Motherhood is one of those things you have to just dive in and do. There isn’t much that can prepare you for the mishmash of emotions that comes alongside the simple tasks of caring for a baby. The small things seem enormous and the big can swallow you whole. Other times you can surmount the challenge of it with ease. Here are a few things I’ve learned since becoming a mother.
1. The Value of Help
When I finally worked myself up to taking the baby who wanted none of the carseat out for errands, I quickly learned the value of help from others. I’d hear people pointing to the baby as I carried him through stores. Shoppers would stop to help me pick up this or that off the shelves or open doors. More importantly, I noticed how much the baby evoked in strangers an immediate, positive response. Coffee shop patrons would strike up conversation and reminisce about their own children as they gooed and gawed at my son. I knew that I looked the part of the first-time mother, juggling the newness of it all through the fog of exhaustion. I evoked a nostalgia for the early days of parenting in those kind strangers I encountered while out and about. A time when parenthood is so raw that it hurts, but there’s also a sweetness in those days. If nothing else, those strangers made a mom who was just barely handling it feel waves of good vibes.
Knowing the value of a kind word here or a homemade meal there, I am keenly aware of how little I helped those mothers who came before me. I didn’t know it was this hard, and I didn’t know how lonely it could be.
2. Motherhood is a trial by fire
When it was finally my time, when those nine months of pregnancy were behind me and I was thrown into the thick of it, I felt woefully ill-prepared. I wish I spent less time while pregnant reading about birth and more learning about baby! I felt uncertainty in breastfeeding, normal sleep expectations, and baby developmental stages. To be truthful, motherhood is a bit of a trial by fire in that nothing quite prepares you for what is to come. You have to become comfortable in caring for babe through experience. As my experiences with Finn mounted and he reassured me with his growth and developmental accomplishments, I was finally able to let go of some of the plaguing doubts.
3. Society’s expectations don’t have to be yours (they certainly aren’t your baby’s)
Society does mothers a disservice by loading unrealistic expectations onto already burdened shoulders. Often my baby and I are met with questions like “is he a good baby,” and “does he sleep through the night?” Here’s the thing — babies are intrinsically neither good nor bad, they merely have needs. Babies, especially those quite young, need to be fed every few hours. More than feeding, babies experience a lot during the first year. Developmental milestones and teething alone can cause restlessness and irritability in babies. A baby isn’t “bad” or difficult because he needs reassurance or pain relief. As a parent, I don’t clock out at the designated bedtime and leave my baby to fend for himself. Babies have needs to be met – not to mention the adjustment to life outside the womb – and their only means of communicating is to cry. These are biological needs and responses and framing them as though a baby is “good” or “bad” puts enormous pressure on mothers. If a baby has physiological needs that demand attention, does that make the baby a “bad” baby and reflect poorly on the mother? This is all just nonsense. Let’s reframe our understanding of a baby’s needs and go easy on the mothers. They’re burden is weighty.
4. Trust your mother’s intuition
Advice streams in from every direction and so it becomes difficult to discern your own voice amidst the din. A lot of my unease during the very early weeks came from doubt in my ability to properly care for my baby. But that’s just it – who decides what is “proper” when it comes to parenting unique children under unique circumstances? Why did I feel as though my instincts were not enough. I questioned myself constantly, and the last thing I needed was the burden of comparison and the expectations of others in how I should be mothering. Part of this, of course, is that the enormity of the responsibility of being a parent was sinking in just as the hormones were wrecking havoc. To be sure, this is a battle for each mom to fight against herself. I’ve learned to foremost listen to my intuition. No one knows what’s right for your baby better than you do. The only expert on your baby is you. Trust yourself.