Without my men for the first time

Up until a week ago, I’d never been away from my son William for more than a day. For two years and three months, I’d always woken up in the morning and found him there, either next to me or in the other room, as he got “older.”

This probably wouldn’t have been the case if it weren’t for Covid. William was born four months before Covid started, so his two years of life have been affected by the changes. I’d have gone to several conferences already, but they all got canceled. I didn’t go on any non-family trips, and when we visited Bulgaria (twice for the last two years), William came with me, so we were always together.

Shall we travel to South Africa?

Recently, the restrictions for traveling to and from South Africa were lifted. Jacob is from South Africa and his family lives there, so he was enthusiastic to go there after not having visited them for four years. It would also be a great experience for William to visit his grandma and grandpa, aunt and uncle, and to meet his cousin. Also, it’s summer right now in South Africa, giving him the opportunity to soak up the sun, play in the little pool, and eat exotic (for me) fruit – what a dream!

My heart tightened as I realized I wouldn’t be able to go with them. For visa-related reasons, I wouldn’t be able to travel with them. Could I really let William go so far away from me for ten days? I wanted to let them go in order to have this amazing experience. Yet, I didn’t know if I could bear missing them so much.

Saying goodbye

We bought their plane tickets one week before their departure date (crazy!), and we packed their bags. The anticipation was the worst part for me. I was wondering how the flight would go and how William would adjust to being there. At the same time, I know he’s crazy about his dad (in fact, papa is currently the preferred parent, and mama is taken for granted a bit, but I’m okay with that and I’m taking it as a sign of secure attachment), so he’d be happy to be with his dad all day for ten days. And Jacob’s family in South Africa would be overjoyed to have William there and would take care of him all the time. Thus, I wasn’t too worried about them.

Saying goodbye was tough. I drove with them to the airport and went with them to the check-in desk to help with William and with the luggage. When they were ready to head to the gate, we said goodbye, and that was the hardest moment for me. William didn’t quite understand why I was saying bye bye to him, and he had a confused look on his face as they walked away, Jacob holding him in his arms. He didn’t cry, but he just kept looking at me over his father’s shoulder until they disappeared from view into the crowd.

I walked back to where we had parked the car. It was strange, almost eerie. I was now a single woman walking down the airport hallways, just as I had been ten years ago traveling back and forth to the US two-three times per year. Almost every time I traveled to or from Bulgaria to the US, I flew via Amsterdam, so I knew Schiphol airport so well. It was a weird throwback to be walking here again now first with my husband and son and then without them. Ten years ago, I had been a young woman walking down those corridors full of ambition, enthusiasm, and a desire to prove myself, while also full of fear. Today, I was there again, more confident and secure in myself, my husband, and my son, but also felt sad to have let them go and felt emptiness in the place of enthusiasm.

Fun, but strange

The first few days were tough. I missed them terribly–there’s no other way to put it. But I was also really excited about having time for myself! It had been forever since I had ten days for myself, and I was going to make the most out of them. I allowed myself to be sad when I felt sad, but I also did lots of fun things.

During that first weekend by myself, I went out to dinner with a friend, I did a tutorial for no-heat overnight curls (totally didn’t work for me, my hair was straight again within 2 hours), went for a hike in the sunny forest, and even went to the sauna (spa center) for a day! How cool is that?! I was supposed to go with a friend, but she got ill the night before (so unfortunate!). I still ended up having an amazing time! I spent eight hours going into saunas and swimming pools, attending meditation “classes” in the sauna, having an amazing dinner there, and reading my book in the relax area. I have to say it was a little bit lonely because Jacob and I used to go to saunas together and I missed him, but it was still wonderful.

As nice as my fun experiences were, I felt a bit lost. I felt like I was constantly forgetting something important, or that something was not quite right. I think it was an adjustment, and I needed some time to get used to the new situation.

Weekdays by myself

Monday came along, and I focused on work. Now that we’re allowed to physically go to work, I used the opportunity to be there in person. I got myself to get up on time, promptly get ready, and be at work by 9:00. This gave me a good three hours of focused work where I read papers and wrote parts of my PhD thesis. Frankly, I was amazed at the progress I was able to make in a week.

I realized why I was able to make this happen. When William is around, I get him dressed, give him breakfast, and bring him to daycare. As much as I love my time with him, this simply takes time: time that I was now able to use to write. Simple, but I’m glad I was able to harness this to make the most out of my time by myself.

