Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Stress-- or lack thereof

(obligatory baby picture)

A little while ago, my dad asked me whether I found motherhood to be stressful, and if I was handling it OK, or something like that. It reinforces this theme that I've noticed again and again, in books, magazines etc; that adding a baby to the family creates major stress. I'm sure this is true in a lot of cases, maybe even most cases. But I haven't found it to be true in mine. Certainly, the baby itself makes a difference; Robert is a fairly easy-going, manageable baby. We've had a few bad days here and there, maybe even a bad week or two. And those first six weeks or so of breastfeeding were pure hell, no doubt about it. But if he were an intense, high-needs, colicky baby, I'd probably be writing a different post... assuming I'd have time to write at all. As it is, I have to say that I feel less stressed right now, than I have in years.

One overlooked factor in this equation has to be, what came before? What did life pre-baby look like? Maybe it's the couples living their ideal lives who-- poof!-- add a baby on top of it, that have their ceiling fall in. Their lovely relationship that had never been severely tested, suddenly is. Their happy, not-too-stressful lives, changed forever. But I am coming to motherhood from two years of infertility, four miscarriages, and a job that really stressed me out. In a way, I traded two very stressful things (my fertility/miscarriage saga and the job) for one, much-desired and much-less-stressful thing: Robert. Seems a good trade in my book. The major questions that used to keep me awake in the wee hours, like: Are we ever going to have a baby? Is this ever going to happen? What's wrong with me/us? How many miscarriages is too many? How many am I willing to go through before saying, 'enough, no more'?, are gone. Their offspring are smaller and quieter. I worry a bit about the next one, but having one successful pregnancy under my belt makes it so much easier. (I can do this. Look, we did it. It may not be easy, but there's a precedent now.) I used to know, without even trying to think about it, exactly where I was in my cycle. Four days until I ought to be ovulating. Three days. Nine days ago. Too early to take a test? If I was pregnant, I knew exactly how many weeks and days along I was, even as I knew that it didn't mean anything. Really, the first fourteen weeks of my pregnancy with Robert was probably the most stressful time of my life, as I could do nothing but wait helplessly as the days ticked along, waiting for the inevitable cramping and bleeding to start. If I start thinking too much about how I felt then, it still brings tears. Honestly, compared to that, how stressful is waking up to feed a baby, or pacing the house with a crying infant, or changing a poopy blow-out diaper? Not at all, that's how. It's not life-and-death.

Of course, I didn't experience all that alone, and Don and I have been tested hard. The guilt and self-blame, trying to comfort one another when so miserable ourselves, the endless doctors' appointments and rounds of tests... Not to say that we're iron-clad and that nothing can affect us now, but I would have a hard time envisioning that the daily stresses of parenthood could damage our relationship when the major trauma of losing our babies, again and again, didn't. To use the old cliche, it didn't kill us and so we're stronger.

Not working, after working in a job that didn't suit, is of course a smaller matter than having a baby after dealing with infertility. But in its own way, it's also a big relief. Those small things-- the sales goals not met, the endless meetings, the corporate double-speak, the coworkers one likes well enough in small doses but that drive one nuts with constant exposure-- they all add up. I hadn't liked my job in a long time, but didn't feel able to leave. It was dreading Monday morning, hating the alarm clock, never having enough time to do the things I wanted to do, always holding my tongue. A little baby is a whole lot less demanding than a corporate job, and I'm lucky as hell to be able (so far) to stay home with him. I get more sleep now, than I did then. If Robert keeps me up during the night (or even if he doesn't, but my old friend insomnia does), I can sleep late in the morning, or take a nap later. I eat better, too. Partly this is because I had fallen into the deadly cycle of I'm stressed, I deserve a Snickers bar. After that customer, I need another Starbucks. What a day-- we need to go out to dinner. I'm too tired to pack a lunch; I can buy one at work. With a convenience store across the hallway, a coffee shop next door, and the student cafeteria nearby, temptation was close at hand and I had the cash to indulge myself. Now that I think about it, probably some of the weight that I've lost since having Robert is simply the effect of not having multiple caramel macchiatos, candy bars, fast-food lunches, and restaurant dinners every week. I've not been making a special effort to cook healthy meals (working more on the look, isn't it nice to have a partner at home? aspect, which involves more butter) but pretty much any home-cooked lunch and dinner is going to be better than Pizza Hut for lunch or Chili's for dinner.

This is not to say that I am never stressed out, or that being a stay-at-home parent doesn't have its own challenges; rather that, given where I was before, I personally am experiencing much less stress now.


songbird said...

Funny how all our experiences are different. I love my job, so even though I'm thrilled to have a baby after infertility, I look at my workday as a welcome break from baby care, and enjoy the little one that much more evenings/weekends. It's easier to appreciate every moment with him when I have some moments without him. But I agree- the stress of infertility is orders of magnitude worse than the stress of a newborn.

Mara said...

Totally! If I had a job that I loved, enjoyed, or even one that was just OK but that paid enough to justify childcare, it would be different. As it was, I was more or less just hanging in there for the paycheck and health insurance...

Laura said...

I *totally* resonate with everything you said. Couldn't have said it better. Good post.

Bex said...

You seem so much happier now. Things are falling into place and the world is making a little more sense.