The first month home with a newborn is filled with kisses, cuddling, and enough skin to skin contact to last a lifetime. I’ve thus justified giving my husband the stiff arm when he also wants his cut of these kisses, cuddling, and skin-to-skin action.
Motherhood is a constant offering of your body. I knew this was true before giving birth to my baby, but I didn’t know it as intimately as I know it now. Especially since I’m breastfeeding, my body has become the milkshake machine at a 7/11 — always open for business. When I’m not offering my bosom for nourishment, I’m offering my cradling arms, my lap, my chest for blissful naps, and even my toes for picking up pacifiers every 1.3 seconds.
Just this morning, I was feeding and rocking the baby for her morning nap, when my beloved English bulldog started crying to sit with us. I aggressively whispered “Not now! Later! You can sit with mommy later! No!” begging him not to wake up the baby. He didn’t give a crap. Since I was trapped, he managed to get his big ‘ol body up on the chair that was clearly designed to be sat on “one at a time,” stepping on my thigh, crotch and oddly (or sadly) my boob in the process, and laid his chunky body on the side of my lap that wasn’t cradling the baby.
So there I was, covered up to my neck in sweet, precious love. It was wonderful, really. But also suffocating and cutting off blood flow to my limbs. To make matters worse, I had to pee and an episode of Love It or List It I had already seen came on, and I couldn’t reach the remote.
Then there’s my husband. I’ll find him looking at me lovingly with an expression that says, “I remember a time not long ago when you would acknowledge my existence.” Not only would he very much appreciate some “alone time” but he’d settle for just a hug that doesn’t include me saying “Do I stink? Here, hold the baby, I need to take a shower.”
To make matters worse, if I breastfeed on the couch next to him, my baby girl looks up to the side and makes constant eye contact with him. Power move? You tell me.
Psychologists have found there are limits to our willpower. Meaning, if we use our willpower to wake up early, go to the gym, pass up donuts in the break room, and work diligently on a project until it’s finished, by dinner time we’ll be driving home eating a bucket of chicken wings and using our sleeve to wipe the sauce off our lips.
I’m confident the same rule applies to being touched regularly by a bunch of needy people who love you.
If I’ve given myself over to a full day of cuddling, kissing, holding, petting, rocking, carrying and being spit up on, by 7 PM I’m slipping out of everyone’s clutches like the black cat from Pepe Le Pew and yelling, “I just need 20 minutes for everyone to get their freaking hands of me!”
My sweet, loving, patient husband tends to get the crumbs of my affection because the baby’s needs are more life and death and his are just … well … he’d probably say life and death too, so never mind. When I am able to muster up the energy for a romp, he’d probably appreciate it if I didn’t approach it like a business transaction and say things like, “Do you think we can figure out a way to do this with my clothes still on?”
Yet, I find some women (usually in the comments on posts centered on parenting and marital sex) are super frisky and make sex a priority even if they’re nine months pregnant in the back of a Ford Fiesta. I admire their dedication and I long for it. They remind me of my friend who goes on five mile runs when she’s exhausted to help “wake herself up.” I’ll just drink coffee, thanks.
I’m not proud that at the end of a long, spit-uppy day I only want to make love to Ben and Jerry, but I’ve accepted it and that’s half the battle. So how can I nurture and protect the romance while also protecting my will to live?
I’m so proud to be a woman, a wife, a mother. The offering of myself every day isn’t a burden, it’s an expression of my love. I can provide affection, nourishment and joy before even getting out of bed in the morning. But, no matter how good I am at picking up dropped toys with my toes while caramelizing onions while trying to soothe a baby with a tummy ache while trying to write and work while trying to keep the romance alive in my marriage, I can’t do it all. I can try, and many times I may even succeed for the day, but the cost to me will eventually be devastating.
It’s my choice to offer my love to my family, but I can’t be a slave to it.
As I experience motherhood for the first time, I’ve learned new things about myself. I’ve learned I’m far more capable, strong and patient than I ever could have imagined. I’ve learned I can tolerate poop on my finger for a startling amount of time. I’ve learned how quickly I can lose myself in the daily offering. I’ve learned that when push comes to shove, I’ll shove my husband right out the front door. I’ve learned that makes me feel guilty and resentful at the same time.
I’ve learned I’m human.
If I’m depleted, if the well is dry, I no longer have anything to offer because as I pull the rope up from the well, the bucket is empty. There’s nothing to give. I don’t have the answers to any of this, but I know this: I have to protect the well.
When it’s running low, I declare it like setting off a fire alarm. Perhaps I need a long, quiet nap or bath. Sometimes I need a few hours alone at a cafe to finish my writing. Whatever it is — I start by being honest with myself and communicating my needs. My husband communicates his. We make a plan, share duties, set a schedule, make dates and keep them. Sometimes we fail miserably at it and argue, but whatever, Rome wasn’t built in a day. After the baby goes to sleep, I drink an extra glass of wine and try to get all saucy like the frisky pregnant women in the back of Ford Fiestas. Ok, I tried the extra glass of wine yesterday and I fell asleep mid-conversation with my husband. Baby steps, friends.
Some women won’t relate to this, but I know some will. For those of you who feel the pressure to provide all things at all times, who feel guilty when a shoe drops then resentful for feeling guilty, you’re not alone. Your bucket is just a running a little low. Discover the thing that makes the replenishing rain fall and fit it in everyday if you can. If you can’t, try again tomorrow. Just protect the well.
I usually start by letting everyone know I need 20 minutes for everyone to get their freakin’ hands off me. I highly recommend it.