Then, I had lunch with colleagues every workday. I’d forgotten how much fun that was! When working from home, I’d just keep reading papers or answering emails while I ate lunch. Now, I actually went down to the canteen and talked to people. Ah, the perks of ordinary life!

After some more work in the afternoon, I’d go home and exercise or cook–whatever was on the schedule for that day. Then, at the time when I’d usually pick up William from daycare, I went for a walk to the Goffert park. Luckily, the weather was gorgeous this past week, so these walks were lovely. I did feel a pang of sadness when I saw parents pushing their children in a stroller, but at that moment I was doing my own thing and enjoying it.

In the evenings, I’d have dinner, watch a TV series (how decadent!), shower, and read. Watching an episode of a series felt super luxurious to me because I don’t often do that. It was just something fun I did because I wanted to. I usually spend time with William in the evenings, playing with his cars, building puzzles, reading to him, and putting him to bed. I will be happy when he’s back and we can do those things together, but I also enjoyed the me-time I had now.

It was also nice to take uninterrupted showers. Usually, William comes in five times while I’m showering because he can open and close the door now, and he loves doing it. Then, we end up playing peek-a-boo since he thinks I’m hiding behind the shower curtain. That’s adorable, and I miss his little face! But it is also meditative to be able to take a shower uninterrupted, all by myself.

I should also say that I spoke to the men several times every day. They were doing excellent, and it was great to see how much fun they were having. I didn’t have to worry about them at all, and my mind was at ease.

It’s funny that this combination of simple routine and decadent me-time (watching Netflix) worked so well for me. A weekend packed with fun and relaxation was nice, but it was so out of the ordinary that I didn’t feel grounded and felt like I was forgetting something important the entire time. While on the days when I combined work, fun, and self-care, I felt the best. This just goes to say that we don’t need our days to be extraordinary; we just need them to contain the right ingredients to create the lives that we want to live according to our own design.

The last few days

I have my last weekend alone now (the men are coming back on Sunday morning). I have four social activities planned in three days, and I’m very much looking forward to them! At the same time, I’m looking forward to the arrival of my men. I can’t wait to drive to the airport on Sunday morning and pick them up! I’ll enjoy my me-time now, and then I’ll enjoy being with them when they’re here. And then I’ll get interrupted the whole time by “mama, mama, mama,” but that’s quite alright.

Gradually, Life Returns to Normal (a.k.a. Grief Isn’t Linear)

It’s been eight weeks now since my pregnancy ended and we lost our baby, but it feels as though it’s been much longer. A lot has happened in these eight weeks, and at the same time not much has changed – in a sense, it’s as though life returned to what it was like pre-pregnancy. At the same time, we did go through more than half a pregnancy, so it’s not like things can just go back to the way they were before.

Taking time off

I was on sick leave for 6 weeks after the delivery in order to recover. It was like maternity leave, on the one hand, because it was after a delivery, but I didn’t have a baby to take care of, so it really didn’t feel like maternity leave. At first, I was surprised at my obstetrician’s suggestion to take sick leave (because the law doesn’t allow maternity leave until 24 weeks of gestation, and my pregnancy ended at 21 weeks). “Do I even need sick leave?” I asked. “Yes,” she insisted. “No work for 6-8 weeks.”

“Wow,” I thought, “Okay, apparently, this is a big deal.” And I’m glad I took time off. I was so exhausted those first two weeks, physically and emotionally. I look at my calendar for those days, and what do I see? “December 30 (2 days after delivery): Buy groceries.” Jacob, William, and I went and bought groceries together, and it was my first time out of the house (except for going to the hospital) in more than two weeks. It felt like such an event, and at the same time I was in a haze because of fatigue, shock, grief, etc. What a big deal it is sometimes to go out and buy groceries!

During those first weeks, I did simple things such as do some gentle movement, go for a short walk (started with 15 minutes), take a nap, talk to a friend. When I cooked a meal, I lay on the couch to rest afterwards. I also did things on my laptop such as making the annual family photo album (every year, I make an album with our favorite pictures for that year, and it’s super fun!) and the yearly review. The point is that it helped me to keep myself somewhat busy with pleasant activities and taking care of William, but I also took lots of time to take care of myself and to rest.

