“Help me find the beauty in Charlee’s intense need for me right now.”
I shared on Facebook a few weeks ago this sentence from my prayer earlier that morning. Charlee is seven weeks old today, and “intense” is an apt description of the first weeks with a newborn baby, especially as a new mom.
I feel ill-equipped to write on motherhood only seven weeks into the throes of life with a newborn baby. Some days I feel I know less about motherhood than the day we pulled into our driveway with Charlee in tow.
I want to write about these first weeks as a new mom now before I forget the hard parts. In college, I wrote a thesis (a short memoir as a student majoring in English) in order to graduate from my university’s honors college. After reading the first draft of my opening chapters, my thesis advisor told me, “You are writing from the other side of your experiences.”
I didn’t understand what that meant. He elaborated: “You sound like you have it all figured out now. I want you to write as if you’re in the middle of it.”
I know when Charlee is older I will look back at photos, remembering her small frame, major milestones, and sweet memories like her first Thanksgiving and Christmas this year. I might not recall the hard days as easily. This month I want to share on my blog some lessons learned from the trenches of motherhood before I have more sleep, more routine, and more clarity.
When I first asked God to help me find the beauty in Charlee’s intense need for me, she was only two and a half weeks old. This intensity has waned but is still present as she continues to figure out life outside of my body.
For the record, I love being Charlee’s mom. (It’s still strange to type that word–”mom”–in reference to myself). Sweet pictures on Instagram of newborn babies, however, are only glimpses of a new mother’s days, which are very unpredictable and full of victories and losses.
Doctors call the first three months after birth the fourth trimester for good reason. Although I and my achy, swollen body were ready for Charlee’s arrival, she and other newborns would opt to stay in the womb for three more months if they had a say. Babies essentially are born “too soon.” (Compare a baby to a newborn calf or foal, for example, which can walk within hours of birth!)
I didn’t anticipate the degree of intensity to which Charlee’s first weeks at home would be. We cried a lot. Together. (Will told our pediatrician at our first appointment that his primary focus had been on keeping Mom and Charlee’s crying at a minimum.)
I was in active labor about seventeen hours, and, at 11:41 a.m. on October 2, my doctor plopped Charlee on my chest. In an instant, I gained a new title and entered one intense experience while trying to process and recover from another one.
I like to be in control.
I am a planner and thrive when days are predictable and routines are set.
Because of this, I read a book about feeding and sleeping schedules for a newborn. I had already thrown it in the metaphorical garbage when Charlee was just one week old. Our lives looked nothing like the schedules laid out in Baby Wise when we came home from the hospital. (I know the moms reading this are already chuckling at me.)
I learned there is no scheduling a newborn’s meltdowns.
I also like easy and expedient answers to problems. When Charlee cries, I want to know why so I can fix it then and there. Diaper change? Check. Feeding? Check. Pacifier? Check. Swaddle? Check. No hiccups? Check. Sometimes, there is no explanation for her tears except that she’s been in a warm, dark, and snug space for nine months, and life in this new, strange place is overwhelming.
There’s an intensity right now to her need for a lot of my time, my energy, and my body. Both beauty and struggle coexist in that fact, and a sweet friend reminded me that it’s okay to feel in my heart the tension of loving Charlee and admitting that some days are physically, mentally, and emotionally draining.
When Charlee is experiencing physical or mental growth spurts (and babies experience a lot of them with little relent during the first couple of months), she’s often fussy, hungry, and clingy. There are days Charlee and I go hours together with spit-up and breastmilk on our clothes. Because her tiny body cannot handle being awake for too long, her whaling and flailing are signs she has reached the point beyond fatigue. Her cries can make my toes curl at times until she finally gives in and falls asleep in our arms. (In the first weeks before I learned her different cries, I would just cry with her because I didn’t know why she was crying and believed this made me a bad mom.) Between the hormone changes and sleep deprivation, there are moments I wish I could redo, like quipping at Will for not being able to read my mind or finding the pacifier in two seconds.
For someone who likes to control and plan, there is also an intensity in coming to terms with the limits of what I do not and cannot know yet about motherhood. Although I can read books and talk to other mothers, I have learned through this experience that every pregnancy, labor, delivery, and child are very different.
The reality of her intense need for me and the limits of my knowledge in these areas have brought me to God in prayer so many times over the past seven weeks. God is using this new terrain of motherhood to challenge (once again) my desire to control, plan, and perform.
Charlee reminds me that we are not that different right now; I, too, am utterly dependent on God the Father. Just as Charlee has weaknesses and limits that require my care, I have weaknesses and limits that require God’s supernatural care and strength every day. So my prayer that morning was that God would help me see the beauty in her intense need for me, especially when I’m prone to see only what she’s interrupting when she needs me, whether it be sleep, dinner, “me time” (which is important!), or a shower.
I read Psalm 131 (a short psalm of only three verses) a couple of weeks ago in a devotional for new moms, and I have clung to it since I read it. David wrote,
Lord, my heart is not proud;
My eyes are not haughty.
I do not get involved with things too great or too wondrous for me.
Instead, I have calmed and quieted my soul
Like a weaned child with its mother;
My soul is like a weaned child.
Israel, put your hope in the Lord,
both now and forever.
We call it “weaning” when a child begins to consume nutrients outside of a mother’s milk. What David has “weaned” himself from is unclear. We can take a good guess that he has traded “things too great or too wondrous” for him (verse 1) for a calm and quiet soul that hopes in the Lord (verses 2-3). He has surrendered his pride regarding what he knows and recognized his limits and weaknesses that require his reliance on his all-knowing God.
God is also weaning me from such things as expectations, control, perfection, and plans in this season. He is reminding me again “not [to] get involved with things too great or too wondrous for me.” Right now that looks like taking motherhood one day or moment at a time and just doing the next right thing, even when the next right thing is simply changing the dirty diaper or taking a break from washing dishes to hold Charlee close because she is overwhelmed by this new place.
I shared on Facebook before Charlee was born that I was thankful God would not forsake Will and me but would parent us as we learned what it looks like to parent Charlee. At the time, I could not conceive of how true that would be and how great my need for God to father me would be. That He is present and parenting me right now is a gift of His grace.
So my soul is like a weaned child right now. I’m learning all over again to let go of expectations and control in surrender to God. I’m also finding beauty in Charlee’s need for me because it brings me back to the sobering truth that there’s an intensity to my need for God, too.
I want to encourage other new moms or moms-to-be that you’re not a “bad mom” if your child is reminding you of your limits or exposing your weaknesses and sin. In fact, God is using these them to draw you near to him, to lay them at his feet, and to watch him do a new work in you.
God loves his needy children too much to leave them as they are, and this season is reminding me that I am that needy child.
I am just like my daughter.