To My Friend, the New Mom
I see you. I mean, I really see you. I see you basking in that new-mother glow, holding your precious child close to you, smelling her hair. I see you nestling him into your chest and holding him like a little treasure from heaven, counting those perfect fingers and toes. I see you working to get her all swaddled like the nurses at the hospital (and not quite being able to master it). I see you, hesitant to let others hold your little bundle because, well, the bottle of hand sanitizer hasn't been touched yet. Oh, I see you. And I love you.
I also see you about two weeks later when you're home and your help has gone and you're alone with a screaming baby who won't calm down. And you're exhausted and sore and the whole birthing thing took more out of you than you thought it would. And you wonder why it's more difficult to adopt a dog than to bring home a baby. And then you think this:
"Why won't the baby stop crying? I've done everything the books say. I've swaddled. I've shushed. I've swung. I've done whatever-the-other-S-word-is. Still crying. Wailing. Ugh. What have I done? I have ruined my life. [GASP] WHAT'S WRONG WITH ME?! I can't believe I thought that! I'm a terrible mother! I mean, I wanted this. I prayed for it. I grew this person for nine months. How can I not know what to do here? I'm the worst. The worst."
You're not. Really, you're not. And you'll figure it out. And, in the great sisterhood of motherhood, I love you more than ever. Because I have been where you are. I have completely melted down out of frustration and exhaustion that was on a level that I didn't know existed. In the spirit of that sisterhood, I'm going to give you my few unsolicited pieces of advice that I have learned the hard way. May you take them for what they're worth (e.g., the ramblings of a crazy (read: possibly-two-glasses-in) mama):
1) Let this be your motto: "If Britney can do it, I can do it." There will be so many moments when you find yourself saying to yourself, "I don't know how to do it." These things include, but are not limited to: going to the grocery store, taking a shower, eating a complete meal with someone you love, etc. It's amazing how overwhelming the most basic thing can seem. I give you this example: My husband, upon finding me totally overwhelmed one morning after a particularly difficult night, announced that we were going to go to Chipotle for lunch. It would have been our first fun outing since becoming parents. I looked up at him with bloodshot eyes and whimpered, "I don't know how to do that." He met my gaze and slowly said, in a voice that you would use to talk to someone with dementia, "We're going to put the baby in the stroller and leave the house." And I responded, equally slowly, "I don't know how to do that." Then he gently took the baby out of my arms, carried him over to the stroller, placed him in the expensive bassinet attachment that I had insisted we purchase, and said, "Here we go. Just like this. It's okay. It's time. You need to leave the house. Now go change out of your pajamas and we'll go." This actually happened. I am not exaggerating. I didn't know how to go to Chipotle. Heck, I barely knew how to change out of pajamas.
There will be a lot of moments when you don't think you can do something that should be easy. Here's the thing: just do them. If it all goes to hell, you can go back home. But try anyway. Get out of your house. Feel the sunshine. Drive in your car with the windows down and the wind in your face. You may have a baby screaming the entire time in the car seat, but, with the windows open, it cuts the piercing quality. And you can sing along and finger-dance to your favorite songs while you ride down the road. You'll figure it out. You'll figure out if you want to haul the car seat into the place where you're going or if you want to snap the car seat into a stroller or if you want to wear the baby in a carrier. They're all good options. You will figure it out.
The idea of figuring it out can seem overwhelming. I get that. If only someone had told me, "If Britney can do it, you can do it." Once I figured it out and adopted this motto, everything got easier. I recommend you add it to your go-to sayings immediately. Yes, of course, celebrities probably (or almost certainly) have it easier than the rest of us, given that they most likely have a full staff of people at their disposal including personal chefs, night nurses, and live-in pediatricians. (I assume that's a thing.) But I choose to look at it from the "They're Just Like Us!" angle. Seriously, Britney Spears has two children. She's done this twice. She survived. And that was after the whole head-shaving phase. And, if you're not a Britney fan, you could really put any celebrity mom in there. I mean, if Kim K. can do it, you can do it. She named her first-born child a navigational direction. And she's still there. You've got this. You've so got this.
2) Get out of your house. I touched on this in #1, but I can't stress this enough. Leave your house. Get the heck out of there. Yes, you've spent all this time making the perfect nursery and creating something more beautiful and nurturing than a picture out of the Pottery Barn Kids catalogue. Yes, you want to be sure that your little one is sleeping only in the designated sleeping space. Yes, you are feeding this little hungry person every two hours and, just when they've finished feeding, they're hungry again, and you're their source of nourishment, and you can't go anywhere because you have to feed them so often, and ... Okay, whoa. Breathe. Yes, newborns eat a lot. And go through a lot of diapers. And they cry. There's not going to be a magic moment when that stops and the clouds spell out, "It's time to head into the world!" You have to make it happen. You can do it. Bring your diaper bag with your nursing cover (if that's your thing) or your bottles (if that's your thing) and some diapers and wipes. Getting a change of scenery is essential, if only going around the block. Trust me on this: it will clear your head and give you energy for the rest of the day. If you're worried about this, see #1.
