Saturday, November 28, 2015

Why I'm glad I have a "high-needs" baby

These last several months have been crazy. I'm only just beginning to feel some semblance of room to move about in my own life, not because my baby is any less needy, but because I am learning to allow his needs to occasionally be taken care of by some one other than me. As I write this, he is screaming his little head off in his father's arms, having just woken up from his first hour of night time sleep and needing instant comfort, preferably from me. Eventually he will settle back to sleep and my husband will spend a couple hours rocking him so that I can have some time to myself, something my introverted self desperately, though sheepishly, needs. This time though, it is perhaps the only thing between me and an ever-encroaching sense of post-partum depression. After weeks turning into months of feeling like no more than a body, barely human, and a constant failure, this little bit of space has given me the sanity to make peace with and find good in the persistent temperament my littlest guy was given. I haven't stopped being exhausted, but more each day I am thankful for how this new little person has shaped me, how he has helped me grow into a better person than I was before him. 

He has made me more compassionate. 

When I was a mother of one, I had things pretty much under control. We definitely had our rough days, but overall I would tell you I was a pretty damn good mom. My child listened and was happy most days, and when not, I could usually help him work through it. I realize now that this is mostly the result of his extremely laid back temperament, and I am a good mom because I love and do the best I can for my kids, not because of their behavior. Even though I know this, I still spend more days that not since my second baby was born feeling like a terrible mom. Not only do I have a baby who is often upset, but I also have a preschooler who has gone through a hell of a time adjusting to the the addition of this very opinionated and needy little person in our lives.

Most days now, I have one or two unconsolable children on my hands, sometimes in public. I have no longer "got this" in the way I once did. I am no longer "not a yeller." And I can no longer go out with my children confidently, knowing things will go smoothly because I am clearly doing all the right things parenting-wise, unlike you. But I am still a damn good mom, doing my best along with all the other parents whose children are melting down or lashing out or refusing to listen, sometimes in public. And I would say I'm also a kinder, more understanding human being whose first reaction will be to hug rather than judge you, because this parenting thing just ain't easy, no matter what you do.

He has made me stronger.

I have never felt so close to the end of myself. Just when I feel like I can't go on any longer, I do, because I must. Somehow, each morning, I find new strength. And I always make it through. Before him, I would have told you I wasn't capable of this, that I couldn't handle it like those other moms with these kinds of babies seem to. I'm too needy. Thank God I got an "easy" baby.

But then he came and there was just love and somehow patience and an unending desire to meet his needs, whatever they may be. And in many ways this has made me a walking zombie. I have felt anger and resentment and something close to loneliness but its opposite that I have yet to find a word for. Maybe I have missed my own company.

But in other ways it has made me much more stable. I have learned to find inner reserves of peace even in the most chaotic of moments. I have learned to function on less sleep and quiet and calm than I previously thought possible for me. I have learned to spot even the tiniest little pockets of time throughout the day to take care of myself. I take a deep breath or drink a glass of water or find something to be grateful for. Sometimes I grab a handful of chocolate chips or text a friend, whatever it takes to arrive at the end of the day a little saner. And I can't help but think that these skills will serve me well in life, that if I can practice mindfulness and self-care even in this phase, then I will have developed coping skills I can use for the rest of my life. I have my son to thank for that.

He has made me more humble.

When my first was a baby, I went through a difficult phase where I wanted him to be exclusively breastfed but it just wasn't happening, no matter what I did. Eventually I had to choose whether to keep desperately trying, or to let it go. In the end, I decided that having a happy whole mom who could be joyful present was more important to him than not having any formula.

With baby number two, I have had to make a similar decision, this time between the happy mom and his desire for the comfort of always being with me, including every one of the many, many times he wakes up at night. Again, I have reluctantly but finally chosen the happy mom. This means I have had to accept him crying in the loving arms of his father a couple times a night, knowing that I could come in and quiet him. I have also had to accept the guilt I feel about allowing my husband to give up his evenings in this way. And I have had to accept that I am not capable of always doing everything on my own.

Because I too am needy, just like my baby, and it turns out that I share his "high sensitivity" as well. Whether I like it or not, my mental health is too fragile to play the mama martyr game, and it's not fair to my family anyway, to take that whole happy mother and wife from them, just because I want so desperately to competent and in control. So I must be gentle and understanding with myself, as well as him, and know my own limits, in addition to his. We're both learning to live well on this earth as the tender people we were made. It's hard, but we're taking baby steps together.