An Everyday Adventure

These are the moments you'll look back on


A sharp cough stirs me from my dead sleep. I blink and freeze, holding my breath. Another cough, and then a thin wail rises from the monitor next to my head. “Mmmph,” my husband mumbles.

“I got this one,” I tell him and practically fall out of bed, tripping over boxes—still not unpacked—in my hurry to replace the baby’s pacifier before she realizes she’s awake and the whole night goes to hell, like last night did. And the night before—or the one before that? I am losing track of time.

In Ella’s room across the hall, the white noise machine grates on my ears. I fumble around the baby, who is sitting up and screaming while still technically asleep, to find a pacifier. Under my breath, I curse whatever fool decided these things should be transparent and virtually invisible in darkness.

Aha. Gotcha, you slippery bastard. Back in her mouth it goes. She sways like a cartoon drunk, her whole torso tracing a circle in the air, before she collapses face down in the crib. I wait, hands up, afraid to make a noise or even to shift my weight away from her, lest the invisible tether between her body and mine tighten and let her know her mami is leaving her here in this giant new room in the dark by herself.

The sight of her lying there so soft and small and warm—how can I sense that warmth from this far away?—melts me, and I forget the dread I felt when that first cough came through the monitor. I smile and tiptoe out of the room.

Back in bed, Jon whispers, “She go back down?”

“Mmhm.” I am already dropping off myself. Cough. Cough.

“Noooo,” I groan.

Jon sighs and throws the covers off. “I’ll try a bottle.”

Lather, rinse, repeat, until the alarm goes off at 5:30 and we begin the dance of getting ready for work with an active eight month old.

I am tired. I am cranky. The humidity has made makeup pointless, I haven’t had time to wash and blow dry my hair (a pixie cut! who doesn’t have time to blow dry a pixie cut?!) in easily three days, I am still wearing maternity shirts, and any grown-up shoes I owned before the move have yet to be excavated from boxes. I leave for the day looking like I am headed for summer camp, or an insane asylum. At daycare, Ella cries and clings to me, and I have to physically peel her off me and hand her to a woman she doesn’t yet recognize so that I can get in my car and drive two-plus hours to the city to a job that I have been behind at since I returned from leave five months ago. At 5:00, nearly twelve hours after getting out of bed, I hustle to my car to sit in traffic for another two-plus hours to get home, where my baby will likely already be headed for sleep and my husband will be so burnt out that all we can do is exchange grunts from opposite ends of the couch. If I am lucky, I will eat dinner. If I am very lucky, dinner will not be potato chips. Again.

I miss my baby, my Ella June, my little hurricane of opinions and noise and snuggles. I miss those days cuddled up on the couch during my (very generous) maternity leave, she and I a little planet unto ourselves while Jon circled us, a watchful moon, ferrying me coffee and the remote control. I miss Ella’s humor and babble during the week those midnight screams are almost all I get of her, and I count the moments to the weekend, when she and I can giggle and play instead of moving from one small crisis to the next.

And I miss my husband. All of this maintenance we do—of the baby, of the cats, of the cars, of our new home—has sapped us of the offbeat banter that is so much a part of who we are as a couple. It matters more now that he is a man and I am a woman. Somehow this shared experience of parenthood has served to point out differences I was never aware of before. What we need most right now is time to find our new selves together. Or maybe just some more sleep. Either way, it’s not happening this week, or even next.

Most of all, I miss me.

I miss my pregnant body, full of possibility, healthy and strong and powerful. Eight months into my pregnancy, I proudly wore an absurdly small bikini. Now I can’t even manage a pair of heels. I’ve only made it to yoga once since having Ella, and I’ve been sick with seven separate illnesses since she started daycare.

I miss my creativity. I haven’t written a word in months, couldn’t even finish writing the story of Ella’s beautiful birth. All those books I loaded on my Kindle for maternity leave? They mock me with their little “New!” banners, unread. Their sequels have been out for months, and I can’t get through a full chapter in day.

