Tuesday, March 16, 2010

thoughts on one year later

one year later. i knew things would be different, but i didn't realize just how profound of a change living with leon would be.

i expected sleepless nights. crying. spit up and worse. messy diapers. breastfeeding challenges. lots of laundry. lots of tears (and laughter). i thought i had prepared myself for the worst. the worst didn't happen, but barring illness and death (the absolute worst), it has been tough, tough going.

i keep telling myself there's no way i could have anticipated a such an intense baby with a fiery temper. a friend confessed he couldn't handle leon's cries. they were driving him insane with their relentlessness. there has been no routine, no schedule, no consistency. we have a loose framework for the day, but there's little guarantee that leon will follow it. usually 2-3 meltdowns a day.

for the most part he's a happy, active, outgoing baby in public. sometimes i doubt my perception of our situation. sometimes i think i'm the one with the problem. that my expectations are too high, that my attitude is overwhelmingly negative. i'm riddled with inconsistencies, uncertainties, hesitation.

one year later, and i'm still bewildered and exhausted. there are moments of pure delight, but they're weighed down by my fear of meltdowns, fear of my reaction to them.

i need to hire a nanny so i can have a couple of hours every other day to myself. but i'm resistant to the idea. money is tight now because i didn't finish my dissertation on schedule. plus, this is my baby. i've been with him 20 hours every day for the past 12 months. it's hard to give up control, hard to trust someone else.

i need to let him cry himself to sleep. i know now that he's capable of falling asleep in 10 minutes or less (usually less than a minute), and sleeping longer stretches (3-4 hours), but i'm resistant to this, also. what if he's afraid? what if he thinks i've abandoned him? he's more clingy during the days, reluctant to be more than 4 feet from me. i need space, but i can't stop myself from holding him close. he's growing so quickly, becoming such a boy, and i know i'll have to let him be more independent soon.

i need to get ready for weaning. leon nurses for comfort. he is a picky eater, which has led to thrice-daily battles in the kitchen. matthew thinks that if i wean leon, he'll have no choice but to eat more solid food. i'm reluctant to force this on him. of all the things that give leon joy, i can see that breastfeeding is his favorite activities. he laughs and smiles and curls up against me as if we were made for each other. the hard work of the first 9 months finally paid off. it gives him comfort and makes him feel safe. when he's trying to sleep, it helps soothe him. as much as i need more mobility, more flexibility, more time away from him, i'm reluctant to take this away from him.

my instincts tell me to stay attached, stay close. but not working on my dissertation has become an untenable situation. as much as i adore him, as much as i feel the need to be in control, i need to respect myself as an academic, too. it has been tough going. we've lived like a triage unit for so long, it's the only normal i can envision. i'm not ready to commit to something different, but it looks like i'm going to have to anyway.


Kristien said...

Erica, my heart goes out to you. During the past year, several of my close friends have become mothers for the first time, and I have sent them all a link to this blog because what you write is such an honest, heart wrenching and beautiful description of new motherhood, that is not available in the "what to expect when you are expecting" literature. I wanted my friends to know they are not alone when they experience similar frustration, despair, joy, and amazement, because each of them has said at times that they feel completely isolated in this journey and question whether they are doing the right things for their babies and themselves. My mom always tells me that being a mother is the hardest job in the world and the strength it takes to do it every day cannot be underestimated. It has been clear to me since you first wrote about your birth experience that you are putting every effort into being the best mother in the world for Leon, and letting him know every day that he is loved. To me it doesn't seem like there is any such thing as true balance once you become a mother, but if it is at all possible for you to carve out some part of each day that is just for you, then it may make a positive difference going forward. You have already proven you can do this, and do this well, so getting help from a babysitter is not admitting defeat. I will continue to be interested to read about your experience and know I will count on this blog as a resource if I ever become a mother. Thank you for your honesty and be good to yourself. All my very best wishes--you will get through this.

Jessica said...

You are a great mom, especially in your ability to be honest about the reality of motherhood, the good and bad. Whatever path you take in parenting over the next year, know that it is the right one for you and Leon, and that it is okay to be conflicted about needing time for you and the care of your baby.

Susana said...

Oh, Erica. I have visited this blog since you were pregnant and have followed the struggles you've had with Leon. I have a 7-month-old who has a similar disposition. I was supposed to finish my dissertation before he arrived but I didn't of course. And I found myself unable to enjoy my time with him with this dark cloud hanging over me. Plus I just couldn't take care of him all day every day. It is TOUGH to have such a needy, stressed-out and stressful baby, and I don't mind admitting that I need to get away from him sometimes. We are lucky that we have been able to afford a nanny part-time and as a result I will be defending my dissertation next week. But I will say this. The freedom I feel in having (almost) finished this dissertation, which is the culmination of many years of hard work and emotional and financial investment, is worth going into debt for. She is great with him, she gives him the attention and love that he needs, and I get a break. I get to work on my research and think about things that are not either basic necessities or related to trying to figure out a baby's psychology, and I get a piece of the old me back, and I come back refreshed and able to give my son 110% again. I believe this has truly saved my sanity, and that is priceless. Good luck to you and happy belated birthday to Leon!

erica said...

thanks for the thoughts, kristien! i'm a naturally pessimistic person--i prefer 'realist'--and it bugs me when i meet moms who seem to sugarcoat everything. i have a hard time believing their public face matches the rawness of motherhood that i and so many others have experienced.

it definitely has become challenging, especially since we've passed the 1 year mark.

congrats on finishing your dissertation!! intense babies and PhD work makes for a volatile combination. we are actually selling our condo in order to afford a nanny. hopefully i can teach in the fall while applying for jobs, but we need a buffer until then. the economy stinks, and we're grateful matthew even has a paying job as an architect.

