Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Motherhood 101

No one ever said becoming a Mother was easy, and I had no delusions that it would be. But I have to say that adopting Tenley may well be the hardest thing I have ever done. I don’t mean the actual adoption- that was easy. I’m talking about the process by which my life has become a hostage to a 27 inch terrorist.

The good news about giving birth is that you know this person from the moment that they arrive on the planet and you have some clues about the gene pool in which they are swimming. They also begin their quest for domination with these cute little “wahh” cries and spend their days eating and sleeping. This is not to say that biological Mothers have it any easier, they just get a longer transition period.

The bad news about adoption is that you’ve been handed a small person who has already discovered that they have lungs, and has already begun to develop a personality which you had not a cotton pickin’ thing to do with. They also have definite needs and wants, but no good way of expressing them except by blood curdling scream.

The other half of this equation is, of course, the Mother. For some people, like my childhood friend Lauren, I imagine Motherhood came pretty easily since she contributed substantially to the rearing of her 4 younger brothers. I, on the other hand, feel like I’m in the trash compactor from Star Wars. Being a Mom just does not come easily for me. I’m an only child, so I never dealt with babies or younger siblings, all the children I ever baby sat were at least potty trained, and I’ve spent the last 13 years answering only to myself and pretty much coming & going and doing as I pleased. So a complete loss of freedom and enslavement to a creature I have no experience with and feared for years is a very abrupt change. One which I have moments of anger and resentment over, and then guilt for feeling angry and resentful. This is not to say that I didn’t ask for this, but there’s no good way to prepare for the violent upheaval of your life that a child brings.

Then there’s Tenley. There are moments when I have suspicioned that she may be a minion of the Dark Lord, but I’ll get back to you when I find out. The truth is that Ten is not a bad child, or even a difficult child, but she is a challenging kid. I had hoped for a sweet docile baby, and I got the ever-busy iron-willed Warrior Princess. She knows what she wants, and has no qualms about letting you know of her displeasure when she doesn’t get it. Her temper is quick, and she has the ability to rage for extended periods of time. Unfortunately, at 10 months Tenley has no language skills yet (probably due to the fact that she heard Cantonese for the first 9 months of her life, and now hears only English) or any reasoning skills yet; so despite the fact that you patiently explain to her that Mommy has to do dishes because she has no more clean bottles and that we can play after the dishes are done, she does not sit and quietly babble and play with her toys, instead she screams this deep guttural roar that sounds like a pissed off baby lion. The roar increases in volume the longer you refuse to acquiesce, and becomes punctuated by deep gasps of breath intake and sobs until she is dripping with sweat and choking. This cycle only stops for feeding, napping, and if you are playing with her. I would guess that this desperate need for attention comes directly from a lack of attention in her orphanage – she’s afraid that if you stop paying attention to her, you might never pay attention to her again.

On the upside, Tenley is funny as heck. She has a great smile, and a very cute giggle. After 4 weeks, she has decided that Jeff and I are important: she always looks to see where we are, and there are moments when nothing will do but that one of us holds her. We’re dealing with her tantrums and crazy behaviors better now too, because she’s started sleeping through the night – which means that we are now getting 6-10 hours of uninterrupted rest. She’s been eating cereal for the last 3 weeks, and she’ll start baby food next week – this means that she’s gained some much needed weight and I think she’s gotten taller too. Happily for us she loves the water – both the bath and the pool are favorites of hers, and the bonus is that splashing in the pool for a couple hours wears her out.

While her moods and neediness are ever changing, and her frequent angry screaming fits try my nerves, I know it will get better...and the truth is that I love her dearly and wouldn’t trade her for all the world.

9 comments:

Babygirl's parents said...

Hey Michelle,
I really appreicate your honesty. Everyone keeps saying this "will change your life" (and we DO know it) but, for the most part, people only mention the sunnyside of the experience. Reports from the actual trenches, so to speak, are invaluable. We are already thinking of something else to do on "Stupid Farm Day" ;) Perhaps we'll be a tiny bit more prepared because you and Jeff have been so upfront about the roller coaster ride that bringing a little person into your lives can prove to be.
Thanks :)
Anna

Claire said...

Hey Michelle.

Don't worry everything is perfectly normal!! I gave birth to my 2 kids and Caden is almost 8 months old now. We are in the same stage you are.......god forbid if I stop holding him or playing with him or leave the room for 1 second. My potty breaks, my sleep at night etc. are never alone, it's either a 2 (almost 3)year old in with me or Caden. I sometimes wonder what the heck I did all day as my house is a mess and the laundry is not done, oh and dinner.....what is that!!!
My kids are my world, but oh boy what a challenge sometimes!!!! You sound like you are doing just fine........oh and if you want to escape and get drunk for an hour or two one day just give me a call!!!!!

Sparky said...

I check in on your blog frequently and have grown quite fond of you & your family. I want to thank you for a very honest, loving post. I hope you can find comfort in knowing that there are many many people in blogistan in the same boat (or soon to be in said boat) and sending you good wishes. Hang in there, you & the Iron Willed Warrior Princess will work it out.
Sparky

Carol Redfern said...

