Building up immune systems and wearing down parents

Pink eye, ear infections, colds, RSV, croup, roseola, bronchitis – oh my! You name it and we’ve experienced it over the last six months.

My toddler has picked up every germ possible from his daycare friends. Just when we think that it has to be over, that we’ve at least earned a two-week, sick-free period, I get the dreaded text or call: “He has a fever of 102” or “He threw up.” Insert your own symptoms in here – I have a feeling most parents have felt the stomach-dropping moment that is the beginning of long nights and quarantined weekends.

Everyone continues to tell us that he’s just building up his immune system. Would I really prefer to have my one-year-old go through this now or when he’s five? I can’t help but think that it would be easier during the later preschool years, when he can tell me what hurts and comprehend that his stuffy nose is not the worst thing in the entire world. I never imagined the horrors that would result from the inability to breathe out of your nose! He seemed to take other illnesses like a champ, but a cold is his kryptonite.

I knew there was no way to prepare for daycare life emotionally. Drop off time still wrecks me and I miss him constantly – but I had no idea the toll toddler germs would take on our lives. We’re now at an all-time high of three days in a row at the pediatrician. My husband and I have routines that we don’t even need to discuss: if he grabs the nose sucker, I know to have tissue ready before the breathing treatment mask is unveiled. Time for ear drops? Get the changing pad out and grab a toy for distraction.

Now, I know sickness is not a laughing matter in many situations. But when you’ve been cut off from the outside world for months at a time and your social interactions are limited to doctor’s offices and pharmacy lines, you have to laugh. It’s rarely funny in the moment, but we have to make light of this season to regain a sense of normalcy; to hold strong to the belief that it will get better and we will rejoin society again someday. After all, you start to feel like a broken record when there’s a new medical issue every week and you’re constantly turning down invites or canceling plans.

As a newborn parent, you’re mentally ready to hibernate for a while. But this? We were wholly unprepared for it. We ended up catching many versions of his sicknesses as well, and so our own abilities to “parent while sick” were stretched in new limits. After all, there aren’t any off days in parenting: The need for a bath and requests for snacks never stop! Of course, along with testing your patience and immune system, it also puts a strain on your relationship in a completely different way than any other scenario.

When you promise “in sickness and in health,” it isn’t just a covenant or romantic notion between you and your spouse. In fact, you aren’t just promising that to each other – but to all of your future family members as well. It’s an all-encompassing vow, a plea and a reminder for grace in the midst of kid chaos and constant coughing. It’s an unavoidable aspect of family life: kids will get sick and you will snap at your significant other about spilled Pedialyte. There’s no way to explain what happens on night five of no-sleep and nonstop coughing unless you’ve been there and felt the exhaustion. You can go from synchronized medicine drops to silent treatment over forgotten laundry in five minutes flat.

Marriage isn’t easy – and neither is parenthood. We’re learning that every year and age comes with its own joys and challenges. The happiness that little ones bring is unmeasurable, but what about those weeks when the difficult times seem unrelenting? What if the sickness or sadness overshadows your ability to absorb their light? Our strength is unveiled one appointment, one day, one bedtime battle at a time. Fortunately, motherhood is full of grace – and we are more resilient than those germs!

Sleeplessness & Survival

“How I finally fixed my sleep problems.”

“The secret to a goodnight’s sleep.”

“15 reasons you keep waking up in the middle of the night.”

Should I continue? Our society is obsessed with sleep. From all of the research on the ill effects of not getting enough sleep (or getting too much!) to the tips and tricks for solving sleep problems, it can be endless and overwhelming. As a (still fairly new) mom, I waver between annoyed and angry every time another groundbreaking study reveals that my current sleep patterns are unhealthy and may even lead to an early demise. I’m not one to leave comments on articles, but if I was, my sleep-deprived brain has conjured up many retorts in the late (or early) hours of the night along the lines of: “Middle-of-the-night wake ups are harmful for my REM cycle? How interesting. Let me tell that to my 18-month-old who can’t sleep with the slightest hint of a stuffy nose.”

IMG_1073

Of course, sleep is important. But when you tell a bone-tired parent that rest is within reach with a few easy tips, Mr. Whelan from Reader’s Digest, we’re probably not going to take it well! The natural progression during this sleepless time, then, is to research a more probable solution. And by that, I mean fall into a Google wormhole of community message threads with desperate moms and blog articles about other people’s perfect babies. Both of those nosedive quickly from helpful to hysterical. In fact, I found most blogger’s posts about baby sleeping habits to be just as hopeless as the mainstream tips. After all, what works for one baby will rarely work for another.

It took a while to accept that truth, as logic often requires a clear, rested mind. When our sleep problems were at their worst last year, I read an assortment of sleep training methods. I tried a few, but nothing seemed to work. My son never calmed down enough to soothe himself – instead, he’d just become more angry that I was ignoring him. He didn’t take a binky or like to be swaddled. What was I doing wrong? The only thing that brought me peace, and perspective, during that time was this article from Jennifer Batchelor: “Sometimes Babies Don’t Sleep.” It beautifully outlines the truth that you can’t always train or schedule away these difficult aspects of parenthood. Sometimes, babies just don’t sleep. Sometimes, we aren’t in control. It’s so simple, but it felt groundbreaking to accept that in the midst of exhaustion!

