It's always a bit uncomfortable for me when expectant mothers ask me for advice on what to expect when their new baby arrives. I never know whether to give them the answers they want to hear or to share with them the reality of my early motherhood journey. Let me start out by saying that if your early motherhood experience was beautiful and perfect then I applaud you. That's fantastic! I truly mean that. If however it wasn't/isn't what you expected then this post is for you. I'm sure like so many of you, I always wanted to be a mom but the realities of motherhood, even with the many years of babysitting under my belt, was something I never expected. Books, friends and family often share with you the physical challenges new moms undergo such as the changes to your body, the sleepless nights, the possible nursing complications, swollen feet, the unending loads of laundry. What they don't share with you is how much of motherhood is an exercise in mental stamina.
For those of you new to this parenting thing, you should know that newborn babies cry...A LOT, especially at 3am just when you think, okay, now I can grab some shut eye instead of those drunken type head nod-offs in between feedings. When you have a colicky baby like I did, the offers of someone watching your precious bundle is almost nonexistent and frankly would you really want to subject someone else to what feels like an awful hazing ritual? The first week of motherhood is tough but the steady stream of visitors and the adrenaline from the newness of the situation helps many moms soldier through. You remind yourself of your own mother or of all the moms you know with children and think, if they can handle this, then I can too. The weeks progress and just when you think your baby has a schedule (as much as newborns can have a schedule), they throw you for a loop and change up when they nap, the frequency and volume of their cry, new habits or behaviors, etc. A good nighttime sleeper sometimes turns into a no-nighttime sleeper. You continue to receive visitors who compliment you and your baby. "You're so blessed," they say. "You look great!" You nod and smile politely but lurking in the back of your mind is the question, "What have I done?" Of course, you're never allowed to utter those words. Much like the accused women of Salem, the villagers will have their torches lit as a reminder that you can only exist as a grateful, loving mother, yet you don't recognize the woman looking back at you in the mirror --- the woman who hasn't showered in days, with engorged breasts reminiscent of a comic book hero, with bags under eyes that resemble steamer trunks, and with hair that hasn't been released from a messy ponytail. Releasing the greasy, mop-like mess would reveal too much of the painful truth.
Instead, we keep up the facade. "I love motherhood. It's great!" you say. The words sound foreign coming out of your mouth because the reality is when your husband came home from work the day before, you hurriedly handed off the baby to him and told him you had to use the bathroom. You rushed to your personal panic room and locked the door. You turned on the faucet to disguise your sobs. You wanted this, remember? You wanted to be a mom. The nights are brutal. Everything feels compounded in the worst way in those wee hours when the baby won't sleep and your spouse doesn't hear them. You try to hold off rushing to your baby. Maybe they'll stop crying on their own. Maybe your spouse will hear them and comfort them. Even if he tries, every bouncy dance or children's song does nothing. The crying escalates. You might as well get up because there's no way you're getting any sleep with that human alarm clock in the background. Nothing seems to pacify your baby except you. They wail and sometimes you wail louder. As your husband drifts back to sleep, you stare at him enviously. He gets to leave for work tomorrow meanwhile you're stuck singing "The Wheels on the Bus" for the 100th time. Wherever you are, 3 am feels like the loneliest place on earth when you're cradling an inconsolable baby. In that moment you truly feel like there is no one who can possibly understand what you're going through. It all feels so hopeless.
There is a reason that dawn follows dusk. Every new day offers the promise of a fresh start, and with every fresh start comes subtle changes and a fresh perspective. One day your baby will sleep straight through the night. You wake up in a startled panic and rush to their room fearing the worst. You check their breathing. They are still sound asleep. You think to yourself, "Did that just happen? Did they actually sleep through the night?" If you're lucky, eventually they will do that most days of the week. You and your baby start to find a rhythm. You start to adjust and accept your new role. When people compliment you or your baby, you start to believe them. Every once in a while you still have moments where you miss your old life of dining out at the trendiest restaurants at the drop of a hat, or purchasing an expensive pair of cute shoes with impossibly high heels, but there is something amazing about the woman you've become. When you look in the mirror now, you appreciate the strength and confidence that comes with having survived those first few months. Some days you actually manage to throw on some mascara and lip gloss. Don't get me wrong, there are challenges in the years following but you start to understand your child's needs more. They become more verbal and many times you do too. You start to seek out help. You realize that there's no prize in doing this mothering thing on your own. You realize that while your body may be made to birth and feed a child, you are your own person apart from them and that your needs matter too. Initially you may have been a reluctant mother but you now look forward to and embrace the roller coaster adventure that comes with motherhood. ~HZM
I'm busy working on my blog posts. Watch this space!