We’ve got lots of new babies coming into our lives this year: Matt’s cousin’s daughter just had her first, several close friends are having firsts, and my baby sister, eight years my junior, is having her first this summer. (Which is sort of astounding to me, because, as one of my close friends, who has known my sister since she was just a baby, said, “Sam can’t be having a baby. She’s only 12 herself!”) She’s not though, she’s a full-fledged grown-up, and she’s about to become a mother. Wonders never cease.
This summer will mark my 12th anniversary of becoming a mother. While I certainly don’t have all the answers, while the idea that I might is actually laughable, I do know with certainty a few things. So for all the new moms or mothers-to-be out there, my few words of wisdom twelve years in:
Labor and delivery will not be what you expect, not for you and almost certainly not for your partner. Don’t go into it with too many concrete expectations; this is absolutely one time when you want to be flexible about how you achieve your ultimate goal.
I was in labor for over 24 hours and then pushed for almost three hours with my first child. My second had shoulder dystocia and the cord wrapped around his neck. I had to be induced early with my third and fourth. Don’t get your hopes set on one type of labor and delivery scenario, just shoot for the goal of delivering a healthy baby in whatever way ends up working out. And don’t get mad at your partner–they are just as clueless as you are, and they have absolutely no control over what’s happening.
Be gentle with yourself; this will be the hardest thing your body will ever do.
Give your body permission to be sore, tired, achy, and alien. You’ve worked hard, you don’t have to bounce back in two days. You don’t have to wear your pre-maternity jeans home from the hospital. It took nine months to get into the condition you’re in, give yourself nine solid months to get back to normal.
The first six weeks are just survival, pure and simple.
Please, please don’t feel like you’re doing something wrong if your house is a mess and you can’t find time to shower and there’s no clean laundry and nothing to eat. For the first six weeks, minimum, you have only two jobs: get to know that baby and get to know your new self. Because you are certainly not the same person you were before you had a child.
No matter how you feel — good, great, or awful — you are not the first mother to feel that way. And if you’re concerned about how you’re feeling, talk to someone about it.
There will be moments of absolute bliss and pure joy, and there will be moments when you want to quit or scream or walk away. It’s okay to feel like that and please know you’re not alone. If you feel like crap, don’t try to pretend you don’t — you’re allowed to feel like crap. You are part of a massive club full of women who have felt that transcendent happiness and that bone-deep frustration and exhaustion. Find someone you trust and talk to them about it, the good, the bad & the ugly. It will help.
Your partner can’t read your mind and doesn’t know what’s going on inside your head. Talk, communicate, commiserate, rely on one another, let them be completely part of the process.
If you’re breast-feeding, let your partner do the majority of diaper changes. If you’re bottle-feeding, let them do half the feedings, including (especially!) the overnight ones. Let them dress the baby, even if they pick bad outfits and can’t get the onesies on without help. Rely on each other because that makes the work half as hard and the rewards twice as meaningful. Tell them how you feel: if you’re worried about something, if you’re struggling, if you’re excited and happy, if you feel good about something. You’re a team, act like it from the very beginning and everything will be easier.
As everyone always says, parenting is the single best and single most difficult thing you will ever do.
It’s hard. So relentlessly hard. It’s like nothing you’ve ever done or ever will do, this keeping and shaping and steering of another human life. You will make mistakes. You will question yourself. Just keep trying. You will experience moments of utter amazement and joy followed by moments of total despair. You will sometimes think you might lose your mind. It’s okay. Twelve years in and I am still learning something new every. single. day. All children are different, all parents are different, all families are different. JUST KEEP TRYING.
The hard parts are worth it. And the good parts are what makes life worth living.