Being a Mom

I loved being pregnant. I was fortunate to have an easy pregnancy with Little Man. Every day I was in awe of how my body changed and became something so different from what it was before, of the tiny creature growing and moving and thriving inside of me. I loved the way complete strangers would look on me with such kindness, would go out of their way to be helpful and give a smile, simply because they saw that I was a soon-to-be-mom.

While pregnant, I studied What to Expect When You're Expecting and a few other parenting books. I signed up for the weekly newsletters from online parenting magazines. I agonized over what stroller and crib bedding and high chair to purchase, spending hours researching and reading reviews and comparing prices. I approached my last month of pregnancy with a fair amount of trepidation, knowing that I stood on a precipice, at the point of no return—once I stepped off, once our Little Man entered the world, my life as I knew it would never be the same. The old Julie would be gone, replaced by Mom Julie.
But all that was fuzzy, intangible. I was realistic. I knew having a baby wasn't going to be easy. But I also knew how many women successfully raised children every year, many with a lot less preparation and support than I had. And women kept having babies, some one right after another. They encouraged other women to have children. So it couldn't possibly be that hard.

You know what? Parenting—particularly motherhood, particularly for those first few months when your little bundle of joy is not always so joyous and you're trying to care for his every need without really knowing what he needs or how the heck to give it to him—is much harder than I ever imagined it would be.
While I was in the midst of nine solid months of serious sleep deprivation, struggling to produce enough milk to sustain my hungry fellow, feeling every day like I was a failure as a mother because this messy, stressful life wasn't anything like what people made motherhood out to be, I railed against the pretty, perfect picture people paint of the joys of having babies.

To be fair, some practical books do cover the nitty gritty details of all the problems you might face with your little one. But those helpful advice tomes seem so abstract compared to reality. And the truth of the matter is, they're often more confusing than helpful. Take our sleep challenges, for instance. One book would tell me I should do one thing to help Little Man sleep better. Another book said the complete opposite. Websites, other moms interested in lending their advice, whatever the source might be, there was absolutely zero agreement on one best course of action for me to take. It made my head spin and left me more confused than when I started.
That's when I started to realize that there isn't one right way to survive having a baby and being a new mother. There is no one perfect, agreed-upon way to do anything related to newborns. What worked for five other new moms and their little ones will not work for you. You really do have to just do what feels right to you, what you think is best.

But how do you know what's right, what's best, when you can't even see straight from exhaustion? When you question whether every decision you make regarding your baby is wrong? When you have no inherent knowledge, and certainly no experience, to rely on?

It can be hard to rely on mother's intuition and insight when you don't think you have a lick of it. I wondered many times during those first nine months if I was cut out to be a mom at all. How could I be so terrible at something other women seemed to do so effortlessly? How could I be so confident presenting information to a room full of strangers or editing a book or whatever else I was capable of doing in my "other" life and yet be so incapacitated and unsure of myself as a mother?

And why the heck weren't any other new moms having as tough of a time as I was?
Only after the fog of those first nine months started to lift, when Little Man no longer relied solely on me for sustenance and finally started to sleep for longer stretches, when I became a bit more comfortable in my skin as a new mother, did I realize the truth.

All those other new moms probably were having just as tough of a time as I was. In fact, a few I spoke to admitted just how hard it had been for them, how much they wished they had known other moms went through the same thing.

They thought it was just a personal problem, like I did. They thought maybe they weren't cut out for this motherhood stuff while all other moms were perfectly-put-together saints. They spent sleepless nights laying awake questioning every action they'd taken that day, not realizing that all across town other new moms were doing the same thing.
During those first months that were so hard, when I felt so alone, I wish I would've known other young mothers were struggling too. I wish I could have connected with them somehow. I also wish I would've realized how today's access to information only fuels our feelings of inadequacy as mothers.

Every day on Facebook new moms post cheerful updates and happy smiling baby pictures. They rarely mention how sore their nipples are from breastfeeding, how many times they've been peed on in the last 24 hours, how they were so exhausted they smeared toothpaste all over their faces before bed instead of face wash. The same thing happens on so many blogs (I'm guilty, even right here, I know—but who takes photos of the hard parts?) and a million other places where moms have a presence.
Then there's Pinterest, where you can pin photos of dreamy birthday cakes, the ultimate outdoor activities for every age, patterns for quilts and clothes and a million handmade things perfect moms are making every day for their children while their babies nap peacefully beside them in their bassinets. It's a new (real life) mom's nightmare.

And don't even get me started on the mass media and the general public, who these days seems to think that their place is right in your living room beside you as you feed your baby. There's public outcry from all corners when moms dare to speak about choosing formula over breast milk, then there's more outcry when breastfeeding moms say they're stopping before a year or continuing past two years. Disposable diapers vs. cloth? When should children be immunized? When is it OK to give kids highly allergenic foods? To let them watch TV? To potty train them? Tread lightly, new moms, because everyone—even people who've never been there themselves—have strong opinions.
It's information overload. An overabundance of options (don't even get me started on all the products new moms should have, all the choices they have to make just to figure out which bottle or burp rag to buy). It's too much content not saying enough about the reality of motherhood. It's enough to make your head spin. To make you question every decision you make. To make you wonder why you got into this whole motherhood thing in the first place.

But odds are, if you're like me, when you're finally able to quiet your mind, to stop second-guessing yourself, to just be present with those ten little fingers and toes and that adorable nose, you realize none of the chatter or the pressure or the debates matter. What matters is that you have a healthy baby. What matters is that you are the single most important person in your child's life. And that, despite how difficult those first few months may be, you are better off having your little one in your life.
In a few months, the things you agonize over now will seem rather inconsequential. Your little one will be running around and chattering nonstop, becoming his or her own person. You'll laugh and cuddle and play together and know that everything is alright.

It's a wild ride from here, to be sure, but things get easier than those first challenging months. You're a good mom. Did you hear me? I mean it. You're a good mom.
Your child will grow to be strong, healthy, and happy. You'll be stronger, healthier, and happier, too. You'll discover yourself again, you'll get more sleep, you'll find a balance between being a mom and still being your own person. You'll savor the little moments and perhaps even look back with fondness on the craziness of the beginning.

You'll see. Trust me. If I survived this far, you can too.

1 comment:

Cara Hall said...

So very well said, Julie. The more you talk to other moms the more you realize that they have a whole other set of problems and they are struggling just as much.