3) Judge not, lest ye reap ten-fold what ye have judged. Since I've mentioned the breast- vs. bottle-feeding debate, let me say this: When it comes to mothering, I'm not a particularly judge-y person. I'm generally a "hey, you do you" kind of gal. But I did judge a fellow mom. Once. One single time. I remember it like yesterday. I had my little boy, my only child, the light of my life, at a friend's house. This friend also had a little boy, six months older than my own, who was the youngest of her three. Standing in her bedroom talking about something-or-other, she noticed me glancing at a pile of folded clothes that had collected in a chair. "They're all clean," she threw into the conversation, not missing a beat. "What?" I asked, startled and worried that I had come across as being judgmental of her housekeeping habits (which, of course, I secretly was). "The clothes. They're clean. I just haven't had a chance to put them away yet. You know all about that, right?" She smiled at me. I looked at her blankly. I didn't. I didn't know all about that. "Um, no. Sorry. I don't really do that at my house. I just put them away when they're clean." "Yes," she responded, "but where do they go when you take them out of the dryer before you put them away?" "I don't. I just put them straight from the dryer to where they go." I replied. "Well, someday, you won't." And she smiled. And that was the end of that sidebar of conversation.
I wish I could tell you that I didn't give it another thought. Oh, how I wish that. But I did, kind reader. I did think, "Wow. I could never live like that. It's such a mess. I would go crazy like that. I didn't know she was such a slob." And that, dear friend, is the minute that I brought the curse upon my house. Now, in a household of six people, two of whom don't have much control over their bodily functions, the laundry is out of control. Like, legit out of control. And don't even get me started on the kitchen countertops. Yes, when I judged those clothes piled in that chair, I cursed myself to be in my current situation. I don't have just a chair full of clothes. Oh no! I'm up to my knees in a small room. And they're not folded. They're haphazardly thrown into the room, like a crazy mosh pit of Downey- and OxyClean-laced fluffiness. When someone needs a pair of tights, they had better bring full SCUBA gear, because they may need it to dive down into the depths of the pile. And it's all clean. It's not the actual washing that takes the time. It's the putting away. And I'm pretty sure that the reason why things are such a disaster is because I once judged my friend for this.
So, learn from my example. Don't judge. Let's say you're an advocate of breastfeeding. Great! The minute you pass judgment on your fellow mother who is a bottle-feeder is the minute you come down horribly sick, go on "can't-nurse-on-this medication," and are forced to pour your own milk down the drain for a week while giving your child formula. Likewise, let's say you're an advocate for bottle-feeding. Great! The minute you roll your eyes at a mother nursing a child that you think is too old for it is the minute that your own child will decide to hold onto their pacifier until the fourth grade. Judge not, ladies. Karma is a bitch. If you don't believe me, I will show you to Mt. Clothes-forever-and-ever-est.
4) Trust your mom-brain instincts (and your doctor). Google is awesome. There's so much information right at your fingertips! But using Google as a doctor is not awesome. It is terrifying. There's so much information right at your fingertips! Dr. Google is your worst enemy. I beg you: do not Google your baby's symptoms. I made the mistake of googling what a smaller than I thought was normal soft spot on my fourth baby's head might mean. The next thing I knew, I was down the rabbit hole of reading about babies who need cranial reconstructive surgery. By the time we got to our two-week check-up, I was a wreck. My doctor looked at me like I was crazy, told me that my baby's soft spot was totally normal, and that we would not need to look into pediatric brain surgeons. But the damage is done. I constantly stroke his head at bedtime, looking for the soft spot and any signs that we need to call the brain surgeon. The rabbit hole is not your friend. Don't be the bunny.
On the other hand, if you feel like there's something really wrong, listen to that voice. Even if your friends or family tells you that something is just a phase or that everything seems fine, make the call. You will know your baby better than anyone, and if you feel in your gut that there's something that needs to be checked out, there probably is. Call your doctor. It may turn out to be nothing, but at least you will be able to sleep at night knowing that you called in the expert. And your pediatrician is okay with it and would rather have you call them than to have something go terribly wrong. I have friends who opened their baby's diaper and saw white poop. "That's weird," they thought, "but it's probably nothing." Still, it didn't sit right with them. They called their doctor and were told to get their baby to the emergency room. Apparently, white poop equals a serious liver problem. If your mom-brain is telling you to make the call, make the call.
