May 7, 2014

Mommy Blog Part 3: When having two children feels like ten

Days after he was born, I found myself studying Jacob.  Memorizing his face, trying to figure out what he was needing and what his different cries meant.  I couldn't get over how different he looked. 
Even though he was only a few ounces smaller than Tommy was, he looked so delicate and tiny.  His face seemed full of serious and pointed facial features, much like those of my husband.  I knew he was my son, but I felt different about him and I couldn't put my finger on it.  I tried to ignore whatever it was gnawing at me, because I had feared all along that I wouldn't be able to love him like I did Tommy.  I was scared that my heart wasn't going to be able to expand that way.

My fears worsened, when something in me snapped. I'm pretty sure it was somewhere in between Todd's treks back and forth to North Dakota, when all of that fell apart, and when I started working again.  It happened after one too many middle of the night diaper blow outs, or when Jacob would spew his entire bottle all over me.  When I was gone all day and I would come home and he would scream at me until bedtime.  How he woke up every hour and a half, but just because he wanted to be held.  It happened as I would sit there in the dark holding this boy and bawling my eyes out because I just wanted to sleep.  Looking back, there may have been some post-partum issues.  But I think it ran deeper than that too.

Over the next few months, it became evident that the nature of this baby was far different than that of my Tommy. Jacob loves attention and affection.  They are his most favorite things in the world.  He was not content or happy at all to be left alone.  If I got up or moved from his sight at all, he would throw a two-year old sized tantrum.  He seemed to be generally unhappy and I didn't understand why he was so angry all the time.  And I took it personally.  I felt like he hated me and that he thought I was doing a lousy job of being his mama.  And so I started to believe that.

There were nights, he would be crying.  Full belly, dry diaper, plenty of snuggles and yet still the tears.  "What do you need baby?  What are you needing?" I would cry.

Once Jacob started crawling, his anger and unhappiness seemed to get worse.  Especially if I was cooking dinner.  Oy, the dinners.  He would make his way into the kitchen and grab on to my legs and cry and cry because I wasn't holding him.  (Also, this STILL happens - this crawling up my leg thing at dinnertime phase has yet to end).  He wants to be in the midst of everything.  He wants to see what was going on and be a part of my spaghetti-making or lettuce chopping.  But you see, I wanted to do my own thing. I wanted to cook my hamburger meat in peace.  I wanted him to not need me.  I wanted him to go play with his toys and look at my from the living room and smile as he was content being able to see me from a distance like his brother did when he was a baby.

And I was angry that he wasn't like his brother.  And I felt guilty for wishing he was like Tommy, because what kind of mother has those thoughts?
AlI kept thinking was that I had to figure out how to do all of this.  How to work.  How to cook dinner.  How to keep my baby happy.  How to have something, anything left for my Tommy.  How to be a good wife and keep my house clean and do all of the things that needed to be doing.  I had no idea that adding one tiny, little person to our lives was going to make all of life feel so impossible, so out of reach, so undoable.  Everything - life, me, my marriage, my house, my everything felt like a freaking mess.  And I was convinced that if Jacob didn't feel so challenging that I would be able to handle all of life as beautifully as I was before he had come into it.

What was true though, was that I couldn't do it all.  I was sinking and drowning in my inability to do it all and I didn't want anyone to know how bad it really felt for me.  It was Jacob AND it was life.  It was disappointment and a million other things too.  So when a challenging baby with a strong personality entered the picture, all of it seemed to send me over the edge.

For a a couple of months I tried to run from it.  I tried to busy myself with absolutley everything possible in order to get out of the house and to get away from this baby that felt like was sucking the life out of me.  I went to Bible studies or met up for dinners and tried to make arrangements that even looked like good ministry-related things, just so that I could simply be gone as much as possible.  I wanted my freedom back.  The freedom that came with having a four year old who could talk and take himself to the bathroom and use actual words to let me know he was hungry or if he'd like to read a story.  I felt choked and suffocated by having a baby again and I was desperate to regain my freedom as a woman.

