Whoever said “Cherish every moment with your newborn. These moments don’t last forever” deserves the “Most Cliched Statement of the Parenting World” award, after having battled it out with “Sleep when the baby sleeps” for the top spot.
First of all, if you are a new mom and this is your first baby, forget cherishing every moment, your energies are better expended thinking ‘How can I survive moment to moment and day to day with this stranger whom I am supposed to take care of and nurture?’ or ‘What possessed me to want to have a child? or ‘Is this what I signed up for?’ or ‘How long is this going to last – this can refer to any number of things, from postpartum hemorrhoids to the baby’s newest rash to pesky relatives’ unannounced visits or simply, ‘How am I supposed to cherish something when I can barely keep my head above water’?
It is sad that the advice to cherish every moment comes at one of the worst times in new motherhood. You are still recovering from having given birth, perhaps tearfully negotiating the insecurities and inadequacies (not really, but in your head they are) of producing enough breastmilk; the literal and figurative weight of the extra pounds; and the extreme dread of ever giving such a tiny little being a bath, among others. [To read my article on ‘6 Postpartum Realities No One Talks About’ click here.]
Your new baby, however, did not get the memo regarding her mother’s recovery. She lives in her own little universe where hunger rules all else. She may cry incessantly, from hunger or colic or gas or some other issue. She may get constipated for days and you can’t believe how much someone else’s bowel movements have come to mean to you. She may need to be held till you can no longer feel your arms but once you finally get her to fall asleep and decide to transfer, oh the dreaded transfer, her into her crib, she wakes right up! How is one expected to cherish this!? How is one expected to blur the self and the mother?
Thankfully, even without the need to actually articulate an answer, most of us do it and end up managing just fine. We may start out stumbling but eventually get the hang of balancing our own selves while being our children’s keepers.
My point is, “cherishing” those newborn moments would be pretty darn easy to do if we weren’t ourselves going through somewhat of a living nightmare, physically and emotionally. Advising someone to cherish those moments is stating the obvious. It is redundant. Most normal people do want to cherish those moments. It’s not like those normal people decide to NOT cherish their newborns and therefore need to be advised to do so by someone.
Soon enough, as things get better, we start focusing on the many firsts we get to experience in our kids’ lives (and ours as parents). The first time the baby smiled or laughed or rolled over or crawled or walked or slept through the night….but what I really want to communicate through today’s post that has hitherto focused on cherishing moments, is to highlight the significance of not the firsts, but the lasts.
The fragility of life is in the fact that once a moment is in the making, it can end without a warning just like it sometimes begins. Sometimes, we are fortunate to experience a few things over and over again but not realizing when that special moment might cease to suddenly exist, we fail to appreciate being in that moment at that very time. Not always, though.
For example, for the longest time, TJ would fall asleep in my arms at nap time and I would then transfer him to his crib. This went on until February of this year when TJ was almost 2 years old. I was also pregnant then and nearing my 36th week. Getting up from holding him in my arms to then lift him over the crib’s railing and put him in his crib was beginning to get a little challenging. We removed one side of the crib to help the imminent transition but eventually I had to teach him to fall asleep on his own. This was a problem with nap times only. It took nearly 2 weeks but it finally happened and he started doing nap times independently without having the need to be held till he fell asleep.
What I didn’t know then was that one of those days that he lay in my arms, breathing peacefully, having just fallen asleep to my lullaby version of “Wheels on the bus” and “Row, Row, Row a boat”, would be my last time holding him and helping him fall asleep. I remember the days leading up to helping him nap-sleep train but I do not remember his last day in my arms like that. I remember the feeling, the memories of kissing him multiple times gently after he fell asleep, sometimes just hugging and holding him long after he had fallen asleep because I really cherished the moment itself. I am thankful to have at least done that and will always cherish the fragrance of that beautiful memory. I just don’t remember the last day and even though it does not really matter, a part of me really wishes I did.
To drive my point further, let me share a poem I came across two years ago when Baby J was only a few months old. The author is unknown but the original can be found here.
The first time and every time I read this poem, I cry. The Truth in the matter-of-fact stating of the fragility of moments in the young lives of our children and in our experiences of motherhood/parenthood is so simply stated and so profoundly true that I really don’t need to sell it. The poem speaks for itself.
The Last Time
From the moment you held your baby in your arms,
you will never be the same.
You might long for the person you were before,
when you had freedom and time,
And nothing in particular to worry about.
You will know tiredness like you never knew it before,
And days will run into days that are exactly the same,
Full of feedings and burping,
Nappy changes and crying,
Whining and fighting,
Naps or a lack of naps,
It might seem like a never-ending cycle.
But don’t forget…
There is a last time for everything.
There will come a time when you will feed your baby
for the very last time.
They will fall asleep on you after a long day
And it will be the last time you ever hold your sleeping child.
One day you will carry them on your hip,
then set them down,
And never pick them up that way again.
You will scrub their hair in the bath one night
And from that day on they will want to bathe alone,
They will hold your hand to cross the road,
Then never reach for it again.
They will creep into your room at midnight for cuddles,
And it will be the last time you ever wake up to this.
One afternoon you will sing, “the wheels on the bus,”
and do all the actions,
Then never sing them that song again.
They will kiss you good-bye at the school gate,
The next day they will ask to walk to the gate alone.
You will read a last bedtime story
and wipe your last dirty face.
They will one day run to you with arms raised,
for the very last time.
The thing is, you won’t even know it’s the last time
Until there are no more times, and even then,
It will take you a while to realize.
So while you are living in these times,
remember there are only so many of them and
when they are gone,
you will yearn for just one more day of them.
For one last time.
I had a lot of struggles during the postpartum phase accompanying the birth of my firstborn (see previous posts from 2014) but after reading this poem (that some kind soul had posted on a Babycenter forum to which I subscribed), I started looking at my experiences from the perspective espoused in it. It was as if the Universe was answering my call for help through this poem.
I hope you find something meaningful in this poem for you and/or for those who may need it.