Beginning to work a tiny bit

After 3 weeks off, I felt I wanted to do a little bit of work again. I knew I didn’t have to, but I wanted to be making progress towards my PhD. I was still relatively tired, but I had more energy and was able to concentrate better. So I blocked out 2 hours per day (10:00-12:00) 4x per week to work on the chapter I had been writing. It seems like a very small amount of time (8 hours per week), but I was able to make some progress.

Most importantly, writing my chapter gave me the feeling that I was accomplishing something, and that’s what really mattered to me at that point. In a situation where I could control almost nothing, this was one area where I could actively focus my efforts, and that felt good.

I also made sure to do all the other things: do gentle movement, walk, nap, meditate, cook, and take care of the family. And sleep. Lots of sleep.

Returning to work

Two weeks ago, on February 14, I returned to work. It felt exciting! I had 3 months to finish my PhD, so I was (and still am) in go go go mode. Not feeling stressed, to be honest, but more in a “Let’s do this!” mindset.

Interestingly, my daily schedule remains similar to what it was before: I work (mostly write) in the mornings 4x week and avoid distractions at that time. Then, I have lunch and do some admin and tasks that require less focus. Afterwards, I cook or exercise, followed by a little walk on the way to picking up William from daycare. The self-care is still there, although I rarely take a nap anymore.

(Fun fact: It’s difficult for me to fall asleep for a nap, so I tricked myself into napping by listening to a meditation while lying in bed and falling asleep in this way. I did it every day for 50 days!!! Seriously! I got a 50-day streak in my meditation app, but since I don’t nap anymore, I’ve lost my streak… 😦 )

My amazing 50-day streak in the Headspace app.

I’m also feeling more social again, meeting up with friends and looking forward to chatting with colleagues as well. And I’m really into watching movies!! I’m re-watching all the Harry Potter movies, then all the Matrix movies and all the X-Men movies since Jacob loves those as well. (Tangent: Maybe I’ll re-watch the Lord of the Ring movies as well because I really don’t remember what happened there. My recollection is the following: hobbits partying, Gandalf shows up, they meet some elves and some dwarves, they walk a lot, then they go fight some other people, oh, and Smeagol shows up at some point, then there’s a massive fight with lots of people, and then Frodo is standing near some fire and looking at the ring… Yeah, I think there’s more to this classic epic, and I need to discover it properly.)

Grief as a part of everyday life

What I’ve been saying so far is that life appears to have returned to normal rather quickly for me, almost too quickly. There’s fun and joy in my days, there’s purpose in my work and taking care of William, and there’s also everyday, routine stuff that need to get done. But I’d be lying if I said that was all of it.

Take this example: I’m walking down the sidewalk, and I see a pregnant woman with a big belly. I look away. Good for her, I think. I do the mental math in my head: at this point, I should have been in the 7th month, and I would have had a big belly like her. But I don’t. Keep walking. Just keep walking.

A couple of friends and I got pregnant around the same time. My due date was May 9, and theirs are in May or June. I can’t imagine what it will be like to visit them and their babies once they are born. I try not to think about that. I also try not to distance myself from those friends. They are dear friends that I care about, so I try to stay open and meet up with them. I am happy for them and their babies, and I am sad for myself and my baby. The two feelings can co-exist.

I went to the dentist for a dental clean yesterday. I noticed the dental hygienist was a bit confused, looking at my belly. “It says here you are pregnant at 29 weeks…?” “Oh,” I say, “We lost the baby at 21 weeks.” She says she is very sorry and how hard it must be. “Yes, it is very hard,” I say. “But I’m glad we already have one child, otherwise it would have been even harder.” “That’s true,” she says. “But it’s still a very big loss, and it’s very sad.” I only nod. I am grateful that she acknowledged how sad it is and that I didn’t in fact need to soften the situation or make it more comfortable for her. We just allowed it to be sad.

Last Tuesday, on the famous Twos-Day (22-2-22), we had the cremation ceremony for our baby boy. It was done together with other babies who passed away before 24 weeks of pregnancy. We, the parents, got together and walked to a beautiful place next to the crematorium and spread their ashes. There were three rocks with lovely butterflies on them to symbolize the children who didn’t make it. We got to stay there for a bit and think about our babies who would never join us in this world, whom we’d never get to watch grow up, and whose personalities we’d never get to know.

