Tonight I went to visit a friend, N, who has eight-week-old twins. She also has a one-year-old. Three healthy babies, a blessing that millions of people wish for.
And along with those three beautiful babies, she and her husband have a house full of chaos, no sleep, mounting financial concerns and no ability to get out of the house.
“I feel like I can’t tell many people this, because you never know someone’s story, and if they are trying to have a baby, they wouldn’t understand, but the whole first week after the babies came home, I cried. I thought, what have I done? What have I done to my older baby, to myself? I just cried.”
Before you judge N, consider this:
She struggled to get pregnant, and after using fertility drugs, she and her husband conceived twins three-and-a-half years ago. For inexplicable reasons, N gave birth prematurely, and within a week, her newborn son and daughter both died.
A year later, using fertility treatments, she gave birth to a healthy full-term baby. And then a year later, with the aid again of fertility treatments, she gave birth to her new son and daughter.
N is no stranger to pain, suffering, grief and loss. She knows what it means to desperately want a baby and not have one.
There is a little-told secret among those of us who adopt or have trouble building a family – we feel as if we should be grateful every minute every second every hour for our children, as if we never have the right to feel overwhelmed by the tasks of parenting.
We feel guilty for wanting our own time, even more so than other moms and dads, because we remember when having a baby in the house was our most unattainable yearning. We barely allow ourselves to feel normal resentments towards the demands of parenthood, much less express those resentments.
As I sat with N tonight, sharing with her that I felt similarly overwhelmed last year when Cleo was born, I thought of one of my dear old friends, G. After years of not conceiving, G and her husband adopted a baby. They were in heaven. A year later, they adopted another. They were in heaven. A year later, they adopted another. They were in shock. “What did I get into?” my friend whispered into the phone to me.
G confided that she felt as if she did not have the right to hire a babysitter and take some time to herself, because she had worked so hard to adopt her kids. We mused over the fact that adoptive parents are just like other parents, and there was no reason for G to feel guilty about getting a sitter once or twice a week so she could get out of the house.
I told N tonight, “It’s okay. It gets better. But right now, things are really hard, and you can acknowledge that.”
It’s okay. It’s okay to feel intensely grateful for your babies, joyful for the miracle of their presence in your life, and to also feel like you ruined your life by having them. Because, of course, you did. It is impossible to have a child without ruining the life you once had, the life of taking care of just yourself.
But as you survive those early months of sleep deprivation and diapers, messy houses and endless loads of laundry, you realize that from the ruins of your life, you build something infinitely more precious. You achieve a new normal.
Sometimes, we all miss the days when we were single or childless. It’s okay to say it. It doesn’t mean you don’t love your kids more than you ever thought possible. It doesn’t mean you are ungrateful parents who don’t deserve your kids.
There are times when I look at my girls and I want to scream, because they are fighting or whining, and I miss the days when I could spend a Saturday morning sleeping in, reading the paper, exercising and taking a leisurely shower.
Then there are times when I look at my girls, and I feel such intense love for them that I must stop what I am doing, walk over, and kiss their sweet, soft little faces.
Fortunately, the love part far outweighs anything else. But with that love comes a 5:30 am wake-up time, a pile of unread newspapers, a gym membership that is basically a monthly donation to the gym because I never get there, and a brief shower every couple days with three little faces staring at me around the shower curtain, urging me to hurry up so I can tend to their needs.
I wouldn’t have it any other way.