—By Little + Free's Creator, Tori Rotter
After the struggles of infertility and a long road to pregnancy, I still remember immense relief I felt when I reached the second trimester of pregnancy safely. I was sure the hard part was over. I felt I could finally breathe, relax, and enjoy being pregnant. And for the most part, that’s exactly what I did. I wouldn’t call my pregnancy easy per se, I certainly experienced the expected nausea, hip pain, and back pain. I also had a less common symptom throughout my pregnancy- restless leg syndrome- which was a challenge. But all told, I didn’t experience any serious issues that put the baby’s or my life in danger and for that I was extremely grateful. As I did make my way through the months, I was constantly met with words of reassurance from family and friends who knew what I had gone through. Many also guessed that because of all the challenges I had getting pregnant I was almost guaranteed an “easy baby.” My biggest concern was having a healthy baby, but the positivity and well-intended nature of the comments made for reassuring thoughts.
After 40 weeks (and 2 days) I was beyond lucky to have a relatively easy birth and delivered an extremely healthy 9-pound baby. Because of her size, I was met with more words of encouragement and what appeared to be secrets of motherhood. “Big babies sleep better,” was most often the comment that followed “congratulations.” I felt relieved. I had done it. I had gotten pregnant, had a healthy baby, and now everyone said she would sleep like a dream. The hard part truly was over. I could now go back to being a “normal” person with a newborn. Maybe there would be some sleepless nights, but mostly just baby snuggles and sharing adorable pictures of my little bundle. No more struggling, just living with my new little family. And we did that...for about one week.
After the first week it became clear that my daughter cried a lot. This was my first child, so I didn’t have a direct point of reference, but based on friends and family that did— it was a lot. At her 2-week appointment we mentioned to the doctor that she seemed to be crying excessively and his response will forever be ingrained in my mind. “Sounds like she might be colicky, and unfortunately it will get worse from here. It should peak around 6 weeks and will gradually get better.” Worse from here? It felt like it was already pretty bad. Could it get worse? Turns out, it could. From around 3 weeks to 9 weeks my daughter spent every waking moment (that she wasn’t eating) crying. Not whining, not whimpering— full-blown screaming. I was incredibly lucky to have a supportive partner, as well as the help from my mother through this time, but it was hard on all of us. We essentially worked in shifts where we would try to calm her until she fell asleep, or until the responsible party could no longer handle the screams.
I honestly couldn’t believe it. How was this the first few months of motherhood? I had watched the experiences of my friends and family. I saw their pictures and heard their stories. Having a newborn was supposed to be baby yawns and little lamb cries, with the only downside being poopy diapers, 3am wake up calls, or spit up. While everyone else was posing their newborns for professional photos and putting them in adorable clothes, I was trying everything imaginable just to keep my baby comfortable and fed. It felt isolating, again. Like I was the only one who didn’t feel like being a new mom was the most beautiful experience possible.
When I returned to work, I had several coworkers say something to the effect of “isn’t maternity leave the best?” I was left with the immense guilt of knowing that I did not feel that way. For me, maternity leave was one of the hardest things I’ve ever experienced. I spent it surviving, not thriving. I struggled for a long time with these feelings. I felt like there was something wrong with me, or I was somehow a bad mother. After all, I had to work so hard to get pregnant, so how did I have the right to complain or feel as though being with my miracle baby was anything but amazing?As the weeks went on, the colic faded, and I was able to gain some perspective I started to realize that becoming and being a parent is not beautiful all the time. It’s not “picture perfect,” despite what social media or even casual conversation would often tell us. Having children is hard, and as parents we are warriors for doing it every day. Truly. The issue, I feel, is that we don’t often talk about or show off the tough times. We hide the sleepless nights, the exhaustion, the stress and put forth images of joy, laughter, and frame-worthy moments. And while there is nothing wrong with showing joy and happiness, let’s talk about the other side too. Because the moments of heart-melting bliss are easy to go it alone; but the sadness, frustration, and exhaustion, those are made much easier by the support and understanding of others who are going through the same thing.