This experience hit me harder than I had anticipated. It uncovered more sadness than I knew was there. It was the last time we had contact, in some way, with our baby boy, and now he really was gone, forever.

Beautiful butterflies symbolizing the lovely children that didn’t make it into this world.
At Crematorium Jonkerbos

Moving between everyday life and grief

My therapist, Linda Lansink, gave me this wonderful analogy. Imagine the infinity sign, the number eight lying on its side. Sometimes you’re living in one circle, which is everyday life, joy, fun, etc., and sometimes you’re in the other circle, which is your grief. It is healthy to be transitioning smoothly between the two circles, so normal life and grief become integrated. It can become an issue if you get stuck in one of the circles: either you are only living normal life, denying the painful experience the space it needs, or you become stuck in the grief, unable to live and enjoy life.

Life feels like the infinity sign right now, transitioning between sadness and joy, between the normalcy of life and the exceptionality of our loss. It’s strange how something as jarring as the loss of a tiny baby becomes part of life, integrated with the narratives of our lives. But that’s how it is.

The infinity sign, symbolizing
living with both joy and grief.
Source: Wikipedia

Brain rewiring: Getting used to our pregnancy loss

For those first ten days or so after we lost our baby halfway through the pregnancy, I was in a phase I called ‘brain rewiring.’ A huge change had taken place in our lives, and my mind was struggling to get used to it.

Integrating two narratives

On the one hand, I could remember in vivid detail how I’d given birth to our tiny baby and then we’d had to say goodbye. On the other hand, I kept forgetting that I was no longer pregnant.

At one moment, I was having an intense conversation with a friend about the current state of the pandemic, totally engulfed in big thoughts about the state of the world and no thought about my personal experience. A couple of hours later, I felt such pain and grief that I threw myself on the couch and cried, all thoughts of the global pandemic forgotten.

I kept having thoughts such as, “Since I am no longer pregnant, I can drink wine again,” but they only brought me sadness. I didn’t want to be able to drink wine; I just wanted to be pregnant again.

In fact, I didn’t want to be pregnant anew, but rather I wanted to still be pregnant. I wanted to go back in time and make it as though the events of the past two weeks hadn’t happened. And then I was faced with the stone-heavy realization that that wasn’t possible. In that moment, my heart fell through the floor.

During those nights, I dreamed about a baby and a pregnancy and all sorts of related (or unrelated) things. In the dreams, I carried the sadness of losing our baby, but upon waking, for the first second or so, I thought, “Oh, it was just a dream, thank God! My baby is still here…” And then I’d remember that he wasn’t here and that it was in fact all true. That fact hit me like a train, crushing me. It felt impossible to accept or bear that truth.

Slowly, my brain started integrating the new truth about our life. At the beginning of the process, there was our life on the one side and this terrible, tragic thing that happened to us on the other side. At the end of the process, this tragic event was integrated into the narrative of our life, our world. It had become a part of us.

What is “brain rewiring” anyway?

I first coined the term “brain rewiring” during a heavy break-up way back in college. The change was so painful and difficult that, once again, I was struggling to integrate the world I had known with the world I lived in now. It took a few weeks before the knowledge of the break-up and how that affected all aspects of my life was integrated within me and no longer shocked me with its harshness.

By calling it “brain rewiring,” I took the subjective aspect out of it. It wasn’t that “I couldn’t accept the break-up yet,” but rather “my brain needed time to create new neural pathways to reflect the change.” As you may have guessed, I was a psychology and neuroscience major in college back then. Who would have guessed I’d do a PhD in neuroscience after that?!

The “brain rewiring” stage has been the most painful one for me (so far) during this grieving process. I believe that’s because I was constantly being faced with the shock of what happened and the magnitude of the loss. Beyond that shock, there is pain and sadness that’s about the actual loss and about our baby boy, but the shock makes it impossible to find acceptance for those emotions.

Once I moved through the “brain rewiring” stage, I felt sadness, but it wasn’t anymore the raw pain that hits you head-on. It became more of a quiet sadness rather than a train crushing me. I’m not saying that quiet sadness is good, but it felt more bearable to me.

