Motherhood is amazing, and miraculous, and incredible. I adore my Baby Bear, and I am so thankful each and every day that I am able to be his mother. I love nursing him in the middle of the night, when it’s just the two of us. I love when he falls asleep in my arms. I love when he wraps his tiny hand around my finger.
Motherhood, for me, is also a constant worry. That I’m not doing this right, that he’s not getting exactly what he needs, that somehow a decision I make now about where or how he sleeps is going to haunt him for the next thirty years and possibly ruin his life. What should I be doing; what should he be doing? Everyone has a different opinion. The internet is a great resource, but can get overwhelming in a hurry. There’s a lot of self-doubt marring this wonderful experience.
When the what ifs threaten to send me into black hole of self-doubt, I have to remember the big picture, and how far we’ve come in just two short months.
Baby Bear was 5 weeks premature. Thankfully, he was perfectly healthy and didn’t require a stay in the NICU, but preemie babies come with their own unique set of challenges.
Since he was so early, it was crucial that he go no more than three hours without eating, in order to gain weight as fast as possible. My milk took days to come in, so for the first week, he lived off of donor breast milk. Once my milk did come in, nursing was out of the question. His “suck-swallow” reflex wasn’t fully developed yet, and I had no idea what I was doing. So, every three hours, I fed him a bottle and then used a breast pump for 20 minutes in order to get enough milk for his next meal.
Meanwhile, my husband was dealing with a huge deadline at work, so he delayed taking his paternity leave for the first two weeks. In order to let him get enough sleep to be somewhat useful at his job, I slept on the couch, with baby in his bassinet nearby.
Feeding Baby Bear just 20 tiny milliliters (less than an ounce!) took forever – 30 minutes or more. It was a struggle to keep him awake for long enough to eat. Once he finally finished feeding, I still had to pump. By the time everything was said and done, I was lucky if I had 2 hours before it was time to feed him again. Most days, I didn’t get around to brushing my teeth until noon, or later. I was constantly worried that I wasn’t pumping enough milk, that he wasn’t gaining enough weight. It seemed like all I did was sleep or nap (in two-hour increments), but I was so. exhausted. all. the. time.
Fast forward eight short weeks, and Baby Bear is breastfeeding like a champ. When he does take a bottle, he sucks down 100 milliliters, no problem. He was back up to his birth weight within 6 weeks and has gained another three pounds on top of that. My husband took four weeks of (fully paid) paternity leave, and I was able to re-learn how to be a wife. Baby Bear sleeps in the bed with us, and nights are so much easier. I’ve learned to tell his tired cry from his hungry cry. I have an arsenal of tricks to soothe him when he’s unhappy (which don’t always work, but we’re getting there!). I’ve accepted that the house won’t always be clean, that our meals won’t always be 100% homemade. I’m letting go of all the things that don’t matter and learning to triage like a pro.
It’s not perfect, but it’s definitely progress.