The roller-coaster ride of being a new mother contains more highs and lows than any man-made amusement ride in existence. Trust me. At 4.5 weeks into this journey I’ve found much of the advice I’d received from well-meaning friends, family and co-workers while I was pregnant doesn’t even scrape the surface of what I should have been told.
So here it goes – the advice you really need while preparing to bring a new life into this chaotic world.
“Sleep when she’s sleeping.”
Sure, it’s somewhat helpful advice to sleep when the newborn is sleeping. However, my newborn slept for a few hours at a time during the day for only the first couple weeks. She is now quite alert most of the day. Forget about sleeping at night! By the time I get her back to sleep after a midnight breastfeeding session, given myself a much-needed restroom break, filled up and drained a couple glasses of water, forced myself to stop listening to her soft contented breathing through the baby monitor, and allowed my husband’s snoring to fade to the background…it’s time to get up and feed her again.
Even when she was taking naps during the day I found myself needing to use that time to shower, to fix and eat food before she awoke, to take ten minutes to attempt to check email and catch up on world news so I’m not completely in the dark about the goings-on outside my front door. My husband kept me well-fed the first two weeks of our daughter’s life which allowed me to focus on me while she was sleeping. Such an invaluable blessing!
What I wish someone would have advised is to allow yourself as a new mother to take the cues of your little one. Do not try to fill any kind of time with anything. Rather do what feels right at that particular time. I laid on the couch, eyes wide, too exhausted to sleep during some of her early days’ naps. I baked cookies once while she was napping. Well almost finished making the cookies before she woke up. I admit I did very little house cleaning which is crazy for me. But my sister came over multiple times each week and spent her time cleaning for us. Again, an invaluable blessing to have her close by and willing to perform those menial tasks. She also cooked dinners for my husband and me when he returned to work allowing us to focus on our fresh roles.
“An immediate feeling of unconditional, all-encompassing love like no other.”
Well-meaning advisers also said you’ll feel this immediate love like you’ve never felt before for another living thing! That’s a true statement. What they didn’t follow up with however is how incredibly frustrated I would get when our daughter began to get spells of inconsolable crying in the late evening when just days before she was content to sleep at the same time of day. The feeling of not being able to “fix the problem” is achingly atrocious. Listening to her cries, attempting every conceivable way to hold her, filling her tiny perfect ears with white noise, covering her beautiful face with kisses and soft words, changing her diaper for the umpteenth time that day, offering her a breast to fill her ever-expanding belly, and yet none of that making a dent for her uncomfortable mood is the worst feeling I’ve ever experienced! Heartbreaking.
Those advisers tell me now that’s just the way babies are, it’ll get better, she’ll outgrow it as her newborn organs and digestive system mature. OK, great! Sounds wonderful! But…ummmmm…how to endure the current state of affairs without suffering a broken heart for the long-term? A mantra to be chanted over and over to oneself while she’s crying so hard she can’t barely breathe? Watching tears caused by the throes of agony mar her angelic face – what to do then? The answer is to hold her. Keep talking to her, offering comforting words of love and future calm nights. I can’t sing, but I’m told she doesn’t mind if I can’t hold a tune. The only power I have as a mother to “fix the problem” is to continue to pour all the love I have inside of me on her when she needs to cry herself to sleep as well as when she is locking eyes with me and grinning ear to ear, her smile retainers straining with the joy.
“Allow others to do everything for you.”
Another piece of advice I received is to accept all the help that’s offered. Well…that may work really well for some people. This is written by me, about me and only applies to me as a mother. But, news flash helpful people – you cannot feed my daughter in the first weeks of her life. An exclusively breastfed baby must have her mother within reach. I truly appreciate all the offers of “I’ll watch your baby while you go do x, y, z.” Very kind gesture, selfless, much cherished. But until I felt she was established enough with breastfeeding that I could pump and store milk for another trusted family-member to feed to her, it just wasn’t possible for me to leave her and go do whatever I wanted. Now that she is in her fifth week of life she has begun to take a bottle. Thus far only once, while I was with her to ensure she was eating enough.
Even as I write this, it’s the first time in 4.5 weeks I’m physically away from my daughter for more than a half hour. But trust me, I’m tethered to my phone, texting my mother and sister for updates on my daughter’s status. And they are all doing just splendidly. My daughter is exercising some tummy time and, while she’s held her head up since birth, she’s already incredibly close to doing push-ups…she’s a few weeks ahead of me with that ability. My mom says I was about two months old when I started doing full-on push-ups. Like mother like daughter (insert huge grin from me here).
“Kidnap been-there done-that experts.”
Which brings us to another piece of advice I wish more people would have told me. Find those who have successfully raised children themselves, capture them, hold them captive in your home (or invade theirs) and squeeze them for every ounce of knowledge and current situation ideas they can muster.
My husband and I are brand new at this parent thing. We are told we are doing great. But we are absolutely willing to seek out and appreciate the advice we get from friends and family. We implement that which is applicable for us and our daughter. We nod and smile and ignore the tips that aren’t our style or that we’ve tried and haven’t worked for our little one.
My tip, “Rely on and endure the highs and lows with your co-parent.”
That said, there is no way on God’s green Earth that I could do this new mom thing without my husband. He is my strength, my partner in crime, the additional set of arms to place our crying child in when everything I’ve done has resulted in no change. He is the man who turned into a puddle, heart melted, upon first sight of the life we created together. He is the man who insists on using a diaper wipe warmer, who researches and implements the best way to change a diaper for the fragile structure of a newborn, who holds her long-limbed body in his CrossFit strengthened arms smoothing her soft hair while telling her about surfing in his heart-home of Hawaii.
I came across a quote while in the last weeks of pregnancy that says something akin to, “I never knew how I much I loved your father until I saw how much he loved you.” That piece of advice is spot on.
This musing is not meant to deter anyone from offering advice to soon-to-be and new-moms. It’s simply my personal experience with what I wish I had been told. Then again, I’m the kind of person who wants the truth no matter how hard it is to swallow. I prefer the reality. I can create the fantasy. Honestly the reality is that motherhood is truly the greatest challenge I’ve ever faced. It’s exhilarating and utterly exhausting. It’s ridiculously frustrating and painfully simple. It’s something you cannot fully prepare for no matter how much advice you take in. You must allow yourself grow into the role, day by day. And for this impatient individual, it is the most monumental lesson in patience one could ever endure. But I wouldn’t trade it for a single fathomable thing.