Every day, my husband and I have at least one conversation on how much we love being parents. It’s a topic that, just six months ago, we had virtually zero knowledge on and now it consumes our every waking and sleeping moment. We go to bed forcing ourselves to pull our gaze away from the tiny human lying in between us that is half John and half me, his body warm and miniature and his breathing soft and steady, our faces all only inches away from one another, feet all tangled up and hands all holding. At night, he searches for us with his tiny arms flailing about and if he can’t find us, he cries out the most weepy and sad cries. If he has had an especially challenging day, he nurses all night long and we both dream feed, and while my sleep may suffer, my heart is full knowing my baby feels comforted, safe and secure. Cosleeping with our infant son may definitely have altered the physical comfort of our sleep but the emotional fulfillment and the comfort we have knowing we are all just an arm’s reach away, is one of the most beautiful experiences we have every day as parents that we hadn’t expected or planned for. John and I have had a handful of extremely brief conversations on the topic of moving him to his own room and transitioning him to his own (lonely) crib and I honestly cannot bear the thought of it. While I am a pretty private person who cherishes my quiet time and personal space, when it comes to my little family, my heart wants nothing more than to have them as close as possible for as long as possible. Every day, there seems to be some small and seemingly insignificant event that causes me to reflect on how parenthood has profoundly changed who I am as a person and who my husband and I are as a partnership, and because of this change, we are immeasurably better “versions” of ourselves.
Last night, we made our first family trip to the YMCA where John and I have committed to working out regularly while we leave John Fredrick in the hands of the childcare department for one 1-1.5 hours tops. Now if you are reading this, you must understand that as a stay at home mom to an exclusively breastfed baby, we are very rarely away from our son, and we have never had the experience of having to leave him with someone we don’t know. The previous day, he had a rough morning in the church nursery when I received a text at the end of the service that got me running out of my seat to get my baby: “Jill, John needs you” When I got there, my usual happy, smiling boy was replaced by a panicked and wailing baby who couldn’t recognize the arms, scent or voice of who was holding him and was just hysterically searching for some sort of comfort and security. Again, as a stay at home mom, I am not used to this and my heart breaks at the thought of my child ever feeling scared, alone or insecure. For the remainder of the day he was in mine or my husband’s arms to help calm his nerves and soothe him from that morning’s experience. I obviously know that his reaction does not reflect the quality of childcare, but that he is just accustomed to having his Mama around all the time because well, I am.
I was worried that leaving him in the childcare at the YMCA would bring him back to that state, so for the entire day, I “prepped” him emotionally. All day long, I mentally prepared myself and him for the separation by staying extra close to him, nursing often and napping with him throughout the day. I even nursed him in the car before even entering the building so he would have that extra moment of one on one closeness before we went into unknown territory. Our plan was for John and I to meet at the gym promptly after he finished work, drop off Poppy (aka John Fredrick) at childcare, get our workout in, and be out of there within an hour so we could take advantage of what we had left of the day for family time. I was ready and pumped and confident that the timing was perfect, John Fredrick was napped, dry and fed. What happened in the next thirty minutes, I did not expect and could not predict happening.
John met us in the parking lot, we walked in to the building together and he asked if he could hold him before we brought him to childcare…and John could not put him down. While I had been mentally preparing all day, I was pretty much in an “all business” kind of state of mind, my child was fed and rested and we are just going to get this workout over with and we are off. But John didn’t mentally prepare, was not expecting to feel this separation anxiety and he just was not ready to “hand him over to some strangers” (his words!) We sat in the lobby, and John cuddled, hugged and kissed him. He walked around and inspected the infant room through the window. “Why don’t you go work out and I will stay here with him” to which I responded “No! We are working out as a family!”
In these moments, I had to get out of my time-schedule state of mind and soften my stance to realize how much my husband had changed from being just a man to being a father. I gave him his space and just watched his body language as he melted into our baby’s cuddly arms and his face and eyes that looked uncertain, torn and heartbroken that he couldn’t hold his son for the entire evening like he always does when he gets home. He walked back and forth from the table I was sitting at to the childcare entrance and sat down with our son in his arms, rocking him, stroking his fine hairs on his tiny head and giving him kisses. I have rarely seen my husband so vulnerable, so uncertain, his eyes and brow so concerned – I have never seen him so in love. He realized that this resolution we had made to get back in to shape meant sacrificing even just an hour a day with his son and the reality of it was actually breaking his heart at that moment.
In the past six months postpartum, there have definitely been moments when I couldn’t wait to feel more like “myself” and do things that were “me again” But as I would reflect more on those moments, I would realize that that “me” was now a completely changed person. There is a huge part of me that is no longer just me anymore – it belongs to the needs, wants, cries, smiles, laughs, snuggles, kisses and love of my son. I love working out and yoga to the moon and back but even with the bonus of childcare, my heart hurts at the thought of leaving him even for an hour. My needs and wants are now totally overshadowed by my baby’s own and it is an absolutely necessary and welcome change in my life. When we were trying to get pregnant, I remember thinking, “Yes. I am absolutely ready to love and take care of someone completely outside of me. I am ready to stop only serving my needs and my wants.” and boy was that reality ever true from the moment we found out that my body was no longer my own and that everything I did now had a direct impact on the life growing inside of me.
I think we all imagine change and try our best to prepare for it. And sometimes we end up just coping with it and that is totally fine as well. And other times, change just happens to us from the inside without us even really being aware of it and I think those are the truly necessary changes. Those are the changes where we truly grow in to the people we are meant to be. When I first met my husband, he made me feel like the most special woman in the world and it literally didn’t take much. (Yup, I was 22 before anyone actually picked me up in a car rather than met me at the metro, and took me out for dinner) Since then, he has grown into the most caring husband and now an overwhelmingly attentive and loving father. He laughs at everything John Fredrick does and holds him close sometimes because the baby needs it and sometimes because the Daddy needs it. We have gone from planning our next travel or trip to tip-toeing our way through dinner because the baby is napping in the living room. We find ourselves laughing and holding each other in the kitchen as we stare at the baby monitor admiring our son. When we finally have a moment to ourselves and he is in bed, we spend that moment staring at him on the screen, missing him. John was in the Navy and his dream was to try out for the Seals and he physically trained like it for years, but yesterday I know he would have chosen holding his son in his arms all night long to any workout any day. We cosleep and sacrifice our bedspace with the reward being the joy every morning of seeing the awkward and funny sleeping positions and expressions our baby has, and the heartwarming reality that this is our life now.
In the end, we did get our workout it but I know John’s heart wasn’t into it. “We just have to get into the routine” and it’s true, but the routine might mean that getting more regular exercise will become normal but so will “leaving” our baby and that is a change we will eventually have to cope with. My husband and I have both changed exponentially since becoming parents and I know our hearts will be so full and then sometimes feel sad and heartbroken at different points in our journey but that just means we are continuing to grow not just as people but more importantly as parents. My heart is so full and so proud of my husband for being such an amazing father and events like last night and that baby step of leaving our baby in childcare for the first time might seem so insignificant but it changes us time after time, and although it’s hard and might send us off schedule, I know it grows our hearts more and more every day.