Saturday, March 8, 2014

More on emotional exhaustion

I'm glad that Fletcher was born first and Truman second. I'm not picking favorites.

Being a first-time mom was incredibly taxing because it was so filled with uncertainty and adjustment. Every day was the first day of being a mother to someone Fletcher's age. Every one of Fletcher's firsts was a first for me.

It was only intrinsically hard, not extrinsically. Fletcher's cries mostly made sense, and I mostly had the time, energy, and attention span to totally baby him.

My entire opinion of motherhood was shaped by my relationship with Fletcher. Our bond was instant and focused and unhurried. At the time, I suspected he was either an easy baby, or my parenting method was really effective (answering every cry to build a kind of inherent comfort and confidence).

Yeah, no. He was an easy baby. *slaps first-time mom version of myself*

Truman came along and is testing all of us. Grandma Patty calls him her prima donna, and it's an apt description: an undisciplined person who finds it difficult to work under direction or as part of a team. Try telling him he's not in charge, though, and your laughter will devolve into pitiful sobs of exhaustion inside an hour.

I might not feel the same about motherhood had this been my first experience of it. This time around, my brilliant parenting method isn't physically possible. I'm close; I feed him as often as my body can, I hold him and carry him as often as my back allows. I give him more attention than I give Fletcher (which is another whole guilt-filled story). I can't help feeling, though, that quantity is hurting quality. I can't focus on getting to know Truman if I'm focused on helping him stop crying. I can't nurture the mother-baby bond if he's screaming at me like a teenage girl in a slasher movie.

(He's been a lot better recently, and I'm still knocking on wood. If he downs three bottles in a row and gets a decent nap in a dark and quiet place, we're good. Well, he is good. I am out of milk.)

Here's one problem: No one else is quite as affected by Truman's screams as I am. They bother me to the core. Because if he's crying, something is wrong, and by god I want to help him, even if it kills me. That's a mother's job, to do everything possible to care for her baby. And if Truman's cries are honest, I'm not doing a good enough job.

Emotional exhaustion from loving the baby: a good feeling.
Emotional exhaustion from being battered by the baby's cries: a terrible feeling.

This time around, parenting is extrinsically hard, not intrinsically. Had Truman been born first, I'm afraid motherhood would've been both.

He doesn't cry all the time, and I'm sorry to make it sound like he does. It only stands out because it's different from Fletcher. I'm so sorry for Truman that he'll always be compared to his big brother.

Now that Truman's personality is beginning to come through, it's becoming easier to focus on him as an individual. Just remembering the sound of his baby laughter fills me with warmth. I may not be rested or energetic or in control, but Truman has brought more joy to my life than I ever expected or could deserve.

I'm so in love with him. I don't want to forget his smell, the way he blows raspberries and squeaks when he's excited, the recognition in his eyes, how happy he is when he succeeds at putting something in his mouth, his giggle when I tickle his armpits, his amazement when he watches his brother.

What makes a mother's love special is that it depends on nothing and is affected by nothing. I will never stop wanting more time with my sons, never love them less, never stop living for them, and never stop wishing for more time with them.

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