Just because something’s natural doesn’t make it easy.
My husband reminded me of this when our first baby was born, and I was struggling to breastfeed her. Between my sleep deprivation and my battle with the baby blues, I felt like a failure and was riddled with guilt for not wanting to continue. So when my husband stated this obvious, and often overlooked fact, the clouds of my postpartum slump cleared and the angels sang the Hallelujah chorus.
I wasn’t doing something wrong. Taking care of a newborn really is challenging, and it’s actually nature’s fault that it’s so hard. We may be kings of the urban jungle, but we’re still products of evolution, like any other mammal. It turns out, being in survival mode with a new baby is exactly where we’re supposed to be.
Once I started thinking about life with our newborn this way – separating the natural from my expectation that I’d be a natural – I was a lot more forgiving with myself. For me, that meant that I actually gave up breastfeeding when my daughter was only two weeks old.
Natural or not, it wasn’t working. The benefit of being part of the species with the most advanced critical thinking skills on the planet is that we’ve invented a lot of life saving stuff over the years, like baby formula. So I took full advantage.
Breastfeeding just happened to be the element of new parenthood that caused me the most angst in those first few weeks, and it’s the reason my husband offered me his sage advice in the first place, but his point has a lot of applications when it comes to new babies. Nature isn’t here to make it easy on us. It’s here to see if we’re up to the challenge.
Take childbirth, for example. Vaginal deliveries are “arguably one of the most traumatic events the human body can undergo.” I haven’t met a mother yet (whether she delivered this way or via cesarean section) who’s made it through birth and recovery without pain, despite the extraordinary advances of modern medicine.
Somewhere I saw a coffee mug that said, “Congratulations on the birth of your baby! My condolences to your vagina at this difficult time.” That pretty much sums it up.
Why hasn’t evolution made childbirth less painful? According to an article in “American Scientist”, if women had wider pelvises, the birth canal would be larger, making delivery easier. Evolution didn’t do this though. One theory on why is simply because it’s good enough as it is – proof positive that nature doesn’t care if something is easy as long as it gets the job done.
Breastfeeding is the same way. I can think of so many ways that nature could have upgraded the process over the last several million years to make it easier for new mothers: Have babies nurse off a less sensitive part of the body, for example. Make breast milk so filling that babies only need to nurse once a day. Have fathers spontaneously produce milk to share in the responsibility. Scrap the idea all together and give babies a hump, like a camel, so they’re self-nourishing.
Nature’s not concerned about our comfort, though. As long as enough people manage to sustain the population, evolution focuses its priorities elsewhere (and camel-humped babies may be difficult to birth in their own right).
We may not have any natural predators, and we may be capable of creating complex societies, but nature is cut throat. Humans still face an element of survival of the fittest, despite our best attempts to outsmart it with modern science.
When we fantasize about our civilized lives with our babies, we’re accustomed to conjuring up images from commercials: soft lighting, gentle lullabies, cooing babies in a warm bath, newborns wrapped snugly in pastel blankets peacefully drifting off to sleep.
Those moments do exist, of course, but it’s almost in spite of the curveballs nature throws at us along the way. At times – especially when my babies were very young – I was just proud of myself for surviving the day. On some level, that’s all nature is asking us to do.
So, when you’re struggling to adjust to life with a new baby, remember this: It’s not you; it’s just nature.