I miss my confidence. I question every decision I make now—going back to work after the baby, moving from our apartment in Salem, buying our first home in the boonies of central Massachusetts. I question my ability to succeed at my job, which used to be such a source of fulfillment for me. I question my fitness as a mother, particularly on those screaming drop off days—what kind of woman leaves her child like this when all that baby wants is more time with Mami?

“I feel like I am doing everything wrong,” I tell my mother after one particularly heart-wrenching departure.

“I remember those days,” she tells me. Her voice is sympathetic, but also wistful.

And that’s what gets me in the gut. She remembers those days, because they are gone. Every moment is another moment passing us by, hurtling Ella June toward childhood, adolescence, adulthood. She got a tooth last week—a tooth! Soon she’ll have a backpack and a license and a career and a home of her own.

This, right now, this is it. The big adventure, the life adventure, the everyday adventure. It’s hard to think of it that way some days. Some days I can’t remember the last time I had a full night’s sleep or a dinner that wasn’t cold already or a single day when I felt like a confident, capable, attractive human being—on these days, I feel like my life left me behind.

But if I can stop for a moment and remember what this is—a journey, a challenge, an adventure so beautiful that sometimes it just has to hurt—I can savor the midnight teething cries right along with the good morning giggles.

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  • Sarah

    Danielle, you write so beautifully! Things may be tough, but your love for your little family really shines through here (and makes me yearn for us to start our own). I hope you keep this for your daughter to read one day.

  • Amy Sigmon

    Oh boy, this went straight to my heart. We’re in a new city, with a 7 month old baby. I drop him off at daycare (he’s not quite old enough for separation anxiety yet, thankfully) and I miss him all day. Home doesn’t feel like home yet, and he’s sick with some unidentified stomach bug and I hate that I can’t be with him to wait out this illness. Last night he wanted something at 11:45, and I can’t mind the cuddles when it’s all the time I get with him.

  • momofJ

    Yes! Thanks for reminding me that this is the new day-to-day adventure.

    And, this: “I miss Ella’s humor and babble during the week those midnight screams are almost all I get of her, and I count the moments to the weekend, when she and I can giggle and play instead of moving from one small crisis to the next.” I have an almost-nine-month-old, and that’s exactly how I feel during the week! And, maybe this helps and maybe this doesn’t, but she cries just as much when I leave her for work – and she stays home with dad – so don’t let daycare guilt get you. It’s a mommy-phase, and I can’t wait for it to pass. Just when I think the mind-fuck of being a parent has passed (I have no idea what I’m doing! I thought I was a capable person, but this little being KNOWS I’m really an idiot, or she wouldn’t be screaming at me like that!), there’s another reason to be betwixt and between.

    Thanks for sharing this, it’s much more elequent than it would be if I had written it, and yet it sums up my experiences too!

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  • Kris

    As a Canadian, it blow my mind that 3 months maternity leave is considered “generous”.

    • Erin

      As an American it blows my mind that 3 month maternity leave is considered “generous.”

      • Emily

        Unfortunately for this American, 6 weeks would be generous.

        • Alyssa M

          Indeed. My co-worker just came back after four weeks unpaid leave that included a stint in the NICU. 3 months paid leave would have been a godsend for her. The lack of a system in this country blows.

      • I’m looking forward to zero paid maternity leave and the fact that I can’t go back to work, at least not at my current job, because I wouldn’t make enough money to pay for daycare. I am so glad I have the savings that I have been white knuckling for all these years. so so glad, because, I have no idea how anyone does this and survives.

        • mama to be

          I don’t know how I am going to do it. I am still in graduate school and got pregnant WAY faster than we ever expected I would (like, before actually trying), and I have no paid anything. Thank goodness for my husband’s absolutely kick-ass health insurance and decently-paid job! We will be teetering on the line of being able to make ends meet, but at least I know that our health care costs will be 90% covered.

        • accidental_diva

          First congrats on the baby!

