[My Introvert Life is a series exploring my introversion as it presents itself in various life contexts.]
When I was pregnant, I suspected that having a child would profoundly impact the way I functioned and cared for myself as an introvert. Having less or virtually no “me” time was a given. I prepared myself for that. I told myself that it would just be a season and that in time, I would be able to find a new rhythm. I was right on that count.
What surprised me was the way my introvert needs compounded the hardships of the first month of motherhood. You see, for the first five weeks of Alena’s life, we had extra help from her grandparents who came in from out of town to be here with us. Her uncles and aunt also regularly came by to help us. While I was (and still am) deeply grateful for their company, encouragement and practical care, I hadn’t been prepared for the struggle it would be for introvert Olive. In retrospect, I can see that there were three main areas that were most affected.
1) Physical Space
According to Marti Olsen Laney in The Introvert Advantage (affiliate link), “Introverts feel drained by having their physical space intruded upon. It takes energy for them to be around people even if they are not interacting with them. This is very hard for extroverts to grasp since space is not an issue for them.” Having been accustomed to being mostly home by myself (and at most, having Tim around), our apartment was a sanctuary for me. Bringing a baby home was already an adjustment; it meant that there were now three people sharing our space. Adding two grandparents (and sometimes four) meant that I suddenly lost my safe place. I didn’t understand its significance at the time (I read Laney’s description after the fact), but on Boxing Day, Tim bought me a nice reading chair and set it up in a corner of our bedroom. This became a haven for me. It made a huge difference to know that even if there were guests in the living room, I had a corner that was “mine” to retreat to if need be.
Thankfully, neither set of grandparents actually lived with us when they were here. That would have been even more difficult of an adjustment. But even with their daytime visits, I ended up having to ask for some “days off” where no one would come by. I’m very grateful that our parents are such understanding and accommodating people and that they didn’t take my “off days” requests personally.
2) Auditory Space
I agree with Henri Nouwen’s sentiment that, “People expect too much from speaking, too little from silence” (The Genesee Diary, affiliate link). I found it challenging to keep up with all the sound in our house with the additional people around (I hesitate to use the word “noise,” but sometimes, that’s what it felt like). I understand that it’s unnatural for people to share a space without talking. After all, when we see someone, we automatically want to communicate through words. But for an introvert, silence is life-giving. And when there wasn’t enough silence, my energy tank depleted pretty quickly. Having a crying baby added to the noise, of course.
As with most of life, it took some trial and error before we got into a rhythm that was less draining for me. And although I was sad to see our parents leave at the end of their visit, I must confess that there was also a measure of relief knowing that I would have some space and silence back.
3) Relational Space
I remember one incident when I had been caring for Allie for a number of hours. I was feeling agitated and tired. At that moment, Tim walked by and I immediately asked him if he could attend to the baby. I felt an urgent need to do the dishes, or cut up some fruit, or make crepe batter… Anything other than take care of the baby. As I reflected back on what happened, it dawned on me that I needed to focus on a non-people task to re-group and re-energize myself. I needed some breathing space from this little person who was endlessly demanding. I had felt a bit guilty about passing off my child to her father (who was probably equally tired), but when I understood the reason for my action, I could extend grace to myself.
One of the ongoing “introvert dilemmas,” as one of my good friends calls it, is that there is always a tension between wanting to be with people – especially those we love – and needing to be alone. Those first weeks of motherhood were an extreme experience of that tension. I definitely learned a lot the hard way during those weeks. And I think we made it through mostly by the grace of God.