Thank you, brain

There is something amazing about the “brain rewiring” stage: it seems to me that the brain must be working overtime then. It must take so much work to update so many beliefs, expectations, and memories and to integrate this colossal event into my sense of self. For that, I feel a sense of gratitude towards my brain. Thank you, dear brain, for working so hard to make sense of this, to accept it, and to weave it into the narrative of who we are. I know it’s hard, and I thank you for all you do. (Yes, I speak to my brain. It speaks back sometimes. You can make what you want out of this.)

Photo: Prints of our baby’s hands and feet. They are tiny.

My baby turns one! One year of motherhood

Last Tuesday, our son William turned one year old. Time really does fly! I’m starting to understand what Gretchen Rubin meant with, “The days are long, but the years are short.”

He is wonderful, fun, crawling all over the place, laughing, biting our noses (it really does hurt!), and always ready for a cuddle. But there’s something else worth celebrating…

A mother and father were born one year ago.

My husband and I became parents for the first time. We have learned a great deal about taking care of another human being and also about each other. I’ve discovered that Jacob can be surprisingly resilient at times when I have no more patience left. That’s amazing because it means that even if I’m spent, he has us covered.

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Mindset shifts of a new mom: A constant, fun companion

When I was pregnant, it was fun to think that my baby was my constant companion: he was with me wherever I went, and I could always rub my belly and feel like I was being cuddled. But at that point, I couldn’t yet see my baby. I could feel him move, but he still remained abstract in my mind, a bit like a little alien inhabiting my body.

This changed once William was born. Now I could clearly see his face as well as touch him and hear him, and he certainly made himself heard. During the first few weeks, we were apart only briefly. It’s strange to spend so much time with another person especially when you’re used to quite some autonomy. It can be unnerving or stressful, but it also grew on me.

I remember one time my mom took care of William while I took a nap. Upon waking, I had the strange, anxious feeling that I had forgotten him somewhere–that’s how unusual it felt to not have him next to me while sleeping.

By now, William is almost a year old, and I’m more used to being away from him for a couple of hours or for a day. But I’m also more used to being with him all the time, and it doesn’t feel so strange or anxiety-provoking anymore. He’s become a part of our life and a part of our family, and I miss him when he’s not there.

The truth is that William is really fun! He loves chilling on the living room floor and just playing with his toys. These days he plays with me when he hides behind the table, shows his face, and laughs at me. When I’m working, he crawls to me, pulls books off of the bookshelves, and plays close to me. While I’m exercising, he tries to crawl under me or climb over me (he makes push ups seriously difficult!). When Jacob and I are cooking, he joins us in the kitchen and plays by our feet. (He loves it when I empty or load the dishwasher! The moment the dishwasher is open, he crawls to it at top speed, shouting in excitement–the dishwasher is the most fun thing ever!)

I don’t mean to say that it’s all rainbows and flowers, of course. William sometimes whines and moans, wants to be picked up, or doesn’t want to play by himself. Sometimes he wakes up at an inconvenient time or doesn’t like an activity I thought would be fun for him. But, naturally, he is a separate human being and cannnot fit perfectly into my agenda. Really, nobody can carry out my plans flawlessly, not even I.

The funny thing is that I am someone who enjoys independence and control over my time, and I do appreciate child-free time. And yet, there’s something special about my son’s playing next to me while I write; it’s really pleasant to have him crawl around my feet while I cook. I’ve come to cherish William’s companionship, and I look forward to the many more activities we will be able to do together in the future.

Mindset shifts of a new mom: It’s not up to me

When William, my son, was about three months old, he started showing some character. I’d feed him, change his diaper, dress him warm, and put him in the stroller for a lovely walk outside. After a brief nap, he’d start screaming so loudly that it was painful to listen to. I tried walking faster, then slower, then singing a song… but he kept screaming. The only thing that soothed him was when I took him out of the stroller and held him in my arms. But once I put him back down, he continued crying and didn’t stop all the way back home.

I felt so bad. Was he hungry? Was he uncomfortable? Was he too cold? Was he too hot? What should I do to make him feel better? What should have I done to prevent him from crying? I couldn’t think of anything.

I was so worried every time we went out for a walk and awaited the time he’d start crying. I wanted to take him outside, so I kept at it, but it was seriously stressful and frustrating. I had imagined idyllic walks with my baby snugly tucked in his stroller, and this had been the case for the first two months when William slept for hours in the stroller. But now I had a screaming baby. Why this sudden change? What had I done wrong?!