          This! My ex boyfriend and I did the math when we had a small scare once- when we (at 29 & 27) figured out how much daycare was at both in home and the both centers in my neighborhood I nearly had an anxiety attack- there was no way I could afford my commute, my bills (car, student loan, paying off credit cards) and daycare even if we lived entirely on his salary- I had never been so excited to get my period than I was that week.

    • vegankitchendiaries

      I felt the same way reading Hayley’s essay when she shared her delight at getting health insurance… Poor Yanks, man.

    • Grace from England

      Yep, this is confusing for Brits too. We are entitled to 6 months paid leave (not necessarily full pay, but at least £600 a month) and then up to 6 more months unpaid during which time your employer is legally obligated to keep your job open.

      • LL

        It’s nine months paid leave for Brits, then three months unpaid. Grouching about my measly £600 a month statutory maternity pay seems a bit ungrateful reading how bad you guys have it!

    • enfp

      Ditto. I actually read that line as ironic/sarcastic at first, and then did a double take and re-read it.

    • Kayakgirl73

      Yep and it’s mostly unpaid, or perhaps you might get six weeks at 60% of your salary but then you still have taxes taken out and health insurance premiums

    • Danielle Griggs

      Yep. I work at Harvard and have great benefits, so I actually got more paid or partially paid leave than anyone I know. And I have an incredibly supportive boss so was able to take an extra week at the end with no problem. If my husband worked here, he would have had a month’s paternity leave, too – but his current company doesn’t offer it, so he had a few days’ vacation time and that was it. Don’t get me started!

    • JenClaireM

      This line really stuck with me too, and I’m an American who is used to our crappy maternity/paternity leave situation (and health care situation). But I find it so infuriating and unfair that three months is considered generous when it’s really not a lot of time AND many people don’t even come close to having that much time. It really demonstrates how much our society’s priorities are not on individual, family or children’s health and well being. And that makes me sad.

      I’m glad you had that time though. I wish everyone could have that and more – as much as they feel they need.

    • Inmara

      It blows my European mind too… But, as I have seen in comments in other websites, for many Americans this system seems to be normal, and there is some salt of grain in it – after all, USA has in general much lower taxes than Canada and most European countries, where huge social benefits are funded by those taxes. So either you give your money to government and expect paid maternity leave in return, or you have all your salary yourself and put significant part into savings. What really lacks in this picture is solid maternity leave policy (guaranteed spot after returning, funded daycare if both parents work, leave for father etc).

  • kcaudad

    I know this wasn’t the intent… but, these are the reasons I don’t think I could handle a baby right now. People always seems so nastalgic of this ‘wonderful’ time, but it all just seems so difficult!
    Danielle – Sorry things are so challenging for you during this crazy time.

    • Kara

      EXACTLY! This is beautifully written, but it definitely made me cringe because none of these things sound like experiences I want to have right now—or in the near future.

    • ha, ironically, this MADE me want to be a mom ;)

      • Ariel

        me too!

      • AlisonHendryx

        me too! I just turned 30, and we’ve said we’ll try when I’m 33. These are going to be looooong years for me. I’ve always been the lady at the grocery store that makes faces at strangers babies, but now, it raises a lump in my throat and I feel myself physically restraining my hands from touching their little cheeks. (I promise I’m not a creep….)

    • I totally agree. Some mornings, I stand like a zombie in the shower and try to imagine having a little one sleeping in a crib upstairs… When that no longer makes me feel suffocating panic, then maybe I’ll be “ready.” Maybe.
      Hugs Danielle, Thank you for sharing. I admire the heck out of you. Especially where you mention feeling like you’re “doing everything wrong.” We ALL get that. And rather than “right” or “wrong,” I think we have to shoot for “the best we can.”

    • Fitzford

      Parenthood is really a spectrum of experiences. I share some similarities with the author – full-time job, daycare with a toddler that still cries on drop-off – but my description of my evenings/nights home are vastly different. But our circumstances are differently (namely, no 2 hour commute for me). Not that this experience wouldn’t be a possibility for you (or me, as I’m expecting baby #2) but it’s not a forgone conclusion.

