Motherhood Is Not “One Size Fits All”
It seems like every mom that you talk to while pregnant has the same advice to share.
The picture these moms paint is what causes most females to crave the experience of motherhood. As little girls, we play with baby dolls and know only the sweet, adorable, and precious parts of having a baby. As pregnant women, we visualize this perfect life so vividly that it actually allows us to push through the excruciating pain of labor to get to the prize on the “other side."
What I want to share is what REALLY happens on the “other side." I love my daughter, and I love being a mom; however, the canned advice that we feed each other is not doing us new moms any favors. We harbor guilt when we don’t experience things in the way that we were promised.
"It’s true that from an optimistic perspective you will take pride in your baby’s dependency on you; however, optimism is a rare companion to sleep deprivation and major life changes."
Things I've Learned From My Experience as a New Mom
Love at first sight?
It’s true. You will go through so much during the birthing process and the moment that your baby is born you will be a hormonal mess. It won’t be rational but you’ll probably cry and feel overcome with happiness, adrenaline and serenity. This probably isn’t really “love at first sight” but a major flood or hormones. You’ll need this to get through the first night with your baby since you’ll be insanely sleep deprived. I couldn’t even identify my emotions after the birth of my daughter. I just simply cried, wanted to hold her and felt peace in knowing that the endless-seeming birthing process had ended successfully.
The best job in the world
You will think this is all a sick joke by day 2. You might start to question your decision to become a parent and mourn the life that you’ve now left behind. As you grasp how much constant attention is required of you, you will start to reminisce about your old life and mentally list the things you’ll never do again (or at least not for the next 5-10 years). You will seriously question how some of the people that you know have children and have kept them alive or have chosen to keep them at all! It still amazes me to think about how someone with an unplanned pregnancy can possibly have the mental strength and motivation to do this job. It also amazes me how single parents and couples with minimal outside support survive. I’m lucky to have a super star husband and an unbelievably supportive set of family and friends. Anyone without that deserves serious kudos!
The breastfeeding bond
I can see why many women give up on breastfeeding. When you are in a good place mentally you will recognize that your baby needs you, takes comfort in you and loves nothing more than you. Unfortunately you will most often feel like you are living your life in 1 -3 hour segments - it’s like living your life on a loop. In the early days you will feed your baby, they will fall asleep in your arms, you will set them down and they will wake up shortly after ready for more time with your boobs. You will try so hard to get things done but your baby will need you constantly as they transition from their cozy life in the womb. You will often feel alone as a parent because you are the only one who can actually meet the needs of your baby. It’s true that from an optimistic perspective you will take pride in your baby’s dependency on you; however, optimism is a rare companion to sleep deprivation and major life changes. Fortunately my daughter was a quick learner at nursing and we didn’t really have any nursing challenges. The reality is that many moms do have latch problems, supply issues and other complications that add to the stress of the breastfeeding journey.
“Get your sleep now”
As I researched and attempted to learn everything about babies prior to giving birth, it always stumped me how parents could be so sleep deprived when babies sleep 20+ hours a day. Every article I read just glossed over the details of this. Let me tell you the reality…
- You will spend an hour feeding your baby and 75% of the feeding they will be asleep or sleepy (but you’re not allow to sleep while holding them…)
- Once they stop eating you will probably hold them for a few minutes to make sure they’re deep enough asleep to successfully move them to their crib/bassinet
- Without a doubt, as soon as you set them down they’ll audibly poop and you’ll then have to change them, which will wake them up
- You will likely have to nurse them to get them back to sleep
- Once baby is sleeping they will likely wake up from their nap a few times fussing which will require you to bounce, sway, dance (whatever your soothing technique ends up being)
- After all of this they will be hungry again.
So you do the math... Luckily, yes, it does get a little better!
Never shake your baby!
In an attempt to prevent shaken baby syndrome, new parents are told to set their baby in a safe place and walk away if they ever feel frazzled. What they don’t tell you is that the maternal feeling when your baby cries hysterically will probably not allow you to do that. You will sit there soothing your baby with tears streaming down your face but you might not be able to walk away or pass them off.