This continued for a couple of months and started easing up around 5 months or so. He started enjoying the stroller a bit more and lasted longer before he started crying on our walks, and the crying was less intense. By now he’s usually fine for 1.5 hours before he gets frustrated (which I can understand; if I sit for 1.5 hours, I also get uneasy).

So what changed? How did I resolve this mind-boggling issue? Literally, the only thing that helped was TIME. He simply had to grow out of it. How frustrating and freeing at the same time! There’s nothing I could have done to fix it, I simply had to wait.

Now when I see parents out for a walk with a very young, screaming baby in the stroller, wondering what to do, I think, “There’s nothing you’re doing wrong. That’s just how it is right now, and it will improve over time.”

This applies to many other baby-related issues. Between 3 and 6 months, William was taking super short naps, 45 minutes max at a time. Four times a day. It was infuriating! I’d get him ready and put him to sleep, have 30 minutes to myself (if I was lucky!), and then there he was again, awake, ready to do it all over again! I read sleep books and blogs and followed their instructions, but nothing helped. What else was I supposed to do?

Seriously, nothing. Over time, he started taking longer naps, about 1.5 hours, and now he sometimes even naps for 3 hours! Nothing changed, just TIME.

We had so many examples of this. Breastfeeding. Leaving the house. Traveling in the car. Receiving visitors. Eating solid foods. And I’m sure there are things I’m struggling with right now that will also fall in this category after a few months (sleeping through the night, hopefully???).

It’s frustrating as well as freeing to know that there’s nothing more to do right now. On the one hand, I wish there were something I could do to fix things. On the other hand, it doesn’t all depend on me. Sometimes, things simply take care of themselves.

Mindset shifts of a new mom: Enormous responsibility

For the first two weeks after William was born, I had a similar dream every night: I was out and about, flying over mountains and slaying dragons, as one does in dreams, and then a wave of panic hit me, “Where’s the baby? Who’s taking care of him? Is he okay?”

A huge change had occurred. While being pregnant, I didn’t have to do much to take care of the baby. Then, when he came out of my body and became his own little being, I had to take care of him ALL. THE. TIME. And his father and I were responsible for everything that happened to him. That’s an enormous change to get used to.

I referred to this adjustment as “brain rewiring.” My brain had to make new connections in order to represent this new way of life and this new responsibility. Therefore, I tried to cut myself some slack and give myself time to adjust. If I was feeling overwhelmed, I’d just say, “It’s okay, my brain is rewiring,” which acknowledged the fact that I needed time to adjust to this momentous change and gave me some space in the here and now. At this time, I found this TED talk about matrescence extremely helpful because it normalized my experience.

During the first two weeks after William’s birth, I felt many new, very powerful emotions. In the evening, after a day of caring for our baby, Jacob and I would curl up on the couch together with the sleeping William on Jacob’s chest. This simple sight brought me to tears when I thought, “We’re a family now. We’ve made a new person! He’ll be our child forever, and we’ll be his parents forever.” This simple realization was sweet, scary, and overwhelming in its enormity.

I also experienced a lot of “split mind” (the phenomenon is discussed in the book What No One Tells You). Even when I was doing something else, a part of me was thinking about the baby, wondering what he was up to and how he was doing. I experienced this every time I went to the gym and left Jacob and William at home as well as when I went out with friends (it turns out it’s possible to be having fun with my friends and at the same be thinking about my baby). When I started working again, I thought about William throughout my work day, wondering what they were doing at daycare.

I was almost surprised but also very relieved to see that other people can take care of William just as well as I do, and that he’s happy when they do. That made my responsibility a little easier to carry and gave me breathing room. After all, raising a child does take a village.

Photo credit: Janina Pietersen

Mindset shifts of a new mom: Lack of predictability

There’s no way to convey the enormous change that occurs when you get your first baby. It’s not like anything you’ve ever imagined because your mind is not capable of imagining something you have no precedent for. But anyway, I’ll make an attempt of painting a picture for you.

You get woken up every ~3 hours in the night, and there’s no ‘good night’s sleep’ in sight; proper rest is not in your near future. You’re feeding the baby every ~3 hours, which is its own ordeal, and then the baby poops, so you change his nappy and maybe his clothes. When the baby falls asleep, you may think you have some time for yourself, but beware: he may wake up any second. He may sleep for 3 minutes or for 3 hours. You never know if you’ll have enough time to pee, eat lunch, do the laundry, call a friend, or all of the above.

