A close friend gave birth to her son in late April, just three weeks after I had my daughter. When our families got together a couple months later, her husband, fresh from the shell-shocked haze of new parenthood just like we were, asked me what the biggest surprise of parenthood had been. I thought about it for a couple seconds, contemplating how to accurately describe the overwhelming joy and fear. How could I narrow it down to just one surprise when every day contained a plethora? But then the answer came to me. “The permanence,” I replied. “I don’t think there’s any way to understand what it’s like to care for a baby every day of your life until you’re actually in it. There’s just no way to prepare for that.”
“Mmm,” he agreed, nodding his head thoughtfully.
Leaving the hospital I felt like a war-torn refugee returning to my homeland bleeding and shaken, unsure how to reconcile what I’d been through with the life I’d previously known. And in the months since I stood in our friends’ kitchen and commiserated about the world-rocking newborn days, this whole motherhood thing feels a bit more natural. I still have a long way to go in strengthening my parenting chops, but a lot of the time, I feel like I’ve got this.
And then there are the struggle days.
I screamed last week. I’d burnt my finger on a baking sheet while making dinner. It was the exact same spot I’d burnt my finger four minutes earlier. On the exact same baking sheet. The baby was sick and had woken me four times the previous night. I was hungry. My husband had gotten home from work late. I’d been alone with a fussy, inconsolable, writhing baby for two hours after a full work day on no sleep. The dog was on my last nerve. And I’d burnt my finger AGAIN on the EXACT SAME SPOT on the SAME DAMN BAKING SHEET.
The pain unlocked something inside me. I started listening to the demon, the one who’d been suggesting all day that perhaps I wasn’t just extremely tired; I might actually be losing my ever-loving mind. My tender skin again made contact with the searing hot pan, and the demon leapt on in.
I let out a full-volume roar, turning my wild-eyed rage onto my husband and child, who sat playing two yards away. “I CAN’T DO THIS ANYMORE! DO YOU HEAR ME? I CAN’T DO THIS FOR ONE. MORE. SECOND. I AM SO SICK OF THIS LIFE!”
My husband stared back at me with a look of sad helplessness, the same look he always has when he doesn’t know how to fix me. For a moment, I thought about leaving. I pictured grabbing my purse, getting in my car, and just driving away. I could blow up the machine and the system would break down. The plates I’d been juggling for the last seven months would come crashing to the floor, and someone else could figure out how to get them going again. I just needed a break from the permanence of parenthood.
You see, the permanence of parenthood is the best part: We get to be there to witness a tiny little person discover the world. We get a front-row seat to the most magnificent show of our lives. We get to shepherd our children through the greatest adventure. We get to love the hell out of them every day for the rest of our lives. It’s a huge responsibility, but also unimaginably worthwhile. The permanence is what makes it great.
But it’s also what makes it hard. Because there is no end in sight. There’s no taking a break. Even when you’re away from your kids, you are never carefree. What I miss most about my pre-baby days is the ability to take a break from myself. These days, I spend every day juggling my competing identities: Wife, Mother, Employee, Daughter, Sister, Friend. And if I do get a free hour, I should really spend it reconnecting with Lauren. But you know what? On the struggle days, I’m sick to death of myself.
So remember that despite your Instagram feed, we all have struggle days. Let’s talk about them. Because the one thing that helps me through the struggle days is knowing I’m not alone.