You. In stereo.
Certain emotions are a given with a new baby — joy, fear, wonder, exhaustion. The standards.
What’s talked about less often, if ever, are the heightened feelings outside of the intimate relationship between parent and child.
As you hyper-focus on parenting, what happens to your other relationships? To your feelings about work, love, life and faith? How do you view your environment? Driving a car? Drinking alcohol?
Some of these auxiliary thoughts, beliefs, opinions and values will shift when you become a parent. You drive more carefully, you’re less bothered by your boss, you shy from that second glass of wine.
More profound than these changes are the ways in which a new baby amplifies what’s already there. A love for nature seems more intense when a parent is expansive with love for the baby. A reformed ex-smoker becomes all the more militant about a smoke-free existence.
The simple act of having a child seems to bring forth and intensify parents’ best qualities, and their worst. A newborn in the house will unearth and shed light on what’s already there — painful insecurity, sexual frustration, creativity, playfulness, tenderness, a need to stay organized.
Fights between two new parents are bigger, scarier and deeper-cutting. The stakes are higher.
The way he plays with his phone during intense conversation is 10 times more annoying. The way she mocks you in the heat of battle seems pointed and poised to drive you insane. Of course, the fear of “not working it out” is magnified by that precious embodiment of the love between you — YOUR baby.
The way you feel about your own upbringing means more now than ever. A perceived idyllic childhood can stir up a crippling sort of perfectionism. Feelings of resentment toward your mother — rooted in how hard she worked outside of the home or her codependent desire to be your friend — will come up, swish and swirl, seem bigger and will perhaps cause guilt.
You now know how hard it is to be the M word. Mom. The therapy starter. The everything.
Gratitude toward your parents emerges as new and surprising. There’s an understanding of choices, reactions, mistakes. Or there’s some stuff to work out — feeling now what you feel for your baby — in those choices, reactions and mistakes.
It’s not unusual to dive deeper now — to suddenly journal, start therapy and (finally) “get” yoga. All of it — your sibling rivalry, your proverbial Daddy Issues, your unyielding love for coffee and the ability to taste the complexities of the bean — are suddenly and overwhelmingly BIGGER.
The way you choose your friends, the friendships you leave behind, the way you dress, the way you approach your lover, how hard you cry, with what health (or lack of) you handle conflict, what you want to be when you grow up, the way you feel more grown up than ever under the moniker Mom or Dad, the way you feel more like a child than ever under the weight of motherhood, fatherhood.
All of it, all the things, are pronounced. While skipping happy hour on Friday night and going to bed at 9 might feel like an identity crisis, you’re now more than ever so authentically you.
A lot gets said about adapting to “the new normal.” It’s a cliché attributed to packing a diaper bag, sleeping in shifts and taking pump breaks.
But I think the real point of adaptation is akin to stepping out into a bright summer day after sitting in a dark movie theater. There’s a tendency to shade your eyes, but you must adjust to how bright the world is and you must move forward.
This is the real new normal. It’s you. In stereo.
Jen Wittes is a certified postpartum doula and writer who now works in marketing and communications. She lives in St. Paul with her two kids, her two cats and her husband. Send questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.