Needful Things: A Reflection on the Changing Dynamics of Being Needed

I'm a little embarrassed to admit this (so when has that stopped me?) but the biggest shock I received when I became a new parent was how needy newborns were. Crazy right? Like I totally should have known this going into to it. Like, of course you dumbass what did you expect a Golden Retriever? On an intellectual level, I suppose I did know this, but I also think it's one of those you can't really know until you live it.

The neediness of my newborn equated to zero time for myself. This single fact struck through the center of my life like a lightening bolt on a clear sunshine day.

I think the longer you wait to have kids, the bigger this shock is to your system. I was 31 when I had my first. By this relatively average maternal age I was already quite accustomed to coming and going as I pleased. I regularly slept 8-9 hours a night. If I wanted, I could stay out until 1am on a "school night" and suffer no long-term repercussions. I went to the gym, read magazines, made a phone call and used the restroom all with relative ease, minimal planning and zero guilt.

That life was all I knew and when it came to a screeching halt, there was a bit of sadness and fear involved.

Sometime during the haze of the first week after giving birth is when this crushing reality came baring down on me because I chose to breastfeed. I chose to breastfeed because I believe in the benefits. I still do. But I could also care less what anyone else does. I'm not a fanatic about it and I totally understand why some moms choose not to go this route. The major drawback of breastfeeding, as I see it, is that this singular choice makes everything that much harder. It's throws another thing on the pile to figure out as if you didn't already have enough unknowns in your life. When you breastfeed, every feeding is not just about the baby and their need to eat, it's always about you, too, and your need to get said eats out of said boobs.

Breastfeeding means that you are always on call and there is no other person on the planet who can take your place. If I wasn't physically feeding my baby I still had to address the situation one way or another, and no matter how much I may have wanted my husband to take over "just this once." It wasn't possible. Ever.

The moment I realized this, I was devastated. I know that's a big word to use for this situation, but in my sleep-deprived, hormonal, emotional, new parent state, it was, quite frankly, like hearing my world had ended and my new reality was one of complete servitude. I was now on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, no breaks, no excuses. Ever.

Hindsight is always 20/20 and with this clarity of vision I realize this feeling was overblown just a tad, but I also know why it felt this way at the time.

I felt this way because I had no idea how fast newborns turn into babies, babies into toddlers, and toddlers into back-talking children. You just don't know until you are watching your own kids grow up. How can you know something like this until you experience it for yourself?

This week I had one of those memory searing moments when you realize just how fast your child has grown. During a walk in a local park my three-year-old daughter stopped to pet a dog. When the nice owner bent down to introduce her dog to my daughter, they had a conversation... like a real, completely comprehensible conversation that went something like this:

Owner: "Do you have a doggie?"

Brooke: "No, no, I just have kitties."

Owner: "I always wanted a doggie so I got this one when I got a house."

Brooke: "But where do you live?"

Owner: "I live over there, not far. Where do you live?"

Brooke: "I live down the street."

And just like that my throat was full of sentimental lumps.

I have always been her communication conduit. In her broken toddler speak it was I that translated her wishes to the world. When she pointed to the moon and said unintelligible things like "wittez," I was the only one who knew she was saying "witches." When she saw something at the store that matched up with something we talked about at home, I knew what she was thinking and I answered her question before she knew how to ask it. I was her mind-reader, her primary translator, her language semi-conductor.

Watching her carry on this conversation with a total stranger made me realize that she didn't need me for that anymore. From here on out, she was good with making her own conversations. Those lumps left a bitter-sweet taste in my mouth.

Slowly, over time, the bottomless well of need abates, sometimes imperceptibly. Just when you complete and/or master one thing, a crop of different needs, issues, milestones come up with different ways in which your are forced outside of your comfort zone. The cycle feels endless.

But at some point you get used to it-- the change, the need, the challenge. And just when you do, it folds back onto itself and all over you like a rogue wave or some alternate universe--like an M.C. Escher optical illusion.

That same sad feeling I had when I realized the endless void of need of my newborn--came back around for the very opposite reason-- because I was no longer needed.

There is a biting sense of loss in moments like this. I have keep reminding myself that I'm not losing her and the reason she doesn't need me is because I gave her what I had, when she needed me most.

If I can hold on to the sweetness of that, while beating back the bitter, what a wonderful, endless circle of giving and letting go I can leave her with. Something she can use wherever she goes, and with whom ever she speaks to.

Round, and round, and round...

 

Shannon Lell is a fallen corporate ladder climber turned writer. She writes thoughtful, introspective pieces on personal and social issues at www.shannonlell.com.

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