Everything I Thought I Knew About Early Parenthood Was Wrong

Photo: Westend61/Getty Images

I’m on my third episode of My 600-Pound Life when a nurse offers to replace my frozen maxi pad. These are a thing, frozen pads, they give you in the hospital to relieve the pain of a vaginal birth. Also a foam hemorrhoid pillow, because bearing down with all your might for hours pushes out a baby as well as the veins around your anus.

Later, if you have a fourth-degree tear, which is basically a third hole connecting the other two, you’ll wash down stool softeners twice a day with a chalky laxative dissolved in orange juice. You know in Game of Thrones when the wildlings try to use a battering ram to break through the Wall? That’s what you’ll fear will happen the first time you try to poop after the opioids in your epidural have hardened up your stool.

Yes, I feared my first postpartum bowel movement as if it were a second birth. This was just one of many things about those first couple of weeks none of my mom friends warned me about. They told me about the hemorrhoids and the lack of sleep, but the privations had a Cathy-esque, “Mommy needs wine” vibe to them.

Mommy needed way more than wine. In the days after my daughter’s birth, I didn’t wish so much to harm myself as I wished someone would plow into my car, sending me back to the hospital to recuperate while someone else took care of Margot.

Each of the half-dozen times I filled out a postpartum-depression worksheet and was asked to evaluate how true it was that “in the past seven days, I have looked forward with enjoyment to things,” I laughed viciously.

“What could I possibly have to look forward to?!” I shout-whispered at my husband in the waiting room of my OB/GYN’s office. In those very early days, I didn’t do anything.

For the first week, I did not so much as squeeze a whitehead, look at Facebook, or reply to more than a handful of texts. I stopped going to therapy or even outside. There were historically huge wildfires burning in Oregon as I gave birth, and the first time I managed a walk around the block, the raining ash surprised me, as if I’d survived an apocalypse I couldn’t be bothered with.

I felt feral and more anxious than I ever had in my 36 years, more anxious than my worst-case, very imaginative brain had imagined was possible. I cried multiple times a day and repeatedly told my husband I wasn’t sure I could do this (when he responded with unwavering reassurance and tenderness, I’d never loved him more). I knew there was no going back, and yet my old life, the one in which I could spend an hour on Zappos searching for flip-flops, seemed tantalizingly close.

Maybe it’s because I still existed in a space that felt like a shrine to my former life. Yes, we’d set up a nursery, but we hardly went in it. There sat my laptop on my desk, untouched; my dresser drawer was full of non-nursing bras I wouldn’t wear for a year.

I felt stuck in the disbelief stage of grief. And that’s the biggest thing no one told me: that while you celebrate new life, a thing so exciting in the months leading up to it and as it’s happening and right afterward that it feels like Christmas morning as a kid mixed with your wedding day mixed with maybe winning an election, you are also very suddenly mourning the loss of your old life, nearly every single aspect of it.

So I cannot tell you how good it felt when a mom friend who’d brought over soup wanted to know whether I loved Margot. That she asked made me feel like “yes” wasn’t the only answer. Like it was okay to say that, so far, motherhood mostly blew.

“I do love her. Of course I love her,” I said. “But also she’s a mush-brain blob who isn’t really sentient and is making my life very, very difficult.”

This felt like treason, even now, but also like such an unburdening. Because while I loved Margot in a primal way, I also deeply resented the position I’d put myself in by having her. I didn’t regret it, but I resented it, and I wanted to be freed as soon as possible from the constant feeding and waking and worrying. I wanted to hand off my high-stakes Tamagotchi ASAP.

I started to talk to other friends about my ambivalence, the ones with and without children who came by with baguettes (so many baguettes!) and ice cream sandwiches and wine and cioppino, worrying all the while about being so open. I worried that I sounded like a contagious harpy, like I was exaggerating or ungrateful. I made Guantanamo references I’m not proud of now — because I chose to have a baby, it wasn’t punishment, though it really did feel like torture at the time.

Wasn’t I supposed to be grateful that Margot was latching? That I was able to have a vaginal birth and even get pregnant in the first place? Then again, when you get a root canal, are you grateful you have teeth?

Of course I expected to sacrifice. I even expected a near-total loss of control over my body, my time, and my space. I planned on spending my days pushing around a stroller, changing diapers, and sitting in our recliner watching TV while I nursed. I did not expect it to nearly drive me mad. I did not expect to shuffle from recliner to couch to bed to toilet, gingerly lowering myself onto each one. I did not expect to have terrible anxiety nightmares every night. In one, I killed a cab driver. I strangled him from the backseat, using the cords that connect my pump to the shields I fasten to my nipples every morning.

After a few weeks (and this is the part of the story you can tell your pregnant friends to skip to if they’re the ignorance-is-bliss types, the part I also wish I’d known), it got better. Margot began sleeping for four hours, then five, then six. Now, at four and a half months old, she sleeps through the night. She eats every four or so hours during the day, whereas in the beginning I was feeding her for eight hours a day, an actual full-time job, according to my nursing app.

She still spits up a lot and regularly shits through her outfits and sometimes refuses to nap. There are always new hurdles, from transitioning her to a crib to processing the enormously complicated emotions that bubble up the three mornings a week I drop her off at day care. Even the tranquil times can be cavernously tedious. I have, within days of writing this, screamed into a dish towel and cried on the bathroom floor because I felt trapped and overwhelmed. And while multiple people have rightfully pointed out how hands-on my husband is, for ten hours five days a week during my four-month maternity leave, it was just me and Margot.

These days, I’m so much further from death — from worrying about Margot’s and from fantasizing about a brush with it that would get me a hall pass from parenthood — and closer to accepting the new life I’ve made and the one I’ve chosen.

For one thing, she smiles and bats her huge blue eyes at me now, sometimes from all the way across the room. At the risk of seeming superficial, I’ll put it out there that she’s genuinely cuter and fatter. She seems interested in toys and my face and the patterns our rattan Ikea lamp makes on the wall. I feel like she’s attached to me, knows and needs me, and this makes her needs easier to bear. I crave her: her smell, her smile, her cold, ruddy cheeks.

Our days have a rhythm to them now too. After her second nap, we walk the dog if it’s not raining. On Mondays we go to the supermarket; on Wednesdays and Sundays, she takes a bath, and I’m reminded, as she floats with a stunned look on her face, of just how helpless and trusting she is. When she kicks me in the face with a poopy foot as I change her diaper, I think, this is terrible, but it’s terribly wonderful too.

Everything I Thought I Knew About Early Parenthood Was Wrong