My brain is touched-out. Your body has probably felt touched-out, but what about your brain? That little baby’s body, attached to your body for nine months of pregnancy and a year of infancy, can leave your body feeling a tad smooshed. But, now that my babies aren’t babies, I need a new phrase to describe how my brain feels touched-out from all these motherhood demands. I need a phrase to describe how my brain feels “demanded-out”.
My brain seems to have a limit on the amount of tantrums, demands, requests, tears, pleas, hand signals, cries, speeches, and barks it can accept. After a certain point, I feel like my nerves become raw. After that point, I think my eyes go blank and I just try to survive until bedtime. My son knows that face, no matter how much I think I’m hiding it. I’m sure every mom goes through these same exact things in the same exact order.
Mr. Okayest doesn’t understand why I can’t just ignore the demands like he can. He really is amazing. He doesn’t get sweaty, like I do, when all three cry at the same time. He doesn’t get shrill, like I do, when everyone needs something at the same time. Just ignore them, he says.
He is so smart and so supportive and so observant, but I don’t think he will ever empathize with this mom feeling. Sympathize – yes. Empathize – maybe not. I try to explain to Mr. Okayest that, as a mother, I have no choice but to respond. I don’t necessarily blame hormones, because I felt this same way when we adopted our oldest. However, there is something hard-wired into our mom-brains that makes us have to respond.
I have to respond to their cries, either to shush them or to hug them. I have to respond to their sign-language requests for more milk, whether I get up right now or in a minute or never. I have to respond to the barking dog, whether I put her in her crate or put her shock collar on. I have to respond to the phone ringing, either to look at the caller ID or to decide not to answer it, even if I am feeding a baby. I have to respond to their cries in the night, even if I am a firm believer in “crying it out” (which I am), and even if “respond” simply means I wake up with them and lie there in the dark until they fall asleep again.
There is no ignoring of anything, even if my choice is not to meet that request. Every demand is catalogued in my brain. Every single cry, plea, bargain, and questionable poop noise: it’s all getting catalogued in my brain and silently prioritized. With four children under four in our house (adoption + my niece + IVF twins), every single moment is a list of needs from an army of small people. In my brain. All the time.
I don’t know how to stop it. My senses got messed up during my horrific twin pregnancy and the whole almost-dying-during-childbirth thing. I think most new moms feel this way: everything was too bright, too loud, too rough, too shrill, too painful. But my senses didn’t seem to right themselves after recovery was over. I entered a fight-or-flight feeling that went on for a year. My adrenaline never stopped pumping. Even after my twins started sleeping through the night at seven months, I couldn’t relex. Even though my job was done at 7:30 PM, and I knew they would sleep for twelve hours straight, sometimes I couldn’t stop pacing the house until my husband literally took my hand and pulled me down.
Finally, around the twins’ first birthday, my own psychology degree hanging on the wall convinced me to talk to the doctor about that feeling. I work on that feeling every day. Sometimes I have to call my husband at work to give me the “pep talk”, but I have come a long way.
No matter how far I come, though, I don’t think I will ever be able to relax all the way. Moms have to prioritize every messy moment of every messy day. I am so demanded-out. Some nights I become zombie-mommy as I go glassy-eyed at the last of the day’s cries/pleas/tantrums/barks. But I’m alive, I’m here, I’m okayest, and I’m not going to ignore this messy beautiful life.
Even though maybe sometimes I wish I could.
This essay and I are part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project from the Momastery blog. To learn more, CLICK HERE. To learn about the New York Times Bestselling Memoir “Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life”, CLICK HERE.