to want only me to bathe and rock him to sleep, I felt completely overwhelmed by his needing and wanting me. The pressure of having a rather helpless human being need me in that way was simply more than I could endure and get better. I felt so stagnant in my progress and was beginning to worry that the disappointment would pull me back into that deep, dark hole. Of course, this worrying led to further anxiety and my therapist and I knew we had to be diligent in working my way out of these thought patterns and find a way to put a positive, more grateful spin on things. Celebrating my wellness and honoring the progress that I had made became the priorities. It wasn't easy, but by the time L1 was two or two and a half, I had found my groove and he had moved out of the phase that caused me so many unsettling feelings about caring for him.
As you know, when L1 was nearly 3 we began planning for adding a sibling to our family. I got pregnant the month before his third birthday and spent every day (except his actual birthday, blessedly) of the next three months fairly overcome by all-day sickness. While my experience was mild in comparison to those of you who have endured H.G., it still made evenings an impossible time and our normal bedtime routine now was exclusively carried by Daddy as I lay in bed, flipping the channels each time a food commercial came on. Once I passed through the nausea, I felt a lot better physically, but the challenges of a three and a half year old became apparent. The temper tantrums. Throwing toys. Hitting. Once again, I was questioning "What have I gotten myself into here?" and "How am I going to care for a newborn and cope with these challenging behaviors?". Gratefully, I was receiving incredible prenatal care, both physically and emotionally, and I did so much work to be proactive about my mental and physical health after the baby that my confidence wasn't compromised too much. I chalked up my son's issues to the "terrible threes" and hoped that he'd get over it by the time I gave birth.
When I had L2 that Spring, all the stars aligned for a beautiful birth- something I had not had the first time. He was well. I was well. All was well in the world. Except that the third day it wasn't. I had fallen from the mountain top to the bottom of the valley in what seemed like a matter of 5 minutes. It became apparent my body hated hormonal drops (a story for another day). In any case, I pulled out plans B and C and put them immediately into place. Gratefully, just a few weeks later I was myself and was absolutely ADORING the newborn phase. Every sound or movement L2 made was like I had read about in the books and seen in the movies. "So this is what it is "supposed" to be like?", I thought, overcome and overwhelmed by the blessing of the privilege of this second chance.
And things have been pretty great since then. L2 and I spend tons of time together thanks to a change in my job again that allows me to work from home the majority of the time. While it is a bit stressful and overwhelming to manage a household, a volunteer schedule, two kids, a husband, and a part-time job, I feel grateful to have the opportunity to do it and I try to keep perspective around that.
And it's good. So good. Except that L2 is 17 months old. And the past few months have been really draining. My five year old is involved in a ton of extracurricular activities, and is really interested in adult interaction (I know, no shocker there...he never did gain that independence I had hoped would one day just hit him.). And now I have a second boy, who thankfully is more independent in his play. He's had to be. Mommy works and he has a very high-needs big brother to compete with. But, this time, instead of my cautious, cuddly older child, I have a curious george on my hands. The kid who scales chairs and tables and walls and benches and...and has since about 7 months old? Yep, he's mine. The one who figured out how to compromise the security of baby-proof locks? Mine, again. The guy who just stopped putting every. single. thing. in his mouth, including sticks, dead bugs, and food from last week's dinner he found under the fridge? That's him! And so it's different. He can play happily with pots and pans for 20 minutes or so. Something L1 would never have done. But also? He dips hairbrushes (and his whole arm) into toilets faster than I can run after him. It's physically exhausting. And I feel sad because thanks to L2's activity level and personality, L1 has had to take a backseat. I mean, this isn't an issue of someone being impatient for doing a puzzle or wanting a cup of milk, these are safety issues. So, sorry L1, I can't play chess with you because L2 is trying to pry open the fridge and take every item out of it and and smash and pour them all over the kitchen floor. Or, no, we can't play in your room because you have too many breakable items on your dresser and you know it only takes him 30 seconds to climb on top and start throwing things onto the floor.
So, here are my big and little "Ls"...
Don't get me wrong, I am so grateful to have two healthy, typically (mostly)-developing kiddos. So, so blessed. And I love them. Oh, God, how I love them. More than I ever dreamed I would, and so, so much more than I anticipated I would when PPD hit me like a wrecking ball. But if I'm honest, there are ages that I just plain don't enjoy. And I'm reminding myself, and anyone else out there who feels that way, that it doesn't make me any less of a great mom.