Any preconceived notions I had about motherhood went out the door the night we brought my first daughter home from the hospital. Despite my ideals of being the “do it all Mom,” I quickly learned the limitations of sleep deprivation. I had romanticized the idea of my husband and I being up in the night enjoying snuggles with our bundle of joy. While there was joy in those quiet moments (or not so quiet moments as her colic serenaded the whole house), the truth was that it was exhausting. I needed help. I needed a team to succeed.
And that team was ready and willing to help when asked. At times, asking for help was the hardest part. My husband was there to support me, I just had to recognize it. It took a while to learn how best to ask for what I needed. For example, I never felt rested. This is true of all parents, but even with consecutive hours of sleep, it felt like I hadn’t slept at all. I never allowed myself to fall into that deep, restorative, sleep out of fear I would not hear my daughter if she needed me. So, the greatest gift he could give me was true rest. We came up with a routine that he would take our daughter out of the house for a couple of hours on a Sunday morning to allow me to catch up on sleep.
This is true to this day and often the best gift he can give me. It makes me thankful for a man that takes his role of father in stride. What is important is that we share the same family values. While he may not have been as comfortable with some of the nuances of the baby stage, he was willing to dive right in. He wanted to be an equal parent, not a back-up caretaker for our children. In truth, that was my expectation in this modern age. We both had challenging careers and were doing the best we could to balance work and family. Not going to pretend that means we have the same parenting style, far from it, but we have had to learn to meet in the middle. I had to relinquish some control to get comfortable with “Daddy Day Care,” what our friends and family lovingly referred to days when Dad is in charge because you never know what you might get.
I like to joke that I am the caretaker and he is the fun one, but the truth is it goes much deeper than that. We know what each enjoy doing and where our strengths lie, and we divide our duties accordingly. In time, our relationship has morphed into specific roles. He owns most things kitchen, notably the dishes, and I oversee laundry. Both of us have “systems” we prefer to follow for each household task so it works better if the other does not try to intervene. Now that I have transitioned to being home, more tasks fall on my plate, but I do not pretend to do it all. I cannot, nor do I want to. I like that our girls are growing up in a house where Mom and Dad are both involved in their upbringing and maintenance of our home. Our family is the most important team there is.
Our team does not just consist of our immediate family. Rather, we are lucky to have two very involved sets of grandparents. My parents are not local, so their visits turn into extended stays that allow for ample quality time. They are there to help in every and any way needed. On the other side, my in-laws are equally supportive just in a different way. They can be involved on a more regular basis to lend a hand or offer support when needed. I can count on one hand the number of times we have had to hire a baby sitter given their willingness to spend time with the girls when we have plans.
We would not have survived this past year without this team. My second daughter made her surprise arrival 15 weeks ahead of her due date meaning we needed a team, no an entire league, to manage her care. Her team just took on a different shape in the form of doctors and nurses. They worked around the clock to literally save her life. For the first time, my role as mother did not equate to captain of the team. I was second string. While my role as her mother was always respected, the truth was that I could not care for her in many of the traditional ways during those first few critical weeks and months of her life. Even after discharge from the NICU, when I did regain control, I felt my own instincts being challenged given the complexity of her care.
My role of mother was suddenly blended with medical professional without any of the necessary training. I’m thankful that our team continued to recruit new players as a home care nurse joined to monitor her progress as we navigated a new world of oxygen support. At first, this added equipment made the simplest of tasks overwhelming. This was especially true for the countless number of doctor visits required. Back to the team bench I went, recruiting my mother-in-law to tag along to many appointments. She even offered to sit in the backseat with the carseat to make sure her vitals were on track during the drive to the hospital. The number of appointments have lessened, but the role of our parents remains strong. Whether it was just a visit to offer companionship or a reprieve during the months of isolation during flu season.
In recent months, our team has expanded again to recruit several therapists at Gillette Children’s Specialty Care. We spend several hours a week at their office for feeding, speech, physical, and occupational therapy. It is truly a team, in partnership with her pediatrician, that drive her care. And it is thanks to that team that she has made such strides in recent months. The future looked much less certain at the start of the year as she struggled to gain weight and meet developmental milestones. After all the hard work, there is no stopping her now!
When I entered my marriage, I was looking for a partner. I just never appreciated how that partnership would evolve into a team of varying forms. I am grateful for that team and know that our girls are certainly better for it!