Hi Michelle,

I had two sons, the first of which is your age and had a personality much like Tenley's. My second son was (and still is) very laid back. With the birth of my first son, I still remember saying, " I can't believe something as small as this can turn your whole life upside down." My two children are biological brothers, but their personalities were and still are completely different. I can honestly tell you that I can still remember and relate to the confusion, frustration and mixed emotions that you are feeling now. Even though I brought Brian home from the hospital at a few days old, I was still surprised (not in a good way) at how difficult it was to figure out what a screaming baby wants/needs. Like Tenley, Brian was a "screamer." I promise you that it will get better. Tenley will probably always be active, but the up side to her personality is that she is obviously smart, engaged and determined. These are all good traits. You and Jeff just have to survive the next few months while you all adjust to each other. Easy for me to say, I paid my dues 33 years ago. But honestly, you will all survive and thrive. I'm glad you figured out the driving in the car routine to calm a screaming baby. It's a great technique. I remember it well. Take care and continue to be honest with your feelings. What you are feeling is natural, and sharing how you feel is healthy. I've known your Mom for a long time. And, I have enjoyed sharing your adventures into parenthood through your blog. Keep writing!
Thanks,
Carol Redfern

Catie & Meigan's Mommy said...

Hi Michelle...
you're doing GREAT!!!! and so is Tenley..and everything will be fine...you've just got to get over these bumps.....It has been almost a year that we have had Meigan home and as you have read she was a HARD adjusting child once home for the first 6 months. It will take little half-pint Tenley some time...but she'll be fine, as will you!! We are living proof...not quite sure how I got here (well, several martinis those first 6 months certainly helped me:) )...we have 2 of China's treasures who adjusted to their new lives 1000% opposite of one another...Catie was a piece of cake, Meigan threw us for a loop bigger than we'd EVER anticipated...but what a gift they are and not a day goes by, no matter how hard it may be, that Brian and I don't say how lucky we are...even when they are going "airborne" off the top of the couch :))

My Pediatrician nicknamed Meigan "Mighty Mouse" which fits her to a T, and I think that Tenley could take on that Mighty Mouse name as well :))


Kristin from G93

Queen Bee said...

Hi Michelle,
I've been folowing your blog daily and are learning alot from your experience. Your honesty is refreshing and appreciated, as so many new mom's pretend everything is wonderful. We have 2 biological sons, and will hopefully be getting our daughter next summer. I have to tell you even when they are born to you, they can turn your life into a living nightmare (for a while). My first born was an angel, it was like caring for a doll. I fed him, changed him, then he slept for hours..I expected my second son to be just the same, Oh boy was I in for a shock. He screamed so much that I rushed him to the hospital the first time because I thought something had to be wrong for all that screaming. He was clingy, bad tempered and knew his own mind big time..I did have a few meltdowns, and thought I would never get through it, but you do.I never asked for help, which was my biggest mistake. You need your own time out or you will go crazy!!
He is almost 6yrs old now and he is a pleasure to be around. He has the best sense of humour and we have a very strong bond, he's still my little shadow. I'm sad because he starts grade one in the fall and I'm going to miss him terribly.
Good Luck and know you have lots of support..
Joanne.

Queen Bee said...

Hi Michelle,
I've been folowing your blog daily and are learning alot from your experience. Your honesty is refreshing and appreciated, as so many new mom's pretend everything is wonderful. We have 2 biological sons, and will hopefully be getting our daughter next summer. I have to tell you even when they are born to you, they can turn your life into a living nightmare (for a while). My first born was an angel, it was like caring for a doll. I fed him, changed him, then he slept for hours..I expected my second son to be just the same, Oh boy was I in for a shock. He screamed so much that I rushed him to the hospital the first time because I thought something had to be wrong for all that screaming. He was clingy, bad tempered and knew his own mind big time..I did have a few meltdowns, and thought I would never get through it, but you do.I never asked for help, which was my biggest mistake. You need your own time out or you will go crazy!!
He is almost 6yrs old now and he is a pleasure to be around. He has the best sense of humour and we have a very strong bond, he's still my little shadow. I'm sad because he starts grade one in the fall and I'm going to miss him terribly.
Good Luck and know you have lots of support..
Joanne.

Anonymous said...

Hey Michelle, Some of us have an angel and some of us have real children. You never hear of parents speaking truthfully about their own experiences like you because I guess they feel others will think they inept. When the truth is, everyone goes thru it. We just don't tell anyone. I remember taking long late night fast pace walks in the Louisiana winter with out a jacket, in an attempt to take the winds out of my sails so that I can pick up my crying daughter. I was ready to pull my hair out and knew I could not help her till I helped myself first. I guess I had forgotten all of that because 13 years later I had #2. What was I thinking? I told everyone, "This child is my daily test of patience." We gave up fixing all the stuff he broke over and over again. We plan to just give him a bill when he moves out. With him, I can remember (I have never told this to anyone until just now) sitting in the shower crying. I knew I had to come to the realization that I can no longer do what I want, whenever I want for quite a few years to come. I sat there crying and mourning over the loss of my independence. Once I did that and accepted that I now have a new life, I felt better. He is still a challenge at 13. But I would not have it any other way. You are very normal with your struggles. Don’t doubt yourself. And don’t be afraid to ask someone to baby-sit for an evening, or to stroll her around the block once or twice while you catch up and re-arm yourself with a fresh supply of bottles. You didn’t have the opportunity to slowly work up to this point thru pregnancy. Not like that ever helps. This is a wham bam, day night adventure. I think most women would admire you for being strong enough to admit you need assistance. I admire you for all you have done thus far.
~Carolyn

Anonymous said...

Michelle-

What you are feeling is very common. I left a career that I enjoyed very much and I had the same resentment/guilt cycle. I can tell you that is DOES get better. There was one day, about 8 months after uniting with our daughter, that I knew the phase was finally over. I had finally adjusted. (at lease most days!) Be patient with yourself... it can take many months to work though things.
Also, try putting her in a backpack and carry her around with you while youre doing stuff. Just an idea, but it worked great for me. I got stuff done and she loved to look over my shoulder and observe. Hang in there. It's a journey, not a destination.