Amanda said...


I have been lurking for over a year now, I think, and have gained so much from reading... I am another new mother (of a 7 month old), struggling to finish a Harvard dissertation (while living in California), feeling the same pull to stay with my baby and hold him close. I know I don't want to give up my work, but I also don't want to give up my time with him. I'm lucky that my husband (also a grad student) has enough flexibility to spend some caring for him so I can work a day or two a week, but we are both dragging out our degrees because of it, and definitely feeling the financial strain.
And my son is also a sensitive one. He struggles--we struggle--with sleep, and his intense, though healthy, need for my presence at night. I can't bear to close the door and let him cry alone, but I know my health and sanity are being compromised. I know there is more than enough advice out there, but the only thing that has helped our situation at all is to let him "cry it out" in my husbands arms. If he wakes less than 3 or so hours after feeding, my husband will go to him and just hold him while he cries. We know he isn't truly hungry. We did this for 2 nights and now the baby is sleeping 3 to 5 hours at a time. The 2 nights were torture, but it has made a real difference, and at least we felt better knowing that he wasn't alone. Worth a try?
Thank you so much for writing here.

Mona said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mona said...

I started MIT grad school when my baby was 13 month.

No matter what choices you make, it is never easy. My mom is the one who helped me survived the guilt of working hard at school. She said that I was a role model to my baby and a role model to her by pushing the envelope. It did not make it that much easier. One thing to consider is that from 12 to 18 month, you will see the bloom of a toddler and that translates into a new chapter with new challenged and joys but also slightly different needs and priorities.

I hated day care when my child was a baby but had no choice.

Now, day care is great for my naturally shy baby - she bloomed now as a 2 year old, loves her friends. She loves to draw, sing, jump.

I used to believe in equality of sex - then I became a mother and I am still looking for the right answer to be me the academic and me the mom

rena said...

hi erica,
this is the greatest thing i have read in a while. my baby ivo is already 4 1/2 months old and we are going through the same things. i am super mellow and this baby is just the opposite. the meltdowns, the intensity, not wanting to sleep, etc. i take him to work but can't get any work done. i don't know if i'm expecting too much from a little baby right now, but i have to get on with things too!

leon seems so amazing and funny and i am sure you are an incredible mother. good luck to you as you figure it out the best way for your family.

TAS said...


I understood immediately when I read this. I am near-34 and have been in my (very long, crazy) graduate department almost since I got my BA -- for what will be 12 years next year. My partner is an academic, too, and we're scared. Perhaps I more than he, but still paralyzed with fear. How will we, living on academic money, afford these lovely things that we want to offer our children? And what of my career, which I feel has been partially sacrificed because I made the decision to move to the city where my partner is a professor, where I am not comfortable.

You are right, too. There is a certain feeling of death for those of us bookish ones when we're not lost in the simultaneous pleasure and agony of our work. We strolled into the world with the dispositions were given: there is little to do with how we have been fixed in this life, temperamentally. I wonder if I will have time to work on my dissertation if a kid were around (at this point it appears the diss. will be done before a kid arrives out of the transcendental ether -- a delightful homunculus who brings out our uttermost ambivalences.)

So we have not done it. And I am pained as I see my d-damn facebook (stupid thing) fill with nothing but second birth announcements and newborns. And I do not know if it, something I want desperately, will ever happen for me.

This is a real feminism (and of course, there are many feminisms): of choosing to be mother while having a satisfying, intellectually stimulating and extraordinarily challenging career. I am always in awe when I see the successful ones with children. They don't get enough credit. That I am certain of.

Do not feel guilty when you cannot do it all at once. Do not worry if you have to take out a loan for child care -- you need some hours to yourself to find your being, too. You have been brave. I have been, aside from my love of fashion, reading along for more than a year now, following your motherhood experience so that I can be more brave: to close my eyes and jump. Your honesty, when there has been, in my opinion a fucking conspiracy of silence around motherhood and careers, has been important to me.

Thanks Erica,

tien-a s.

Jocy said...

Erica, I don't have a child, so there is only so much advice I can offer on new motherhood. My nephew (my ex-husband's nephew, but mine too) had a similar disposition. He is now 5 years old, but for four years my sister-in-law spoke to me of the same struggles. Charlie would have meltdowns in public quite predictably, to the point where his mother would dread taking him out. She is an amazing mother. And so are you -- to be able to juggle an intellectually stimulating life and new motherhood. Amazing. Someday, I hope to do the same.

K said...

Hang in there love. Soooo many of my friends are exactly where you are right now. and I've heard from everyone of them something that almost mirrors your experience. I think you and them are some of the most brave, intelligent, tenacious women I know. I'm rooting for you all. xo