My husband gets frazzled by the sound of our daughter crying and he always commends me on my ability to just sit there and take it; soothing her until she is finally content. The best way I can explain this is with the example of a dog yelping. Most people (unless you're a sociopath) feel a deep unsettling, heartbreaking, gut wrenching feeling when they hear the sound of a dog yelping in pain. When you hear your child cry you will also feel that way. Among all of your frustrated, helpless, annoyed feelings; this unsettling feeling will overpower the others. You will be brought to tears by this feeling and be driven to “fix” your baby. Of course if you are experiencing Postpartum Depression you may have a different experience; however, just know that this feeling will burn you out and you should try to consciously hold yourself accountable to asking for help when you need it.
Every evening I put my daughter to bed at 9 pm. She gets very gassy and does a routine of nursing and crying on and off for an hour. I sit in the dark in her nursery and try to comfort her while fighting the frustration of the back and forth. Usually the second I think she’s actually falling asleep she will fuss again- it’s a total mind game. Also sometimes we spend all of that time getting to sleep and then she’ll poop, so I’ll have to change her and start all over again. While all of this is happening, of course, I am ridden with guilt about how helpless and scared she must feel to have these gas pains that she doesn’t understand.
Mama bear syndrome
As soon as you meet your baby you will start to imagine all of the ways that they could get hurt. You will be paranoid during the entire drive home from the hospital, imagining all of the ways you could get into a car accident. You will be fearful of tripping while holding your baby, knocking their head into something or not supporting their neck good enough.
You will soon be afraid to let anyone else care for your baby because you will convince yourself that you are the only one that knows how to do it right. You will spend so much time with your baby that you will quickly learn how to tell what’s wrong with them and how to fix it. Watching someone else incorrectly interpret your babies needs or soothe them in the “wrong” way will piss you off. It will be so hard to let go of your “mom ego” and allow someone else to help. It’s all very irrational and overprotective but I’m not sure it’s something that you can turn off.
One day while someone was visiting and holding my daughter I could see that she was making hungry signs. They kept saying how she was just fussy and needed to be held and soothed. I wanted to correct them and whisk her away- it felt like I was watching someone torture her and I couldn’t handle it. I think that we just have to cross our fingers and hope that people don’t get offended.
Rule breaker, SIDS hater
If you educate yourself before giving birth you will learn a shit ton of rules and precautions to keep your baby alive and protected from SIDS. You will realize quickly why parents stray from the path and bend some of those rules- it’s so tempting!
- When you haven’t slept and all your baby wants to to be held, you’ll be hard pressed not to accidentally fall asleep during a mid-night feed in your recliner.
- You will empathize with the parents who have decided to co-sleep, knowing that it would make you and your baby happier if you just caved and broke the rules.
- You will start to consider moving up the date for when you move your child into their nursery as you get more and more frustrated with tip toeing in your room, kicking your husband for letting the sound play on a video from Facebook, sneezing or even flushing the toilet at night!
- You will notice that your gassy baby feels so much better when sleeping on her tummy and curse the “back to sleep” campaign.
- It will feel like self-harm to wake your baby to eat in the middle of the night when you’re a zombie and you know that they would keep sleeping so much longer if you let them.
As a parent you will decide what rules to follow, bend and break and that’s where mom-shaming comes in. My daughter is 8 weeks old and sleeps 8 hours at night in her own room, naps on her tummy during the day and sometimes naps with my husband in our recliner- shame away...
I love you more
In the dating world, there is a time, after learning someone’s good and bad qualities, that we come to the determination that we love them. It’s a milestone in the relationship where we have this revelation and share our feelings. We spend our whole lives calling this feeling love and using it as the basis for how we feel about people.
When your baby is born you will feel joyous, protective, paranoid and awestruck - but is it love? It’s not based on time spent deciding that you like your baby’s qualities; it’s a raw, instinctive feeling. So which one is love? Personally, I think they’re just completely different feelings and trying to identify them isn’t worth the time. I would do anything to protect my daughter because that’s my new purpose and her happiness directly correlates with mine. So I can see how people conclude that they love their baby more than their spouse but I’m just not sure that it’s “apples-to-apples”. There are a list of reasons why I love my husband and why we’re compatible, it’s more rational than it is instinctual. So don’t feel bad if you’re confused by the emotions you feel about your baby or family- none of us have it figured out. I say let’s just take the labels away. Stop comparing and just soak it all in.
All in all, there really is no way to prepare for motherhood or becoming a parent. You can share things with pregnant women as much as you want but they will have a unique experience. My best advice is to expect nothing, prepare for anything and just know that life will change and you will adjust no matter how daunting it seems at first. It is true what they say: being a mom is the most challenging and rewarding experience that life has to offer.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.