Before having my son, I had never stayed awake for an entire night. I went to bed when I was tired, even if that meant missing out on all-night study sessions or bowing out of a social event early. Then, at exactly 39 weeks and six days pregnant, I started having contractions. Instead of sleeping, I watched movies all night and counted the time between contractions. At 4 am on my due date, it finally seemed like it was time to wake up my husband and head to the hospital. Griffin was born that night around 10 pm and then, between tests and vital checks and everything else, rest still alluded us. I went from 0 to 60 when it came to testing my ability to function without sleep. My sometimes sleep-challenged child was sending me a sign right from the beginning!

Now that he’s 18 months, there are plenty of nights when he sleeps well and I almost forget what we’ve survived to get here. And then he’ll get a cold and his response to the discomfort of a stuffy nose will give me terrifying glimpses into his “man flu” future (mostly joking!). Even so, we’ll have a night without sleep that takes us back to the beginning days of our family of three. I’ll gripe and groan the next morning and add a few more cups to my usual coffee lineup, but I’ll press on.

Because within the harsh frustration of not being able to sleep when it’s all you want to do, a tiny light is flickering to flames. A growing wisdom is replacing my initial motherhood frustrations and insecurities. I’m beginning to recognize how incomprehensible and extraordinary the foundation of trust and selflessness is that results when you are the caregiver of a tiny human; when you cater to their every need. Not sleeping sucks, there’s no denying that. But it shows you how strong you are; how much you can still accomplish when your brain is pounding and your eyes are hazy. And it also demonstrates the limitless love of parenthood.

 

Mom, why didn’t you tell me your job was so hard?

Wine bars, weekend getaways and … diaper wipes?

Hi, I’m a millennial mom. According to the internet, I should be backpacking around foreign countries and writing essays about self-care. I should be posting Instagram photos with mimosas on exotic beaches or so focused on my job that I’m researching freezing my eggs.

Instead, I had a baby in my twenties.

b1f6133218e7ee2c71965263e46e4d4362ff1b42.jpg

We’ve all seen the headlines about women shifting away from marriage and waiting longer to have children. Now, I’ve experienced it in the lingering loneliness and disconnect as friends counter my sleepless baby woes with hungover stories of calling in sick at work. I’ve laughed but felt the distance grow as people comment “I can barely take care of myself – much less another human being!” Because that’s the core of it, right? Why would I purposely choose to give up my comfortable life; to hand over my freedom to an irrational tiny human?

I didn’t go into motherhood naively – or so I thought. In fact, I laughably even felt confident. I was the oldest of four and I’d babysat plenty of little ones. I was excited to follow in my mother’s footsteps and add more joy into the family. But even so, I was blindsided by nearly every situation and every emotion that resulted (and I’m not even going to get into the hormones, oye!). About a month after my son was born, I was still recovering physically and emotionally. I was getting sleep only in increments of a few hours at a time. The extent of my brain activity was wondering things like “is it possible to die from a lack of sleep?” and “is it normal that he cries so much?” I was struggling with nursing and my baby was struggling with reflux. I was like most new mothers out there: completely overwhelmed, exhausted and anxiety-ridden.

“Why didn’t you tell me it was so hard?” I accused my mom, who had always made it seem effortless. Why didn’t anyone warn me? How were we possibly going to survive this? She laughed and said she’d asked her mom the same thing after having me. The reality is that everything worth anything in life is hard. And yes, as a millennial, I recognize the humor in even saying that. My generation is notorious for wanting life to come easy; for normalizing immediate gratification, digital dating and one-day shipping. We’re an impatient culture. And there’s nothing that tests your patience more than a newborn.

In our society, we either seem to avoid motherhood or over-glorify it. If you don’t have kids, you’re going to spin class and brunch and making backhanded comments about those who do. On the flip side, if you do have kids, your social media persona includes perfect hair, babies who somehow smile on command and sickeningly sweet captions. What about the rest of us in real life? What about the moms who try to meet for coffee only to slink out after a meltdown or blowout? Or the moms who rush home from a meeting only to be met with a grumpy baby because it’s the afternoon witching hour? We fuel debates between moms vs. not moms or working moms vs. stay-at-home moms, but all we really need is to give each other grace – there are hardships down every path.

I got just as caught up in my preparation for motherhood. I read the books. I imagined life as an Instagram mom. I wanted to puree all of my own organic vegetables but also embody the carefree French mother figure I read about. I decided that my baby would be flexible and he’d love “adult food” and traveling. He’d respond perfectly to sleep training — or maybe he wouldn’t even need it! I created the perfect vision of myself as a mom before I was actually a mom. And then it all changed. My baby was born and he annihilated everything I’d ever known in the best way. He immediately tested my patience, filled me with love and anxiety and every other emotion in the world.

So, Mom, why didn’t you tell me it was so hard? Because it wouldn’t have made a difference. I still would have chosen motherhood over backpacking adventures or boozy brunches. I can enjoy all of that later – but now, I have a toddler to run after. And that’s the shocking, awe-inspiring secret of motherhood: There’s no way to prepare and there’s nothing anyone can say to actually describe it. It alters your concept of time and your purpose. There’s nothing more simultaneously scary and beautiful. It’s so hard because it matters.