Monday, November 29, 2010

A Different Kind of Tired

News flash!

Parenthood is exhausting, yo.

That is all.

I kid, I kid. But, seriously, I knew it was going to be tiring, what with all the sleepless nights and the all-too-literal-as-it-turns-out toddler chasing. I'm not exactly surprised by how physically tired I am because it was easy to anticipate how my body would react to less sleep and being on my feet when I'd rather be sitting down sipping on a latte, because my kid is trying to pull merchandise off all the shelves at a coffee shop. I could comprehend exhaustion in those terms before I had Charlotte.

What I wasn't prepared for is the pure mental exhaustion I feel at the end of every day. Exhaustion that, while compounded by the fatigue that radiates to my every limb, is wearying on a much deeper level.

I worried throughout my pregnancy, as most of us do. Having suffered a miscarriage at eight weeks in a previous pregnancy, I was a complete wreck when I discovered I was pregnant. I thought I would feel better after my first ultrasound when we got to see the heartbeat. But, then my poor, unassuming doctor made an off-handed comment about the baby looking smaller than he expected for seven weeks, and I panicked. I was so upset that he agreed to see me in a week to make sure everything looked good. I spent that week preparing to stare in disbelief at another doctor telling me he couldn't find my baby's heartbeat. He was sorry. Happily, our follow-up scan looked good. But, then there was the ER at ten weeks for heavy bleeding. And hours spent with my hand on my stomach, waiting to feel a kick, and fearing the worst. Mystery pains and symptoms I couldn't find in any of my pregnancy books. I just kept holding my breath (and my belly,) feeling like if I could just claw my way out of the woods, make it to the end of this pregnancy, I could catch my breath. I knew I couldn't relax until the baby got here.

You're laughing now, right? Because as excruciating as the fear of losing a pregnancy is, it is a joke to think that you'll feel better once the baby arrives. Sure, she's here, and she's healthy. But is she latching properly? Is she getting any milk? You want to give her a shot? But, she's, like, hours old! You're drawing her blood again? Is she pooping enough? She's not? She's jaundiced? She didn't pass her hearing screening? She needs phototherapy? You're not going to let me take her home?

I think it would be easier to count the minutes and hours I WASN'T crying in the hospital, because to do it the other way around would take you an eternity.

There's this children's book called Wemberley Worried by Kevin Henkes about a little, hand-wringing girl named, well, Wemberley, who worries all day and night about everything that might possibly go wrong in her life. The book has a happy ending, but it makes me very, very sad because that little girl was me. I had severe insomnia when I was eleven because I was so stressed out about what might happen in school the next day. I literally didn't sleep many nights until after heard my dad get up for work, which was around 4:30 A.M. So, many days my mom would keep me home from school because she couldn't bear to send her kid to class on two hours of sleep. In fourth grade I faked sick constantly, effectively missing weeks and weeks of school.

In short, I was a stressed out kid and became a stressed out adult. So, it follows that I would be an especially stressed out parent. I doubt my fears/concerns/worries are unique. That is to say, I know ALL parents worry obsessively about their kids. We are all preoccupied with their safety, health, self-esteem, and general well-being. But those of us with weaker constitutions might just be more prone to collapsing under the pressure.

And, oh, the pressure! Most of it self-inflicted, but then again, some of it does come from the outside. It feels like I spend most of my day downing cocktail after cocktail mixed of guilt, fear, self-doubt, and, yes, worry. And the hangover is a bitch.

If I'm not making sure Charlotte is breathing every hour or checking out symptoms on the internet to rule out every disease and ailment in existence, I'm flogging myself for not noticing her wandering over to the high-power sprinklers at the park while I was chatting with another mother, or for not being patient enough during a tantrum.

And then there's the constant focus and attention required of us as parents. Chris and I spend hours not only recapping the joyous and amusing events of the day, but also discussing our hopes and fears for our daughter. We fine tune our partnership, commiserating and arguing about our philosophies, methods, and styles. There are accusations, irrational hurt feelings (mostly from me,) and reassurances.

Also exhausting is constant journeying back and forth between the extreme highs and lows of parenthood. One minute you're reveling in the bliss of a spontaneous hug and "I wuv you" from your toddler, and the next minute you're pretending not to notice when she responds to your attempt to play with her with "No, Mommy!" I don't want to play the guilt game, so I try to just smile and respect her wishes, letting her come to me when she's ready. But, damn, sometimes I just want to cry. Then I feel silly for letting an almost two-year-old make me cry. More self-doubt.

The highs really and truly do make up for the lows, as we all know. The moments where you're pretty sure you're doing it right, when you're pretty sure your kid loves you and feels safe with you, or just when she's being completely hilarious and you realize you signed up for hours of entertainment along with all the fear and self-loathing, those moments are indescribable. You just feel...whole.

Exhausted, but whole.


  1. Wow. I never realized how similar we really are Megan. We should talk about the unnecessary anxieties of childhood we forced on ourselves. I had ulcers from fourth to sixth grade.

  2. Oh you need a break. You need a big break.

    A lot of the time, I get really overwhelmed and sad when I'm overtired. Go to bed a bit earlier a couple of nights in a row and I'm so much better. But it sounds like all of this is rooted much deeper in you.

    Wish I could help. Here to read whatever you want to write, if that helps.

  3. @Kristal- That's really interesting. I've noticed from my time working in schools that there is a change in the kids when they get to fourth grade. I don't know if it's the age or the curriculum, but kids just seem older. I guess it had a stressing effect on both of us.

    @Clara- Thanks. I wish *I* could help myself, too. So much of this I do to myself. I have the most laid back husband in existence who thinks everything I do is wonderful. I have an understanding family. It's just me that's a jerk to myself.

    But, I probably could also use a little more sleep. I tend to get weepy and (more) irrational when I go to bed too late.

  4. @Clara- And, in regards to your last statement, it definitely does help. Thanks. :)

  5. I'm so sorry you have to deal with all of this anxiety. I think Clara is right: rest is in order. And writing. I don't want to over-project my mental stuff on to you, but part of the reason that I think I worry so much about E, and why that worry gets out of control, is that a) we thought we'd have more trouble conceiving than we did (so, in some crazythink way, we don't deserve a kid), and b) I had issues during the pregnancy and after that resulted in me being on high alert all the time, even when it's not completely necessary.

    So what I'm thinking is that maybe you haven't worked through your feelings related to the miscarriage, and that you're still carrying around that fear and sadness and anxiety on top of the normal everyday worries related to parenting. Maybe writing about it would help? So you can carry that loss with you in a way that acknowledges it but doesn't weigh you down?

    Oh, and you are seriously a trooper for dealing with the "No Mommy" stuff as well as you do--that is not easy or silly. It really hurts!

  6. @Perpetua- I can totally relate to the I/we "don't deserve" a kid. We actually did struggle, but I have always had a weird tendency to feel guilty about the good in my life. I feel like I'm not a good enough person or hardworking or talented enough to deserve...anything, really. And I have that notion that because my life is so good, something is bound to go wrong.

    I probably haven't properly worked through the miscarriage. I have an uncanny ability to block bad memories and experiences. Like, I remember them, but I've numbed myself. More than anything else, what I remember from that time is the hopelessness. The feeling that after having to resort to IVF to get pregnant, that miscarriage was it. The end. So, it makes sense that I would be especially guarded (and crazy) when I got my second chance.

    Anyway, I need to sloooooow down. I don't meant to treat you guys as my therapists!

  7. It's all my fault. I'm sorry. I'm not sure where I went wrong, but I must be to blame. (See, the apple doesn't fall far from the tree...)