While preparing to be a first-time mom, I devoured articles and blog posts on childcare, child health, child learning, child do’s and don’ts, parent do’s and don’ts, breast-feeding, pumping at work, etc. I learned some amazing things from what I read but I also read through a lot of personal opinions presented as fact. I scoffed at some people’s approach while others’ made me question my capability as a soon-to-be mother.
I knew I wouldn’t start Emma off on formula without first giving an honest try at breastfeeding but I also had to admit that my love for the planet and fear of chemical burn was surpassed by my desire to throw away a poop-saturated diaper as it occurred. And I’m still deciding if I’ll be a mom who makes baby food from scratch or buys it; currently, I’m leaning toward both.
Emma is over 4 months and I can now write the above paragraph without any hint of self-loathing or doubt. Yes, I wanted to try to breast feed. No, I didn’t want to try cloth diapers. But the past 4 months haven’t been quite so easy. Blog posts and status updates show us the best of our peers and social media makes no apology for touting the image of the flawlessly styled and capable mom, whether working in or outside of the home. If someone else can make it look so easy, surely I can be a runner-up, right?
Here is what I’ve learned so far in motherhood:
- Stop obsessing.
- When I left the hospital with Emma, I was given a chart with diaper goals to keep for the first week or two of Emma’s life. I kept that chart religiously until Emma’s first doctor’s appointment. There I pulled out the sheet and started pointing, “Here, she missed 1 wet but she had an extra dirty and the next day she was 2 over on wets and shy of a dirty! Is that okay? I am feeding her all the time!” Do you know what he said? He said, “Is your child relatively happy? When she cries, do you change her, feed her, rock her, add a blanket or take one away? Yes? Then throw out the sheet.”
- We are inundated with information today. Goals. Averages. Ideals. We can get so caught up with the numbers that we miss the big picture. I’m not saying that the charts aren’t helpful but I am saying that our information overload can drown out our own intuition, our self-sufficiency. And it’s okay to put the chart down and rely on ourselves as new moms. Even if it’s our first time doing it.
- How to make the right decision FOR ME, not for you.
- Emma would not sleep a lick in her bassinet. She was born 22 inches long and I think her height may have had something to do with but it could have just been personal preference (Who could say? She’s a baby!). The point is, my husband and I were constantly waking up to her crying, her head or feet resting on one side or the other of the bassinet. Maybe as early as two or three weeks in, Fred took Emma into her “big girl crib” in the next room and laid her down. We were desperate for an hour straight of sleep but I was consumed with guilt. I spent that hour on Google, trying to look up how early you could safely transition your child from your room to her own room. I read posts of parents that transitioned as early or earlier and more that didn’t. Then I stumbled across a comment thread where someone stated that a child must hear her mother’s breathing to regulate her own breathing during the night. My heart stopped. I got up several times to check on her, certain that I was putting my child in danger. Do you know what happened? She slept until my alarm went off to feed her. I tried to get her into the bassinet after that but she just didn’t want to be there. The crib worked for us.
- Break some rules for sanity.
- Around the same time, I was trying desperately to keep pacifiers away from Emma. I was told to wait at least 4 weeks to reduce the chance of nipple confusion, which could cause an issue with breastfeeding. Wouldn’t you know it, at 2am with a screaming baby in my ear, I was boiling pacifiers. The pacifier helped Emma calmed down and she’s still breast feeding like a champ today.
- It’s okay if it’s not “The Best Thing Ever.”
- People constantly asked me in those early weeks, “Isn’t it [motherhood] the best thing ever?” I so wanted it to be. And I wanted to believe it when the words left my lips but to be honest, I was just agreeing with them so they didn’t see me as unfit or label me with postpartum depression. It was really hard at first. It was exhausting trying to recover and take on this new role. It was frustrating to be met with a tiny, grumpy, crying face for what felt like no reason (which I later learned was the face of gas…gas feels like no reason). At 6 weeks, I realized how beautiful my daughter truly was. At 3 months, I was downright in love and at 4, I’m finding more and more laughter with Emma every day. But at 4 weeks? The best thing ever sounded like a break. Like deciding at 7pm that my husband and I were going to try that new restaurant and split a bottle of wine, no baby schedule to keep. It didn’t sound like diaper changes, late nights crying, and a perpetually grumpy baby.
- Motherhood is really hard.
- Motherhood is the most difficult thing I’ve ever taken on. It’s quickly becoming the most joyful and rewarding too but it is downright hard just the same. It’s hard without all the blog posts telling you you’re doing it wrong or could be doing it better. It’s hard to set alarms in the middle of the night to feed or pump. It’s hard to go back to work and worry about your child’s well being and it’s hard to be home and worry about her socialization. It’s hard to go to work and measure your success by the ounces you pump and it’s hard to be at home and measure your success by how many meals you’ve cooked or rooms you’ve cleaned. It can feel isolating. Even with the most involved husband, I carry the majority of Emma’s well being on my shoulders. A lot of that is probably perceived responsibility but the weight is real.
- Support other parents.
- I started learning this lesson with Emma’s birth. My story was not at all like I imagined and I took it pretty hard but I also started to realize that a lot of life is out of our control. We do our best. If my best is a non-emergency c-section, a big girl crib, early pacifier, and a daycare center then good for me! And if your best is an epidural, a Moses basket, formula bottles, and leaving your job, good for you! If we love our children and help them to grow and learn…if we protect them and feed them and bathe them…then good for us! Organics or generics. Breast milk or formula. Stay at home or work. In-home daycare or center. One child, many children. New clothes or hand-me-downs. Do we love our children and help them to grow and learn? Do we protect them and feed them and bathe them? Then good for us!
- Give it to God.
- Don’t get caught up in the blog posts, the social media images, the need to impress. Follow the path that God sets out for us and let the rest of it go. He gives us a pretty solid model for parenthood. So far, it’s the only one that hasn’t left me feeling inadequate or judged. Mercy and grace, folks. Receive it. Give it. Encourage it.