A lack of predictability on the micro level

The toughest thing for me was the lack of predictability. It’s one thing that I like to plan out my days and have a routine–that was definitely out the window. The thing was that I wanted to be able to eat my breakfast without being interrupted, but if my son started crying, I had to pick him up, feed him, change him, etc. I could only return to my breakfast maybe an hour later.

It felt crazy to not have any wiggle room and to accept that whatever I was doing could be interrupted at any time, and, if that happened, I had to drop everything on a moment’s notice.

I’m talking about a lack of predictability on the micro level. Will I be able to finish cooking this meal? Don’t know. Will I complete my 10 minutes of exercise? No idea. Will I be able to brush my teeth or even pee? We’ll have to see. The biggest one was the shower. One time I got in the shower and 2 minutes later William started crying (I had just put him to sleep, and I was alone at home). I was all wet, with shampoo in my hair, and he was crying like crazy! I got to him as fast as I could, but I’ve never felt so guilty about taking a shower in my life.

It gets better with time

The good news is that it got better over time. After a few weeks or months, William no longer cried as hard when he woke up, and I didn’t have to feed him right away. In other words, I had more wiggle room: I didn’t have to drop what I was doing right that instant but I had maybe a couple of minutes.

The same was true for when he was awake and was gradually getting fussy. When he was really small, I had to attend to him immediately, pick him up and rock him, and I couldn’t put him back down at all. As he grew, the time from starting to get fussy to really fussy became longer and longer, which gave me time to, e.g., finish my meal or finish putting away the dishwasher.

Now that William is almost a year old, we have much more flexibility. He rarely wakes up crying anymore. Instead, he calls out to me while playing in bed. When he’s awake, he can sometimes play by himself for an hour, and I can do something, while checking on him and occasionally engaging with him. When I notice that he’s getting fussy, my strategy is to show him a cool toy to play with (opening and closing doors is his favorite right now), while I gradually finish up what I’m doing and get ready to take care of him.

The illusion of predictability and control

Life is slowly becoming more predictable for me again, but not entirely. Fortunately, William is keeping me on my toes by once in a while doing something unexpected such as being wide awake and wanting to play at nap time (or worse, at 2 am!). The good thing about this is that it reminds me that we can’t always predict events in our lives and we can’t control what happens.

It’s terrifying not to know what is going to happen to us. Will an illness cross our path? Will a terrible accident strike us? Or will we meet an amazing person who will bring joy to our life? Will we discover a new passion, a hobby that absolutely sets us on fire? Some people are excited by this range of unknown possibilities, but I tend to be scared by not knowing. The logical response for many of us is to try to control life, which is not always helpful.

A baby is exceptionally good at showing you that you can’t control what happens in your life. As I began shedding the illusion that I can predict and control my life, I was very uncomfortable, but I also found a new sense of openness. My heart became receptive like an exquisite musical instrument: I found my baby’s smile infinitely lovely; cuddling on the couch with my husband and son became my favorite activity in the world; seeing my son’s amazement at water flowing from the tap filled me with amazement too (not for the water but for my baby’s ability to learn about the world).

The truth is that none of these moments are a given, and I can’t predict what will happen next. So I’d better notice the current moment when it’s here because in an instant it will be gone.

Back to reality

Now, all this ‘appreciating the moment’ stuff is great, and I mean it, but it’s also not easy to appreciate the moment in the middle of the night when your child is crying and you so desperately want to sleep. Believe me, I’ve tried to appreciate that unpredictable moment, and it’s HARD.

That’s the truth about parenthood: it’s great, and it sucks, sometimes in very close succession. It’s really difficult sometimes, and especially the early months of no predictability are super tough for an adult who is used to mostly doing what she wants in a day (and gets mad when the line at the supermarket is oh so long, how is this even okay, it’s completely going to throw off my plans for the day!).

It’s super useful to get help from other people, so their lives can be unpredictable for a few hours instead of yours. Alone time is AMAZING at restoring a sense of well-being and self-efficacy, and so is doing something small for yourself such as reading a few pages from a book.

And the last thing I’d like to say is a cliché but a very true one: This, too, shall pass. It really does pass, even when you don’t believe it will. One day you may even miss it, or at least parts of it, so let’s appreciate those lovely moments while they are here.