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Hard Things Get Better

Jessica Santini-Levenhagen, Grand Forks, North Dakota

Editor’s Note: This essay was originally published in the Fall 2020 edition of Northern LLLights, the Area Newsletter for La Leche League of MN/Das.


Jessica and her kids

When my second son, Holden, was born in 2016, we struggled with his latch for the first couple of months. He had a shallow latch, he had a tongue-tie, and he was determined to suck his thumb while he tried to nurse. As you can imagine, this made for some frustrating moments for both of us. Because I struggled so much getting up and down after a difficult cesarean birth, we spent our early days nursing in a power/lift recliner in my bedroom loaned to me by my in-laws.

Holden’s older brother, Cooper, who was two at the time, was endlessly fascinated by this power chair that would slowly catapult his mom to a standing position or lower her back down to settle in for more nursing his new brother. I, on the other hand, was not so enamored.

Here I was, living in a power/lift chair, wearing a diaper just like my baby, stitched and bandaged across my abdomen, and constantly warmpacking and massaging engorged breasts. I was sad to be facing another hard recovery with this second birth when I had hoped for something much faster and easier. What I really needed was some perspective and encouragement. And who better to offer it than a toddler?

Around our third day home from the hospital, two-year-old Cooper climbed up on the arm of the chair and peeked over my shoulder while I tried to adjust Holden’s latch. Hungry, angry Holden’s face scrunched up and turned red as he howled at the outrage of being denied his thumb while nursing. Cooper patted his back and offered earnestly, “Don’t worry, Holden. Things are hard sometimes, but it will get better.” Those two sentences, particularly in the way they were offered with the purity of a child’s sincere honesty and certainty, were a turning point for me in facing our challenges, and I’ve thought of them often since.

Still, it’s so hard to know that things will get easier in the early days of something new, whether it’s a new baby, going back to work after a birth, adding a sibling, a toddler potty training, any new phase of our lives, really. This assurance is also hard to remember in the middle of hard things that go on longer than expected or that don’t follow a desired linear pattern, such as children’s sleeplessness, transitioning to solids, trying a preschool program for the first time, or you know, navigating the unpredictable, daily changes to our lives brought on by a pandemic.

By the time Cooper was nearing three, he was able to offer wise assurance to newborn Holden, which assured me as well. How easily we forget that things are genuinely hard for our babies and toddlers, too! But out of those hard things, with support and tenderness, resilience grows; that’s the “things get better” part. I’ve only been a mom for six years, but I know this is a hard time to be a mom. This is a “sometimes” when things are hard for all of us for very serious reasons, but with support and tenderness toward ourselves and toward our children, perhaps even offered by our children, we will see one another through until it gets better.

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