“I can’t do this!”
These words had spilled out of my mouth before.
On this particular day, my husband and I were in a picturesque setting on vacation at a beachfront resort. I was standing in the Gulf of Mexico, in waist-high water, waves crashing against me as I watched my paddleboard float away. I wanted to give up, I felt defeated.
Rewind four years: different circumstances, same feelings. My husband and I had just become parents. I was struggling with breastfeeding, had no self-confidence when it came to my parenting skills and was exhausted. I was a walking zombie-robot sort of creature that went through the motions of feeding, changing, rocking, and bathing a baby with no feeling, except a strong desire to sleep.
Finally, the weeks of no sleep, no adult interaction, and an overall sense of losing myself came to a head.
Books had warned me about this, friends told me cautionary tales, and the nurse at the hospital had a serious conversation with my husband about it. But I was still unprepared for that night when your baby stays up crying – all night long.
Some call it colic, I call it torture.
After hours of rocking, swaddling, and attempting to feed my kid, I was done. I started crying, rocking myself and desperately wanted to crawl in bed and sleep. I looked at my husband with tears in my eyes and said, “I can’t do this.”
Back in the present, I grab the paddleboard. I have renewed determination to get up on this thing. I swim towards the shore taking in the cloudless sky, the warm water encompassing my body like bath water, it’s paradise.
I reach shallow water, mount the board and steady myself on my knees. I start paddling out to deeper water, away from swimmers and docked boats into uncharted territory. Space for myself, where I can concentrate. An area where I can find balance, literally and figuratively. I find it.
I feel secure, confident, ready to stand. I position my left foot underneath my body – so far, so good. I slowly raise myself. I quickly transition my right leg from kneeling to standing and I’m up! I start wobbling. I remember what the teenager at the rental shack told me: “As soon as you get up, start paddling.”
I paddle like a madwoman. I’m starting to feel great, then I hear a jet-ski behind me. Like a cartoon character, my arms are flailing. I’m trying to maintain balance and praying my husband isn’t recording this on his phone. My board gets taken by the waves out from under my feet, I sink under the water.
Feeling underwater is a good analogy for how I felt the first few months as a parent. Drowning in new responsibilities, overwhelmed by emotions and often relating to Tom Hanks’ character in “Castaway,” minus Wilson.
There were times I would come to the surface to catch my breath. I would even tread water some days, feeling like I was excelling at this parenthood gig.
When my daughter was three-months-old, I started feeling “off.” I was exhausted, but then again I had a baby that I was tending to day and night. I also felt nauseated and certain foods really turned me off. Could I still be experiencing pregnancy symptoms, three months postpartum? That seemed weird. Could I be pregnant again? Oh no, God please no.
“I can’t do this,” I say again to my husband back at the beach.
“Yes, you can,” he reassures me. I don’t believe him, but he refuses to take the paddleboard for his turn, insisting I try again. I agree with the stipulation that this is my last attempt.
Paddling on my knees is my comfort zone. I’m close to the board, less vulnerable. I stay here for as long as possible. I smile at the mother holding her baby in the ocean water as I pass. I head out to the same spot I was moments earlier. I have a talk with myself that goes something like this: Just do this for Brian, then you can be done. Although it would be awesome if I could get up on this thing. You can do this, you’ve got this.
I steady myself and stand up. I start paddling like the teenager told me to. I’m just going through the motions trying not to fall. Then it hits me. I’m up! Enjoy it. I see fish in the water, I take a deep breath inhaling the salty air, I indulge in my accomplishment.
I can do this.
I also managed to navigate the uncharted waters of being pregnant while caring for a baby, and then bringing home a newborn to a house with an 11-month-old and juggling both their needs. I did it, and you can too. (The new baby part – the having two babies so close in age I don’t recommend, but to each their own).
That uncharted territory should not be feared, it should be embraced. You’ve got this.