This is true for a lot of things (i.e., interviewing babysitters, hiring birthday party entertainment, reviewing your friend's recommendation to make your own goat's milk formula, etc.). If it doesn't feel right to your mom-brain, it probably isn't. Learn to trust that.
5) You get to choose what kind of mom you are. Do you remember my friend with the laundry in the chair? There's a reason why she's my friend (and why I feel doubly guilty for my day of judgment). She told this to me in my early days and it is something that still rings true to me as I pass it on to you. I remember being overwhelmed by trying to figure out how to be a mom and still be me. (Um, there are a lot of days that I still struggle with this.) She said to me, "It's up to you. You get to choose what kind of a mom you are. If you want to be the fun, cool mom, be the fun, cool mom. If you want to be the no-nonsense mom, be the no-nonsense mom. If you want to fall in the middle somewhere, do that. There's no right or wrong answer to what you choose. Just know that you have the control over that." Over the years, she has elaborated. If you want to be a working mom, be a working mom. If you want to stay at home, stay at home. (Both of these are assuming that you have choices of one or the other. I realize that's a luxury not everyone has.) If you want to continue to make your friendships with your girlfriends a priority, you can do that. If you want to give up everything to solely focus on your baby, that's a choice you can make. But know this: just because you have a baby does not mean that you give up who you are. This new mother identity is huge, no doubt, but it's not all of you. Make time for the things that make you who you are. Choose to be what kind of mom you are with what works with your own gifts and talents. And don't apologize for it. You're the mom now.
6) Call in your village. Before you became a mother, you probably heard the phrase, "It takes a village to raise a child." Maybe you knew what it meant or maybe you didn't, but you're about to have a deep, personal understanding of this expression in a way you never had before. You need help. You may not even think you need it yet, but you do. And that's what your village is for. Your village will offer to bring you food. Or watch your baby while you run errands in joyful alone-time bliss. Or hold your baby while you shower. Or a million other things that you don't even know you need. Accept the help. It's hard to admit that you can't do it all by yourself. But you're not supposed to. Throughout generations, human beings have helped each other raise children and have supported their new mothers, especially in these early days. It's only in very recent times that the idea that you can have it all (and do it all single-handedly with a smile!) has developed. It's not reality. There's no shame in calling in help. There's a reason why flight attendants tell you to put your own oxygen mask on before putting one on your child. You have to take care of yourself. (Side note: You may have noticed that your emotions are all over the place. That's normal for a few days. But, by all means, if you think you have postpartum depression, make the call. You're not alone. Your village wants to help you. Let them.)
7) Soak it in. I realize that you're going to want to punch me in the throat for this one. I know that you are in a 24-hour cycle of nearly no sleep and sore nipples. Telling you to soak it in is crazy. (And, let's be clear: I don't want this to put pressure on you. If you don't soak it in, I still think you're still an awesome mom.) But here's what I didn't know about these early days: it goes fast. Faster than you think it will. Right now, you're probably wondering how long it's going to be before it gets easier. I'm here to tell you that it doesn't get easier; it gets different. Each stage of this whole baby thing has its good things and its bad things. You're in a stage where your baby will sleep on your chest. (And that may be the only place where she'll actually sleep.) You're in a stage where your baby will stay where you leave him (although I would definitely not recommend leaving him alone on a kitchen counter). You're in a stage where your baby will make little squeaks and gurgles that are newborn-only sounds. And when they're gone, they're gone. You only have about a month or maybe two before the new phase starts. And then a couple of months more before the next phase. And so on and so on. Then you blink and they're taking their first steps, or heading off to Kindergarten, or talking about where everyone is going on Spring Break.
So, take a minute and really live in that moment of having that snuggly little person. Smell their head. Notice how your hand can entirely wrap around theirs. Wonder at how you can hold them completely with one arm. Know that seeing someone you love passed out asleep with your baby on their chest will be one of your best-loved memories forever. Because just when you think you've got a handle on this stage, the next stage will be at your door. And it's wonderful (and awful sometimes) too.
But that's the nature of this sisterhood. It's constantly changing. What doesn't change is the excitement you feel when you hear that one of your friends is going to be a new mom. Because you get to walk this path with her (but from the other side). You will be the one giving her your lived-and-learned tips. You will sympathize in earnest when she tells you that her delivery didn't go according to her birth plan. You will hear her wonder at getting those first baby smiles. You will cheer and squeal when she tells you that her baby rolled over for the first time (and shows you a three-minute-long video clip). And it is exciting. Every time. You will see her. Really see her. And love her. Just like I am loving you. Welcome to the sisterhood, dear friend.