By Nichole Eck
I don’t know what I expected postpartum to be like before I started having kids. I was just out of college, working full-time, having fun playing house and setting up the apartment my husband and I lived in. I was the kind of kid who relished the chance to organize my grandma’s desk drawers on “Take your kid to work day,” so the idea of having an entire apartment to organize was weirdly exciting. When I got pregnant and quit my job, I zealously rearranged our apartment to fit our new family member. Postpartum for my first child is kind of a sleep-deprived blur, but with an uncomplicated birth and physical recovery process, I slowly adapted to my new life.
Then my baby learned to roll over at the ripe young age of three months, and I was faced with the end of an era, of the Golden Age of Homemaking where I actually controlled the location of every item in my house. That blessed time when things like shoes and chairs and babies could be found exactly where my husband or I had left them and bookshelves and kitchen cupboards stood unlooted. That glorious, short period where I knew how every piece of my house fit together. It was the best of times, it was the shortest of times. Because then I had kids.
I watched as my baby moved from rolling to crawling to walking, gaining more and more control around the house. She had her own toys that she left everywhere imaginable. We babyproofed what we could and dealt with what we couldn’t, and it didn’t take long to find a homemaking balance again.
Of course, I still had to deal with other postpartum problems. Having just been inducted into the sisterhood of motherhood, I was lonely. It took me a while to find a community of mothers. I had always been allergic to nuts, but postpartum I developed new food allergies and intolerances that severely limited what I could eat. These restrictions meant I lost the baby weight and more within a year but found it hard to cook for my new diet and be around food at social gatherings. Even with these difficulties, things were quite often joyful and manageable as we worked with our new normal and prepared for baby number two.
My second child came along mere months after we’d moved into our first house, when my oldest was nearly two. I was quick to find some mothering friends in my new town, so I wasn’t as lonely this time around. My delivery and recovery were faster. My food intolerances helped me lose the baby weight again, but they had developed into an esophageal condition that made food difficult to swallow and more likely to get stuck. I thought once I got home, I’d be doing the same postpartum newborn dance I’d done before, just in a bigger space.
But it didn’t take me long to realize that the challenge of baby number two is figuring out how to babyproof them from kid number one. Thankfully, the baby seemed fine with being confined to a playpen in the living room for much of the day, which my peace of mind appreciated. Whether it was the excitement of arranging a new house, the timing of her birth, or completely random, postpartum with baby two was less lonely or anxiety-inducing and more enjoyable.
My third baby was born two years later, and postpartum after my second and third babies were as different as night and day. Baby number two being day and baby number three being night. It only took a week after delivering for the most crippling anxiety I’ve ever experienced to hit. Constantly checking my pulse, sure that I was dying. Constantly crying, sure that I was a terrible mother. Scheduling a doctor’s appointment, sure that I had heart problems. I’d finally adjusted to my restrictive diet and never lost the baby weight. I was a constant anxious mess.
And I was facing the Dark Ages of Homemaking, when nothing stayed where it belonged, or even in logical places around the house. I felt like I didn’t know how my house worked anymore. Things disappeared and reappeared and got rearranged and ruined all while I was taking a shower or making dinner. I felt helpless. I’d created three little machines of chaos and entropy that fed off each other, and then I’d set them loose in my life and my house.
Trying to arrange my house to be reasonably accessible to my three and five year olds felt like loading a confetti canon for my one year old. I wanted the kids to get their own plates and utensils, but the baby would scatter them around the whole house. I wanted the kids to be able to reach items in the pantry, but the baby would redistribute everything to various kitchen cabinets. I wanted the kids to be able to run outside and play, but they’d leave the front door open and the baby would follow them outside unattended.
With time, a supportive husband, a therapist, more than three uninterrupted hours of sleep each night, and high locks for all the doors, my anxiety largely resolved itself within a year postpartum. Yet I still find myself struggling with the reality of being three kids deep in motherhood for the foreseeable future. Even though my youngest is 18 months and my postpartum period is over in many ways, managing a safe, positive environment for my kids is a challenge. I can babyproof my house, but I can’t babyproof my other kids. I’ve gained kids, but I’ve lost control.
And I’m slowly learning to live with that. I’m learning to distinguish between what control I can give up and what control I need to keep to have a safe, sane, functioning house. I let the kids’ utensils get scattered around the house and teach my kids how to clean them up over and over. But I’ve installed high locks on the front door and instituted intensive door-closing lessons so the kids won’t let the baby into the street. I win some battles and I lose others. I’ve let go of some expectations and made a stand with others.
Standing strong three kids deep in motherhood, I often remember a simple prayer of serenity to remind me of my purpose and calm my anxieties:
God, grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.
Motherhood has surprised me in innumerable ways. I’ve realized that managing a home and a family bears no resemblance to organizing a desk drawer with paperclips and post-it notes. The Golden Age of Homemaking has been replaced by the Golden Age of Parenting. Sure, things aren’t where I put them just ten minutes ago, but the smiles and hugs of my children weren’t there in the previous age, so I find the trade more than fair.
Nichole Eck is a freelance editor and writer currently living in Utah with her husband and their three sweet girls. When she’s not vacuuming up cheerios (or laying exhausted on the couch wishing she was vacuuming up cheerios), she loves playing the piano, organizing closets, and working on her science fiction novel.
Read more of Nichole's work at NicholeEck.com.