      • Danielle Griggs

        A spectrum of experiences is so right. I wrote this only a few weeks ago, on basically no sleep. I felt like I was in a hole and couldn’t possibly dig out of it. I actually just posted another sleep update on my blog ( yesterday, and writing it was a good reminder that actually, we were spoiled rotten with a baby who started sleeping through the night at 6 weeks! The past month or so was really tough with so many big changes at once, but it’s temporary and we’re already coming out of it. I feel so much distance from where I was when I wrote this post. It’s not all bad, and the bad parts are temporary. But I think what’s been scary is realizing that not only the bad parts, but also the good, amazing, beautiful parts are temporary too.

  • NTB

    Beautifully and honestly written. Thinking of you during this time. It sounds like you are a very hardworking person and wonderful parents to your sweet babe. Wishing you much joy on your adventure. <3

  • Okay just stop, I’m in tears. Can’t handle it. This has to be one of my all time favorite posts!! Yes to all of it, to all of the shades of the spectrum of our moments, our choices, our lives…and now I really really want to be a mama.

  • lady brett

    “an adventure so beautiful that sometimes it just has to hurt”. i need to hold onto this today.

  • SuperDaintyKate

    Danielle, you capture so beautifully and eloquently the tension that I believe to be endemic to early parenthood. I am not a parent, so I know that I cannot begin to understand what you are going through. But your piece brought to mind a conversation I had recently with a very dear friend with a very sick baby. She spoke of how she felt she had completely lost herself, her marriage, her friends, her work, but would find herself bleary eyed and exhausted during 3 am feedings, thinking “I hope this isn’t the only time I get to experience this”.

  • Danielle Griggs

    Thanks for the love, friends! Sleep deprivation is a powerful thing – I wrote this a few weeks ago and since then things have settled down (although not the commute!). It’s amazing how much more manageable everything is with an extra hour or two of rest!

  • This is beautiful. And scary as I hurtle toward childbirth in December, but beautiful. Thank you.

  • Rachelle

    This is really incredibly written! All I can think is so good, but so scary. I don’t even have children yet and it’s hard for me to fit sleep, work, gym, cooking, cleaning, shower and (hopefully) hanging out with my husband and dog for a bit into the day. And my commute is only 20 minutes :(

  • ” I haven’t written a word in months.” But you did get yourself to write this beautiful essay. Go you!

    Although…it encapsulates why I have always planned to quit my job for a potential future baby.

    • Danielle Griggs

      It’s funny – this was seriously the first thing I had been able to write since having the baby, but once I spit this out, it’s like the flood gates opened, and now I kind of can’t stop. Sometimes you just have to get over the hurdle! Thanks so much for the love!

  • Kelly

    4 hours commute every day? Is that worth it? Even if you didn’t have a child?

    This story does break my heart, because of so many family moments that are missed due to commuting.

    • Danielle Griggs

      That’s a question I ask myself every day. As it is, I have really phenomenal benefits and a boss who has been super supportive of me as a working first time mom. I’ve had the flexibility to come and go as I need to (I almost never make it to work much before 10 these days), and I’ve been protected when I’ve had to take (a lot) of sick days for myself or for my daughter, which is particularly important because my husband has absolutely no flexibility at his job, even though it’s closer to home. I also get paid much better for what I do where I am than I will be anywhere else. So those are all pros I have to weigh against any opportunities closer to home. It’s a decision I struggle with, though, and one I have to keep thinking about.

      Also, for the Boston area, almost anything that isn’t in the immediate vicinity of your job amounts to a commute of some kind. Salem, where we used to live, is considered a commuter town, so lots of people head into Boston from there. That was about a three hour commute every day, and so many people do it. I’ve found ways of using the time in the car (that’s another blog post!), but every minute in traffic is a minute I don’t get with my girl. It’s a tough balance.

