It has only been two months, but this is already familiar to me. Rocking an overstuffed glider a little too fast, cradling a scowling infant, riding another wave of anxiety.
New parenthood is a roller coaster on a track of fresh hormones, foreign fears, and crippling self-doubt. I keep forgetting my keys—I’m carrying too much new luggage: baby, diaper bag, wipes, pacifier, postpartum anxiety.
I pull out my new phone to perform another familiar task: text my husband, who’s outside barbecuing with a fresh round of visitors all eager to hold my wailing progeny. “She won’t sleep.” I tap out a text message with one thumb. “I don’t know what to do. She’s too fussy to stay awake and she won’t nurse. I’m so tired and I don’t know how to socialize with her screaming.”
The reply: “Who is this?”
The sleepless nights have left me no time and no brain space to update my contacts, which means I’ve just texted a wrong number. I can’t even remember my husband’s phone number.
“Sorry. I meant to text my husband… On my new phone. Whoops!”
As I draft a message to the correct number, my phone dings again.
“Wow, you must be really tired. New baby?”
“Yeah. She’s 8 weeks old tomorrow!”
Three dots signify a longer response, and then: “I just want you to know, it gets easier. I have three kids and right now I’m sitting on the porch while they read and talk, sipping wine, enjoying a Colorado sunset. It gets so much easier. Hang in there.”
I can’t hold back the grateful tears.
/ / /
Thinking about that wrong number today, my eyes still get misty. She didn’t have to respond, but she did. And she responded with what my anxious, weary heart needed to hear.
When you’re a new parent, you’re tired all the way through to your bones (this is news to you, I’m sure). You can’t get your bearings; you’re tired enough that your body is in rebellion. I was once so exhausted that I took a bottle of freshly pumped milk and tossed it directly down the drain. One night, I spent Lord-knows-how-long deliriously attempting to lift my baby off the bed—it was a nightmarish scenario where my arms wouldn’t respond to my commands to cradle and carry—until I finally realized I’d been grasping at bedsheets while my baby fussed in her bassinet. It was that kind of tired that made me terrified of spending nights alone while my husband traveled; with debilitating postpartum anxiety, I was sure I wasn’t qualified to care for an infant on my own.
It’s this kind of tired that makes it hard to let comments and advice roll off your back. Today, years later, if someone gives me advice or makes a rough-around-the-edges comment about my parenting, I can smile and give a confident and polite response. When you’re a newly-minted parent, though, you don’t have that kind of confidence; you don’t even have the brainpower. I couldn’t stop dwelling on the comments like, “If you are calm, your baby will be calm!” and “Just wait until she’s mobile if you think life is tough now!” These words made me sure I was doing something wrong to make parenthood so hard—that somehow I’d missed the day in high school where we covered Motherhood 101 and now I was doomed to flunk this, my life’s hardest test thus far.
That’s likely why I remember the kind wrong-number stranger. Her comment stood out because she said exactly what I needed to hear. She didn’t invalidate my struggle by assuming “sleep when the baby sleeps” or “don’t blink” would fix my problems. She didn’t discourage me by telling me to “just wait for teething!”
Instead of using a worn-out line of cliche parenting advice that we all hear and all say at one point, she offered a hand up and a clear vision.
It gets easier.
/ / /
New parent, parent of little ones, exhausted parent, listen up: you can text me anytime and tell me. I know: he won’t sleep and she hates the car seat and infants are friggin’ hard. You feel inadequate and lost and would give anything for exactly four hours of sleep strung together.
If you text me, here’s what I’ll say:
It gets easier. It gets better. It’ll start with the first smile, then the first laugh, then the first word, then the first steps. Every moment, every month, they’ll get a little sturdier, a little more confident, a little less needy. More importantly, you will too. It gets easier.
A version of this post originally appeared on emilyfisk.com.