I once heard someone say “bigger kids, bigger problems” explaining how as your child grows, the problems they face are on a larger scale. For a healthy newborn, there aren’t many problems that can’t be fixed with food and sleep. As Max is about to turn one and while I have friends with new babies, I’ve been thinking about this a lot. I am so nostalgic and sentimental for the days of teeny baby Max, but know I will feel the same about the days we’re in now too.
In my experience (which is obviously very limited), the newborn phase was harder, but simpler. Having a newborn is incredibly physical. Sleep deprivation, recovery, and breastfeeding took an enormous toll on my body. But still, I loved this time because all there was to do was snuggle, nurse, get him to sleep, and change diapers (which, without a doubt, can all be really difficult and stressful at times!). I am incredibly fortunate that I didn’t experience postpartum depression or anxiety; I honestly feel I had the opposite experience where it was like someone sprinkled pixie dust over me, Dan, and Max. I also got really lucky because breastfeeding worked out for us and I was able to nurse Max exclusively, so I didn’t have to deal with the stress of pumping, washing bottles, or making decisions about what formula to use, how much to give, etc. My experience would have been so much different if I would have had those things to think about. I took 11 weeks of maternity leave and in the 10th week, I was incredibly anxious about going back to work and how I was going to manage. But by the time the day came, I truly was ready. I actually felt guilty for not being more sad about going back to work and Max starting daycare. Around 12 weeks old, Max was sleeping 10 hours through the night, he was doing well at daycare, I was back to work, I was pumping plenty of milk for him, I was running a little bit. I felt like Super Mom.
But the only constant is change. Around 4 months, Max started getting his first tooth, got sick, he hit the 4-month sleep regression and was up every two hours throughout the night, and I started feeling the stress of exclusive breastfeeding. I was pumping three times per day at work and every drop was needed to send with him to daycare the next day. It was like we were living paycheck to paycheck. I can remember crying over spilled milk, literally, a few times because I was working so hard for it. And on top of that, I wasn’t sleeping. There were some dark days. At night, I would go in and nurse him every two to three hours when he woke up and I sat there in the rocking chair in the dark repeating to myself “I can’t do this anymore.” Dan, also awake, would do anything he could but it was just easier for me to nurse him. My body felt depleted from this and running became a very low priority. At 5 months, I decided that it was not worth the stress of me trying to continue to breastfeed exclusively so we started supplementing with formula. This saved me, mentally. I was no longer worried every time I pumped that it would be enough. Even though I was struggling at this time, Max still was a happy and easygoing baby and Dan was a supportive and patient partner. I realize how lucky I am that my lows have never been that low.
Around 6 months, a fog lifted and Max started sleeping better, was happier, and I felt like I got back into a groove. He started sitting up unassisted which was a game-changer because he could see what was happening and feel more included. We also started introducing solid food, which continues to be something that stresses me out all these months later. But even so, months 6-9 were a blast. At 7 months, I declared it the best month yet because we were having so much smiley, bouncy fun. At 8 months, he still wasn’t crawling, but had started to pull himself to stand. Just before 9 months, he started doing his inchworm army crawl, which I still watch videos of and find so adorable, and his signature butt scoot. He started clapping and waving, and UGH, it was so cute. He was cruising on furniture and walking with a push walker in his 9th month as well. There was so much happening all the time, I felt like week-to-week, he was a different baby. During all of that, I gradually started cutting down my pumping at work from three to two to one session and increasing the amount of formula he was getting. He was still waking up once per night and I nursed him at these wake-ups throughout all 9 months. I was still worn down and running was still a low priority, but it was all feeling much more doable.
I hit another low in month 10 and I am now realizing that it was likely due to weaning. By about 10 months, he was down to just nursing once or twice a day, at bedtime and morning. On October 2nd, I nursed him for the last time because I realized that he didn’t really care about it anymore and I was only doing it for my ego so that I could say I made it to a year. I know it was the right decision for us. He was just fine with bottles instead, which is a little heartbreaking, but overall it was a big relief for me to be done. I had no idea the impact that weaning would have on me physically, though. For a few weeks, I was very sensitive and emotional, but also really tired and nauseous at times. I’ve been completely done for over three weeks now and I still am not feeling back to ‘normal.’ But, at the same time, I’ve been doing a run streak, getting in at least 2 miles every day for the month of October, which I don’t think I would be up for doing if I was still breastfeeding. Some moms are able to breastfeed for a year or longer and run countless miles (superheroes), but for me, I just didn’t have the energy to do both plus work and all the other life stuff. I chose breastfeeding for 10 months, and now I get to choose running again.
Max is now 11.5 months old and I finally am not carrying the physical load of new motherhood (though I’m still not sleeping great), but parenting just gets more complicated. Things that worry me now are weaning him from the bottle, switching from formula to milk, brushing his teeth, getting him to eat food that isn’t a bread product, his transition to his new room at daycare and if he’s napping enough (he’s not), shoes he should be wearing as he starts walking, baby-proofing the house, car seat safe coats, how to get him into the car seat without him acting like I’m cutting his arm off. I ask myself things like ‘is it bad that I’m bribing him with puffs so that I can change his diaper without him flipping over and sticking his feet in poop?’ I join Facebook groups like Feeding the Littles and Positive Parenting so that I can learn what other moms are doing, trying not to mess all this up.
Now that a bunch of my friends now have babies (yay!), I have to be careful to not compare my experiences to theirs and to let them live theirs while they are happening. They have all given me perspective and also allow me to soak up those newborn squeaks and snuggles I miss so much. But at the same time, I feel a little embarrassed that I’m many months ahead of them but still am not running all that much and do not feel totally recovered (almost a year in!). I honestly just realized that Max was a big baby with a 98th percentile sized head and I’ve probably discounted the effect of carrying that bowling ball with legs around in my body for many months then pushing him out.
This past almost-year has gone by so quickly and has been so overwhelmingly good, most of the time. Things I was worried about in pregnancy feel like non-issues now. Most importantly, perhaps, is that my relationship with Dan is as strong as ever. And honestly, I hardly even remember pregnancy. What was I complaining about then? Starting from the moment I found out there was a little poppyseed in my belly until today, it’s all just gotten more amazing and exciting and loving, but also more challenging.
Being a mom is the greatest privilege of my life and Max is a dream come true. The other day, we were cuddling and he laid down on me and put his arms around my neck in a hug and I melted into an actual puddle. He is everything I could possibly hope for: so sweet and smiley, freaking adorable, funny, active, and most importantly, healthy. I could fill pages writing about this entire year and all the highs and lows, but for now, I’ll just say thank you (!!!) to everyone who has been a part of it.