Feeling the Feelings: The Bad, The Good and The Ugly

It's been coming for a while.  Its been needing to be done, but still, until today I could not be honest with myself that I was even putting it off.  "There just isn't time!"  "He's just fine." I kept repeating to myself.  But today, as I walked into my boys' room to find the youngest using his crib to hang on the edge of the very tall part of the bunk bed, I realized it had to be done.  It is time to take the sides off of the "baby's" crib.

 "Mr. Teeny", snuggled up with mom, the *only* way he would sleep at one week old.

"Mr. Teeny", snuggled up with mom, the *only* way he would sleep at one week old.

It seems like only yesterday that I was surviving on something like 40 minutes of sleep a day because the baby would only sleep if I was sitting upright, holding him on my chest (no carriers for him, thankyouverymuch) and nursing.  That's *the only way*.  So I spent the first four months of his life propped up in our bed on the very hard backboard, holding him, and catching a few ZZZ when my husband would take the screaming baby downstairs to the other end of the house. 

It's not as if I look back on those first months terribly fondly.  They were pretty rough for me, especially with a four year old and a two year old running around during the day, there was none of this "sleep when the baby sleeps" happening here, and two years later I'm still dealing with how it messed up my back.  But its never going to happen again, and there was the occasional emotional payoff of getting to kiss the top of his head whenever I pleased, so I'm a little wistful about it, even while I'm glad that its over.  And I remember that its important to be honest with myself about how I'm feeling, otherwise I put off something important until... well until the baby is hanging by his fingertips from the top bunk three feet off the ground, with his tiny toes on the top of his crib.

 "Mr. Not-So-Teeny", getting ready to sleep in his "big boy bed" for the first time at just shy of two years old.

"Mr. Not-So-Teeny", getting ready to sleep in his "big boy bed" for the first time at just shy of two years old.

Today I am reminded that we can be both joyful about moving to a new step in parenting and sad that the last one has passed. We can be both appreciative for the way our baby arrived, and sad that it had to be that way.  At the same time we can feel depressed and free when our nursing journey comes to an end.  Upon returning to the workplace, we can be both grateful and a touch sad to leave our little one in another's care.  Or, as I so often feel with my oldest, excited and infuriated by his own sense of agency.

As a doula, when a client downplays the hard feelings because they're "supposed to be feeling the good feelings", I tell them that its natural and normal for more than one feeling to be attached to a memory or an event.  That one doesn't negate the other, they are both true and honest and real and important.  Today I am reminded myself, my baby isn't a baby any longer.  And I'm both ecstatic and a little sad at that truth.

Birth, parenting and life are full of "feeling dichotomies", where things are both brutal and beautiful.  I honestly believe many big problems show up when we talk ourselves out of one feeling because we think we're not "supposed" to feel that way.  Or when we allow one feeling to override the other all the time.  Just acknowledging two (or three or four) feelings about the same event can go a long way to helping us feel more positive about that event in the long run.

If you figure out how to make it easy though, let me know.  I'll just be here in the boys' room, gratefully and tearfully disassembling my last baby's crib.


Victoria McCollum

Victoria McCollum is a birth and postpartum doula and owner of Doulas of Fredericksburg, in Fredericksburg, Virgina. She resides there with her husband and three precocious sons.