Archive | May, 2013

Finding joy in parenthood

23 May
Photo by Jenna Sparks Bradbury: http://jsparksphotography.zenfolio.com/

Photo by Jenna Sparks Bradbury: http://jsparksphotography.zenfolio.com/

It may be love at first sight for some parents, but all I could feel at the beginning was awe and the weight of responsibility. The first few weeks of parenthood consumed me with the obsessive quest to get my baby to breast feed, my physical recovery from labour and the knowledge that Daphne was ours to keep. I worried a lot. Was she eating enough? Was she in pain? Why was she so frustrated all the time? Was I a bad mother for resenting how nursing tied me to the couch and didn’t seem to make either or us feel better? It was hard to discern a personality from a  tiny being who felt like a breathing bundle of needs. I loved her fiercely, but we were still getting to know each other. On some days, Caitlyn would get home at 6:00 and I would dissolve into a puddle of tears and order her to take the baby away from me. I was touched out. I was exhausted. And I didn’t have an ounce of energy left in me to get through the evening “witching hours.”

A major turning point occurred when I gave myself permission to bottle feed my baby. Suddenly, we both felt nourished. Daphne wasn’t hungry anymore. Her personality changed radically — from furious to rather zen. And suddenly Caitlyn and I were equally equipped to feed her and put her to sleep. While I still harbour a tiny morsel of regret that nursing didn’t work out the way I’d hoped, I am 100% sure that I made the right decision to move on. Daphne and I really started to enjoy each other when she was about four months old. I no longer dreaded leaving the house, fearful that she would refuse or be unable to nurse. And while we struggled through a few months of reflux-related tummy issues, it was gratifying to know that our baby wasn’t hungry anymore.

But it was around eight months old that Daphne’s sense of humour and delight really started to come through. Now that she is babbling, crawling and climbing, she is so thrilled with her abilities and eager to tell us about them. She points to things, hands us food and toys to share and routinely steals treasured items from other baby friends. Parenthood has become a lot of fun, as our baby is finally old enough to enjoy swimming, swinging and playing in the dirt. And we can see how the ways that we’ve nurtured her have helped her transform into a confident and hilarious little being.

I really enjoyed Jessica Valenti’s book Why Have Kids? She questions the idea that motherhood is a “job” and instead re-positions parenthood (and the accompanying domestic labour) as a relationship. It seems obvious, but it makes so much sense. There are days that seem long or moments that are frustrating or mind-numbingly boring. But for the most part, parenthood is all about give and take. She belongs to us and we belong to her. I never imagined how much joy I would take in watching a little person learn a new skill.

While I have every intention of returning to work, I now understand why it’s so tempting for many women not to do so. I could rhyme off statistics about how every year that we remove ourselves from the workforce results in a permanent reduction in our net worth. And how women (particularly in heterosexual relationships) are placing themselves at serious risk of financial and professional devastation if they don’t keep up with their careers. But if we are serious about raising a generation of compassionate, articulate and justice-minded children, the best we can do is nurture them when they’re young.

I am so grateful to the workers and activists who came before me and fought for paid parental leave. I am also so thankful to my employer for topping up the government’s benefits, so Caitlyn and I did not need to take a major financial hit to be able to spend this precious time with Daphne. Our friends in the U.S. were only able to spend a few (unpaid) weeks at home with their tiny babies. So even though I am starting to get melancholy about this wonderful year coming to a close, I recognize how privileged I am to have been allowed to experience it — crying fits, sleepless nights and vomit explosions notwithstanding.

While the first few weeks of parenthood felt heavy to me, now it’s all joy. Daphne will take her first few steps and walk away from us some time soon. But I am in no rush for her to do so. She can stay close to us for as long as she wants.