We’re doing our best,
Remembering that life is not a test,
Everyday we try,
And often we cry,
If not on the inside,
Then it will surely on the out,
Sometimes they are tears of joy,
Other times of pain,
Whether we see sun or feel the rain,
It really is no shame,
For whatever weather passes over you,
Is not a curse, nor is it good nor bad,
When we learn to be habitually glad,
Seeing the happiness in the sad,
For in finding this moment is to know what it is to be free,
Seeing what you see, instead of wanting to flee,
Dreaming what it is to simply be.
Another 24 hours on the emotional rollercoaster of life, and life with a newborn.
Nobody can overstate enough the challenges of having a child, nor the rewards. It’s a complex equation that cannot be solved. Just when you think you are sorted, you have a rhythm or even a plan, it is bound to change.
For me it’s better to use an algorithm that is separate from external events and instead learn to navigate the ebbs and flow of joy, pain, and the dreaded feeling like it’s all falling apart.
Yesterday was one of those days, that started on the back of a poor night’s sleep. Our usual parental team ‘sleep salvage’ system is where I sleep with our newborn (now 2 week old) for the first part of the evening, whilst my partner gets some protected sleep, handing over from 12 midnight to 4 am to myself get some protected sleep. During this time my partner has her sleep interrupted by breast feeding, and when I again a take over at 4am both of us have had a rest, but the mother is exhausted. I take our newborn to help the mother salvage something until the day starts again. We are both up in action (in sync with our toddler daughter) at 7am, or sometimes earlier. So this is the system, for now, and the day before yesterday it somehow came off its hinges. Something happened in the night, perhaps a leaking nappy that needed changing that woke up our newborn daughter, or something else that I cannot accurately recall owing to sleep deprivation.
It is thus hardly surprising that the following morning and day, yesterday, was fraught with problems which largely manifest in the moods and perspectives of both parents, but the brunt of which impacted on the breast feeding mother who is an absolute legend for her efforts and stamina. The caring partner also was there to help whether the emotional storms that ensued, as in a team all are affected, both in the short term and the long. Instagram photos and whats app friends chats can never really capture the details of moment by moment struggle. Images and soundbites of text are great for conveying the joys and the momentary glory but do very little to describe the holistic journey.
Therefore, in a sense, it’s somewhat of a gift to be able to write some of this down. To me it’s hard to answer the question that is often asked “how are you guys doing?”, “how is the mother doing?” for perhaps the representation of truth is always lost in the omitted details. And in a sense perhaps this is not what is sought to be divulged on either side of the question. Like an unwritten code of too much information.
I planned to write down some reflections after our first child, but I kept putting it off until I felt more rested and had more time to do this. That time never arose. Also with the first I was perhaps too anxious about “what next” to even have the headspace to start writing about what has just been!
The time never really does arise to write, because there are too many other things to do, including “sleep when the going is good”. There is a whole lot of ‘opportunity costs’ in the newborn parent’s life. Even whilst attempting to write this post I’ve had to pick up our 2 week old baby and settle her a little, to salvage what seems like a rare break where I’ve prioritised writing than doing the unwieldy list of other task of that continually get put on the back burner. I chose this time to write as it was a rare moment when my partner was having a cat nap in alignment with our toddler first daughters afternoon nap – and even this is bound to end abruptly any moment!
Yesterday the culmination of sleep deprivation, exhaustion, and cluster feeding lead to what felt at the time like an existential crisis right at the cusp of the end of world breast feeding week. We are often told and with good evidence, how it is beneficial to breast feed if possible. What is rarely expressed is just how hard this can be particularly when taking into account the range of pitfalls and resultant exhaustion that is heavily loaded upon the mother who is the one who solely breast feeds. It was opportune in a way, that this crisis hit right at the cusp of the end of the world breast feeding week, because there was already some awareness in our worlds about the topic of breast feeding and how hard it can be. A friend shared her own journey of breast feeding, trials and tribulations in a heartfelt facebook post, read earlier in the week. The week it self signifies a beautiful celebration of the non-judgmental choice that women have with breast feeding if they choose, but also helps to raise awareness of the multitudes of supports that exist to support mothers in their choices and how overcome some of the obstacles.
That night in our family we had the discussion about breast feeding again, and it’s always an emotive one. So many factors. The benefits, versus the challenges including the sheer exhaustion. Whilst the children were asleep we discovered a brilliant online resource recommended to us by two different friends recently, one who wrote the mentioned facebook post, about baby sleep and baby feeding called “Milk and Moon”. It is a great source of information and support. The posts on the website outlines so many of the challenges that many women and parents face with a newborn, including the frequency at which sleeping challenges are experienced, even by parents who have had a child before. The program is run by a passionate GP experienced in maternal care and parental wellbeing. It’s goal is focussed on helping bring to light the latest evidence on the topics discussed. In the quick read I had, I couldn’t say there were any instant “solutions”, however, there was instant reassurance that we were not alone in our struggles with feeding, sleep and the interconnected nature of these two important entities that lead to much parental stress and worry. More practically there was a sense that we were not traversing this journey alone.
This feeling of isolation is a very common feeling when you have a child, particularly if one doesn’t have family on site, but it is also one that is rarely talk about, at least in my experience. I remember this feeling well when we had our first child. My tendency has been to reach out to trusted friends and our little community – this worked wonders, as it is amazing what happens when you ask. as we had no family around on site until my partners parents arrived when our first child was over 6 weeks old.
They say “it takes a village to raise a child”. What they don’t often highlight that it is perhaps the assemblage of that village that is of paramount importance when we are no longer living in villages, and perhaps it’s importance is maximal at the beginning phase which one will be forgiven as labelling “the survival phase”.
We are so grateful beyond what words can express for all the help and support we have had despite not having a lot of family on site. We have been blessed with good care in the hospital, by our incredible midwife team, and also the friends and our family in Sydney. One friend set up something called “Meal Train” which allows friends to volunteer to drop off food in the first few weeks, which has been a blessing exceeding any the greatest expectations, thank you so much everyone.
Anyway – my break is over, and time to get back to being an active dad. One further thing I wanted to say, is about the feeling of there being “no time”. It is easy to catch myself saying “how on earth is it possible to do it all!?” and at times desperation at times. However, in these times am grateful if I have the presence of mind to take a slow and deep breath in, and out. In this moment I sometimes hear a wiser voice which says, “whilst it may be impossible to do it all, perhaps it is possible to do ‘some of it’ and wouldn’t it be a shame to not give that much a try?”