All the perfect filtered photos are true. My newborn son really *is* that perfect. The bond between him and his sister *is* heartwarming. Every endearing word I’ve said about him is from the depths of my soul. He is incredible. I love him immensely. I’m beyond grateful that he’s part of our family.
I’m also having a really hard time. Last night, the baby was up from 2 to 5 AM, and I am so fucking tired today that my eyeballs ache. This is basically how it goes every night. Since I’m exclusively breastfeeding, I’m the only game in town! And that burden is heavy. It’s so heavy. The house is quiet during those nightly feedings. It’s just me and him. I feel guilty for being frustrated. He's just a baby. It's not his fault that day is night and night is day. But the exhaustion physically hurts. I look over at my husband who’s sound asleep and feel a deep sense of envy. And a bit of resentment, too, if we’re being honest. Which apparently we are.
My four year old screamed and cried at me the other day when I declined to help her right that second with yet another four year old crisis because I was in the middle of nursing the baby. I'm always nursing the baby. “You’re no fun anymore!” she screamed. “You never pay attention to me!“ So things are clearly going well on the balance-two-kids-and-don’t-make-your-firstborn-feel-abandoned front as well.
To add a whole other layer to this typical postpartum mess of a situation, we found out when the baby was five days old that he is profoundly deaf in one ear. Whatever asshole of a recessive gene caused my daughter’s permanent, bilateral hearing loss (still unidentified after months of genetic testing), has also been passed along to our son. So here I sit, 24 hours a day, in my own mind, cooking up all sorts of fears about his future. What happens if his good ear goes bad? How will he hear a fire alarm if he eventually loses all of his hearing? How will he hear me scream out to him when he’s running too fast on the slippery pavement at the pool? Will he be able to do all of the things a kid with typical hearing does? Like, I know he’s genetically mine, and it’s a long shot, but if he chooses to, will he be able to play sports? He's only four weeks old. So. Much. Future-tripping. And a fair amount of feeling like none of this is fair. And while I understand that it isn’t helpful to blame oneself for one’s genes, it’s very easy to do in the midst of a hormonal volcano.
Speaking of hormones, I wake up every morning drenched in a pool of my own sweat. This is what happens to women after they deliver a human. And since I can’t shower but once every 2 or 3 days, I smell far too ripe for my own comfort or sense of self worth.
FWIW, I’m also still wearing a maxi pad. Just so everyone is clear: You will bleed for approximately six weeks after delivering a baby. It’s essentially a six week long menstrual period. Also on the list: My C-section incision is still sore and nearly five weeks post-delivery, I still look four or five months pregnant. My daughter asked if I was going to have my big belly forever. Quite possibly! The clothes in my closet are a million miles away. I will be wearing the same three button-down mumus from Target for the next 3 - 6 months. After that, who knows what items will survive the bodily wreckage of growing, delivering and nourishing two children.
While nursing the baby the other day, my daughter came up to me and said, "You're working really hard, Mommy." And she's right. I am working really hard. But I’m also really bored. And really lonely. My husband is back at work. My daughter is at camp. I’m too exhausted and generally bummed to ask people to come over to keep me company. It’s a messy time. It’s beautiful and lovely and squishy and cuddly, but it’s incredibly hard and imperfect.
I wish more people would be honest about that. Social media can be toxic, especially when you're struggling in any capacity, because it inevitably invites comparison. Without even realizing it, I'll see other perfectly posed and filtered families on Instagram and think: Wow, how lucky for them to get to have a "normal" life experience.
But what does normal even mean? How am I defining it? Like this: Normal is without hardship. Normal is free of flaws. Normal is happy and fun and effortless! So, really, I don't want normal: I want perfect. I don't want struggle. I don't want hardship. I just want it to be easy.
And it's not easy. None of this is easy. Maybe if more of us opened up about that, normal would no longer be perfect. Normal would be messy and hard and flawed and human.
Normal would be an unfiltered postpartum photo of a sleep-deprived mama.
Normal would be an honest representation of what it is to be alive.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs is a theatre artist, educator, voice actor, and author of Everything is Horrible and Wonderful: A Tragicomic Memoir of Genius, Heroin, Love and Loss. Other writing can be found on Vox, Longform, Huffington Post, Fatherly, Mamamia, Babble, and Medium. Stephanie graduated from New York University Tisch School of the Arts and received a Master’s degree from University of Houston School of Theatre and Dance. She is Executive Director of Rec Room Arts, a non-profit arts organization committed to developing innovative work across disciplines. She has appeared on "Late Night with Seth Meyers," "NPR Weekend Edition," and was featured as one of Houstonia Magazine’s “10 Houston Women Making it Happen.” Find her comedic musings on parenting (and life) on her weekly podcast, “Hands Off Parents." She lives in Houston, Texas with her family.