But I had never heard any other mama talk about wanting her freedom back.  I had never heard any other mama cry because she just wanted her baby to be four.  I had never heard any other mama talk about how she just wanted to run away because her baby needed her so much that it was overwhelming and exhausting.  And so, I stayed quiet.  I beat myself up day after day.  And I cried.  I cried every single day.

And that's when the guilt set in.  I felt like a horrible mother for not wanting to be with my baby boy.  I felt full of shame because I couldn't handle having two children.  Six months, seven months, even nine months in and I didn't feel adjusted.  I felt lost and disrupted and there was no settling in to any kind of new normal.  I watched my friends with two and three and four children, mother with grace and ease.  I compared myself to all of them because I only had two and I felt like I couldn't handle any of it.  Somehow, having two children felt like having ten.  I was overwhelmed.  It felt like too much and they were taking too much from me and I was needing to fill myself back up with something, but it was as if the bottom had dropped out and no amount of anything was filling me up again.

All I knew at that point, was that if something was going to change, I had to be home.  I had to stop running away and busying myself and pretending that I'm the same person I was before February 28, 2013.  So, I quit.  I quit the bible studies and the groups and the random nights out with girlfriends and absolutely everything and committed to stay home.  Unless I was taking the boys with me, my commitment was to be home and to be what they needed if I wasn't at work. 

What felt frustrating was that even after I had made this commitment, no matter how much I gave and gave and gave to Jacob, it felt like it wasn't enough.  If I was on the floor with him for an hour and gave him my complete undivided attention, it still wasn't enough if I had to get up and go do something else even for a moment.

One of many nights where I found myself in tears to my husband, I cried about how much I resented Jacob for needing me.  He needed me all the time.  He needed so much of me and I felt like I couldn't be what it was he was needing.  And that's when a lightbulb went off.  The thing that had been gnawing at me since he was first born came to light.  It was his neediness.

It was how much I saw of my own neediness in him and something about it made me both terrified and angry.  I didn't want him to be like me.  I didn't want him to be needy.  Maybe I didn't want him to be hurt there.  I had needs as a child, many that went unmet.  As a child, as a teenager, I don't remember anyone ever asking me what I was needing.  My interpretation of this was that my needs didn't matter.  And what if I couldn't meet all of his needs?  I didn't know what to do with this realization - that I was parenting a child that clearly had my passion and emotions and deep feelings - and extreme neediness.  And what if I could never be what he was needing?  What if I failed him here for his whole life?   

I could see myself failing Tommy in the same way.  My words bit at Tommy all the time.  I was short and impatient and I started seeing hurt and woundedness in his eyes and my feelings of guilt grew all the more because I knew I was hurting him and I never wanted to hurt him.  He had needs too and I felt like I was treating him as though he was invisible.  My heart broke and I hated it.  I hated me.  And I hadn't hated myself in a long time.

Something had to change.  Something had to give.

By the time the holidays rolled around, I was a mess.  I had insomnia.  I was stressed.  I was over-eating and consuming foods that were just crap.  I was angry and full of contempt and everything that oozed out of my mouth sounded ugly.  I needed help.  I found myself pretending I was okay and I knew I wasn't.

So in one desperate, needy, tearful night, I sent an e-mail to a few friends.  I poured my heart out and asked if they could be praying and just check in on me.  I was honest about where I was struggling - brutally, painfully honest.  I shared the ugly.  I admitted that I didn't want to be with my baby and I felt horribly guilty about it.  I told them I was angry.  I told them I was hurting and felt like I was knocked on my ass and had no clue how to get up.  I told them I had been pretending.  And the very next day, I called my counselor and made an appointment.

Jacob's tears, his anger, his roller-coaster of emotion, the way he felt passionately happy or passionately pissed off, his affinity for affection and attention, it was like putting up a mirror in front of my soul.  Jacob is just like me.  And how unsettling to find pieces of yourself in the face of an angry baby boy.

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