      • E

        Have you looked into daycare options near your office? I’m pretty sure Harvard has a childcare center somewhere on campus. It might not be snuggle time, but at least you’d be with your daughter during the commute.

  • tiffany

    This Right Here. I needed this. I’m terrified to have a wee one. I hear that it is a great and wonderful time, but also a terrilbly trying time. The hubby and I aren’t even celebrating our one year, and we feel that the pull of daily life has destroyed a little bit of what made us, us. It seems like we are strangers drifitng together. We are both just standard employees at jobs, that while we may be don’t hate, we certainly don’t love. We make enough to get by, and barely at that it seems. I have health insurance that is a joke, he has none. We are also working on getting preggers… That scares the hades out of me. My health insurance won’t cover hadly any of the pregnancy, maternity leave is a nice notion, but not a reality, it’s called using your vacation time (two weeks if I’m lucky), and then child care almost immediately. I’m scared of losing a bit more of us, though I know that we will be adding a new little us to the mix and surely that will make things worth it? I’m scared, yet excited to find our new identity if and when we do have a wee one come along. This post encapsulated everything I fear and look forward to in motherhood.. the fear of losing my self or that I won’t like the new, changed me, the fear that I will utterly fail and let down both the wee one and my hubby, the fear that I will let down myself. Also, the excitement of having a wee one depending on you, being able to have a new identity outside of the one I have created, a new dimension to my marriage, and little family.
    Thank you, this was something that I really needed to read as we work towards adding to our little family. This was beautifully written and exactly right. May I be able to pass into motherhood with the grace that you have shown.

  • JenClaireM

    Thank you for this gorgeous post. I teared up a little reading it. I’m amazed that you wrote this on so little sleep because it’s so thoughtfully written and insightful. I’m pregnant now, and while the parts about balancing work, self, family, and sleep scare me a little, the over all message of your post make me feel warm and excited about what’s to come.

    Also I used to live in Mass. and totally have fantasies about how moving back there would make life easier – this was a useful reminder that life is life wherever we are.

    • Danielle Griggs

      Ella June is passed out face down on my lap right now. I promise, it’s all worth it.

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  • Damn that back at work at 3 months old is considered generous maternity leave.
    I got three months PAID leave, and (if I had been employed rather than self-employed) would have got another 9 months unpaid after that.
    And I still felt guilty dropping Little off at daycare at 11 months old.
    I cant imagine how hard your life is. I hope you find some rest and reconnecting time soon.

  • Jennifer Geib

    Beautifully said! Reading this was like seeing my own thoughts from the past 11 months float across the screen – the overwhelming love, the insecurity, the worry, the laughter, all of it. I try and keep reminding myself that in the grand scheme of things this time is so fleeting, but sometimes all the tough bits just get overwhelming. Yet I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

  • ZS

    The thing that got me about this piece is how it seems to struggle to find something good to say, the “oh I’ll miss this too” ending. It’s true…but I remember feeling that I HAD to find something positive to say because I couldn’t just complain to everyone all of the time. I had to find an upside. I wanted to tell the author of the piece that it’s okay to just be miserable at the crappy situation, at needing to work but wanting to be with your kiddo but then just wanting kiddo to please please please sleep.

    I am the parent of a two year old, and I still feel exhausted. Not all the time, though, and not the same exhaustion as the beginning. I was in law school and my wife was in graduate school, and we had a new baby. Neither of us officially took time off/could take time off, but realistically we were barely students and barely parents. Mostly zombies. At least I didn’t have much of a commute, and I could do some of my work at home with a nursing baby on me, but I just wanted to extend my empathy to the author. I wish you lots of support and luck.

  • Candice

    As someone that is self employed, I wouldn’t get even a day of paid maternity leave. I have disability insurance, but that doesn’t cover maternity like the state programs do. So I can’t even think about starting a family till my husband and I can save up enough for me to not work for *maybe* 3 months.

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