Only problem is, new moms are so caught up in being perfect mothers that we're too ashamed to admit we need help. We stuff our feelings back into our spittle-stained sweatshirts and decide to apply ourselves even more heartily to the mission of mothering despite how powerless, isolated, and afraid we feel.
Under this kind of stress, I believe moms on the verge have a couple of choices. We get to choose the kind of mental patient we want to resemble: the congenial jester in the sanitarium, or the recluse snarling at herself.
In the middle of the night, there isn't much choice. When your baby is colicky or teething, the night stretches out the way the rugged land must have for pioneer women taking families west by wagon train. Sometimes your spouse can intervene, but often babies only want comfort from the human that smells like milk. At 3 a.m., you become the recluse, snarling at the injustice of the situation and at your haunting deficiencies.
Come sunlight, it's easier to employ the following survival strategies my mommy compatriots and I endorse:
Wait Out the Stage
When you find yourself petting your car keys, visualizing a spontaneous and unending spa vacation, hold fast. There are things you can do to brighten the baby period.
Play to Your Strengths
Play to your strengths, even if the baby stage doesn't. Because I'm outgoing, excursions to Nordstrom's and its luxurious mother's lounge were my sanity amid Patrick's colic and my homebound loneliness. The lounge was an ideal "pick-up spot" for meeting empathetic, urban mommies. They made me feel considerably less freakish, since they, too, were only tolerating this legendary time with their newborns.
My sister, Catherine, who's always been a "nester" derived her comfort in the baby stage from a controllable routine inside her Kansas City home. She despised that it took longer to get Taylor out the door and strapped into his car seat than it would to complete the outing she'd planned. Catherine had lengthy and frequent personal-time breaks, because Taylor settled easily into his crib and loved to sleep. She beat the isolation, speaking to her best friend by phone nearly every day.
Play up Your Baby's Appeal
Secondly, optimize your tot's seductive appeal. Dress the baby to the nines. Put his bald head into goofy hats, and press ribbons and bows onto hers. Once I became a mom, my mother, Joyce, whispered to me the following sage advice: "When I liked what you girls were wearing, I found it easier to tolerate you."
Tolerate moi?! I know that's not the story of maternal adoration most of us prefer, especially from our own mothers. But it's honest and it works. The little oppressor is far less off-putting when dressed in a seersucker sailor suit.
Little Treats, Big Treats
Janine, whose irritable newborn was allergic to milk, derived comfort from hiring a contractor and revamping the home that at times seemed to imprison her. One New Jersey mom found the sight of neat closets as near to orgasmic as a postpartum woman can muster. She liked little spaces she could tackle and organize in the small breaks she had from child care.
One Boston mom, Susie, loved photographing her infant in funny, neck-supportive places all over the house and neighborhood. She figured her son was better off screaming and grimacing in artistic settings than perpetually in her overtired and restless arms.
The most important thing to remember, though, is that there's no sin in waiting out a stage. Lots of dads are uncomfortable with babies and to a certain extent, toddlers. "Who knows what to do with these little creatures," one father told me, "since they can't catch a ball, laugh at a joke, or help fix something outside?" In many cases, dads do not fully engage till later when their he-man skills fit their children's developmental stage.
Indeed, you can love a child and tend to him well without the orchestra playing. That's what we do in marriage, isn't it? We wait out an ambivalent period. A few months down the road, we re-learn that we are capable of renewed love, empathy, and tenderness. Even if it doesn't occur right off the bat, your son's or daughter's subsequent stages will likely bring out the best in you, the admirable qualities you envisioned having for all of parenthood.