When I became a mom for the first time, I also became the mother of twins. Those who can relate know that this experience is only slightly traumatizing. Okay, maybe it’s extremely traumatizing. We’re talking “Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder” kind of traumatizing. Born a little premature, my boys stayed in the NICU for 2 1/2 weeks. It killed me to leave them there and I ached to bring them home. Until the night they came home. I’m pretty certain I got less than 2 hours sleep that night. On top of that, my husband was on-call as an intern OB/GYN resident, leaving me hopelessly alone with not 1 but 2 screaming newborn babies. I can so vividly remember the nightmare of that night. By morning I was SO ready to give them back to the NICU. I called my mom at 6am, sobbed into the telephone that I absolutely could not do this, and about two hours later I was lying on my parents’ couch in Indianapolis, ready to give up on this whole mom thing.
It did not get much better after that. Matthew was colicky and screamed every day from about 4pm to 8pm. More than half of the time, Jordan joined the chorus. I recall talking with friends who had new babies. Starry-eyed, they would talk about how wonderful it was to have a new baby. “Oh, how I love this stage. I wish he would stay this little,” she would say. “I could just stare at her sweet sleeping face all day,” another would coo. I would just smile and nod and pretend that I loved it too. Inside I was fuming, “Are you freaking kidding me?! Are you crazy?? This is horrible! I can’t believe I signed up for this!” I constantly felt like I was clawing at the crumbling walls of deep, dark pit. All I could see was the ivory of my bathtub because it was the only place I could escape to be alone for more than 5 seconds. All I could smell were diapers and lavender baby wash. All I could hear were shrill baby cries. In fact, it was impossible to even find silence in my own head. Just as someone could hold a seashell to their ear and hear the ocean, I felt as if someone could put their ear to mine and hear the cry of babies ringing through my head. For me, motherhood felt far less than a privilege or a joy. It felt more like a death sentence.
The twins were 5 months old when my first Mother’s Day rolled around. My mom asked me what I wanted for Mother’s Day. My reply? “All I want for Mother’s Day is to not be a mother for just 1 day.” I hated it.
Three months later the boys were 8 months old and I dubbed myself a “baby-hater” (and even a couple years after that, I couldn’t hold another baby without feeling physically ill). I still hated it.
When the boys were almost 2, a friend asked me how I felt about motherhood. She was pregnant with her first. I told her, “I actually didn’t like them much until they were about 15 months old.” …I really said that.
Fast-foward a few Mother’s Days later. The boys are 7 and I have my little Adam. I do have fond memories of those first two years with the boys, but honestly, they are sparse. I look at pictures from that time and I can’t even remember being there. The mothers at the twins club call it “the fog.” “How old are your babies?” “6 months.” “Ohhhh… you’re still in the fog.” Yes, I was in a thick, sticky fog and you couldn’t pay me a million bucks to go back.
Those 2 years and the years of mothering that have followed have taught me a lot though – lessons that I wouldn’t trade for anything. One of those lessons is to Enjoy the Doing. I once read a quote that was immediately emblazoned on my mind and is now a part of me. Author, Anna Quindlen wrote:
“The biggest mistake I made [as a parent] is the one that most of us make. … I did not live in the moment enough. This is particularly clear now that the moment is gone, captured only in photographs. There is one picture of [my three children] sitting in the grass on a quilt in the shadow of the swing set on a summer day, ages six, four, and one. And I wish I could remember what we ate, and what we talked about, and how they sounded, and how they looked when they slept that night. I wish I had not been in such a hurry to get on to the next thing: dinner, bath, book, bed. I wish I had treasured the doing a little more and the getting it done a little less.”
Throughout my children’s childhood I have tried, and will continue to try, to live in the moment. To treasure the doing. This thought sang through my head the other night as the cries of my almost-2 year-old woke me from my dreaming at 3am. Adam has a congenital heart defect and received a pulmonary artery graft when he was 4 days old. In the last week or so, the graft has started to fail again, and as his tiny heart gets weaker, fluid backs into his lungs when he lies down, making it uncomfortable for him to sleep. So, up I went for the third time that night. As I lifted Adam from his crib, my bed covers beckoned me to return and the thought sneaked into my head, “I’m so, so tired. I can’t wait to go back to sleep.” I quickly shoved the thought out of my head as I reminded myself to simply “enjoy the doing.” I sat in the nursery chair and rocked him. I quietly listened to his labored breathing and felt his heart beat rapidly against my chest. I had given him a bath that evening and I could still smell the sweet fragrance of lavender soap that lingered on his fine baby curls. The smell brought back the memory of the bath – how he splashed with his brothers and squealed when I poured the water over his head. I wasn’t in a hurry to scrub his hair, wipe him dry and move on to the next chore. All of my attention was in that moment and all I cared about were my children’s toothy, crooked grins. What a good moment. What a great day. What a beautiful memory.
As his breathing became even and his heart still, I gently laid Adam back in bed. Rather than rushing back to my covers, I stood over him and watched his chest rise and fall. What a good moment. What a great night. What a beautiful memory.
Obviously, I know by experience that motherhood is not all sunshine and roses. There are plenty of times when I feel overwhelmed, under-appreciated and beyond irritated. Motherhood can be back-breaking and heart-wrenching. There are even days when I feel like motherhood is a necessary evil. Motherhood can be all of these things and I don’t feel guilty for admitting to these feelings. However, this Mother’s Day, I challenge you, in spite of those moments, to treasure the doing at least once a day. When you find yourself consumed with a get-it-done moment, let the dishes sit in the sink and ask yourself, “Is there an opportunity for a doing moment right now?” I dare you to recognize the opportunity to turn an irritating, frustrating get-it-done moment into a learning, growing doing experience. This experiment is tried and true, and I promise that as you treasure the doing a little more, you’ll begin to recognize the multitude of beautiful “doing” moments that happen every day; and those irritating moments will be a much less prominent piece of your mothering memories. Not only that, but you may even begin to see motherhood as I now do – an exhausting but wonderful adventure, and one that I consider an honor and a privilege to take part in. Enjoy the Doing and have a Happy Mother’s Day!
p.s. I feel like I should say that, although those first couple years were rough, I adore having twins. Being the mother of twins is the most incredible, rewarding thing and I feel so blessed that I get to do it. For those experiencing “the fog” of being a new mother of multiples, you should know that you are one of the lucky ones. I am a living, breathing testament that it does get better and that you can survive. Not only will you survive, but you will thrive and you will love it!
Oh, and my little Adam helped me to realize that I am, in fact, not a baby-hater. I love babies. I just hate having two babies. Ha. 🙂