Whether this is your first child, or like me, your 6th child, a new baby is a reason for celebration. And you are a new mom, even if you aren’t a first time mom. New moms need support, no matter what the circumstances. What that support means to a new mom is different with each mom and with every child. But here’s what I’ve learned is common to motherhood.
Motherhood is amazing.
That moment of release when you’ve birthed that child, that instant when that new baby is placed in your arms, there’s no describing the rush of emotion.
If joy was a liquid, you’re bathed in it when you see your child face-to-face for the first time. It’s relief, and wonder, and love, and apprehension, and fear and happiness.. all rolled into one.
I couldn’t stop staring at my new babies. I know I talked to them, but my mind was so overwhelmed at that moment, that I have no idea what my first words to my daughters were. I’m not even sure they made sense. But the gratitude and amazement of that first meeting is unlike anything else.
You never really lose that sense of wonder, either. It sneaks up on you in the mundane moments of caring for that new baby. I can get lost in their fingers, with their tiny little perfectly pink fingernails. I almost count every single hair, as I gently stroke their head. I hold my breath and wait for them to breathe.
Motherhood is challenging.
It doesn’t matter how much experience you have with children, or how many children you have already, when you become a new mother, it’s a new challenge all over again. You adjust to a new sleeping pattern, new routines, and new habits. Every new mother, whether she has her first child or her tenth baby, will have a moment of complete overwhelming terror. Every new mom will think, for one moment, that there’s no way she can do this job.
It’s normal. Unfortunately we don’t talk about the challenges enough! We praise the joy of motherhood, but let’s face it, it’s not always easy. Even when you have a baby that rarely cries, that drops off to sleep without fussing, and sleeps all night — that mythical “perfect” baby — there will be a moment where you will think to yourself that this job is too hard.
Because motherhood is incredibly challenging. Nevermind the sheer physical labour of raising a child, feeding, cleaning up, clothing and keeping them safe, the mental and emotional labour of training, disciplining, and teaching your child is more difficult. The mental work of parenting is the harder work. And it’s really not something that can be prepared for.
No amount of preparation is enough.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t prepare for a new baby. Absolutely you should prepare for a new baby. And I’m not talking about getting cribs and strollers, or buying clothes and diapers. Preparing to become parents means thinking through the whole shebang. What kind of parent do you want to be?
But no matter how much you learn and research and decide on about parenting, when your child finally arrives in your family, it’s a whole new ballgame. It’s cliche but it’s true: kids don’t come with instruction manuals. Your little human is a person all their own, with a mind, a personality and a strength of will that may test yours.
So be flexible in your decisions. You may decide you want to be a gentle, reasoning parent, and find that you have a child who thrives best when you set firm boundaries and follow strict routines. It’s ok to feel a bit confused and bewildered about this new person! As much as they are your child, they are not just an extension of you. And you two really are strangers to each other. Give yourself the time to get to know them, before you make up your mind about how you will relate to them.
Pay attention to the communication.
This is the hardest part of parenting. Babies don’t come home from hospitals speaking intelligible words. And their ability to negotiate, to listen to reason, to compromise is extremely limited. So as parents, it’s up to us to learn how our children communicate. And we’re the ones who have to adjust to them, until they are old enough to learn how to adjust to others.
Even then, you’ll both learn to adjust to each other, rather than one over the other. Don’t turn parenting into a power struggle. If you win, you’ll both lose. Babies aren’t manipulative, even if you irrationally think they are. Late nights and interrupted sleep can make even the strangest thoughts seem logical, so I get it. But you cannot spoil a baby. Listen to their cries, and you’ll be able to pick up on how they communicate with you.
It’s ok to let them cry.
If they are fed, warm, clean and dry, and you’ve checked that they are safe, they aren’t in pain, and they are still crying, it’s ok. You aren’t doing anything wrong! And if you aren’t able to handle it, that’s ok too. It’s ok to take a few minutes for yourself, to sit and just breathe for a little bit.
Don’t let mom guilt ever ruin your day. Not one of us is perfect. We all make mistakes. But too often we feel guilty for things that aren’t even mistakes. There’s nothing wrong with giving your child a bottle. There’s nothing wrong with using a pacifier. There’s nothing wrong with swaddling, with rocking them in a carseat rather than picking them up. While the mommy-wars are still raging, you don’t need to fight.
It’s ok if you cry too.
Motherhood is overwhelming at times. And sometimes, you just reach your limit. Crying doesn’t mean you have post-partum depression, and it doesn’t mean you’re a bad mom. It doesn’t mean you did anything wrong either. Sometimes, it just means you need to cry! You need a release, because motherhood is stressful.
New moms need support. Does that mean daycare or a babysitter, so you can shower, have a coffee in peace, work out, or just work? Does that mean getting meals, having company, someone folding laundry while you hold your baby? Or maybe that’s your partner protecting your space, and keeping all visitors away, so it’s just you guys at home. There’s no one way to support a new mom. So don’t feel pressuring into accepting someone’s well-meaning help that isn’t help at all.
Ask for what you need!
Please don’t expect yourself to be supermom. We’re so bad at comparing ourselves to other moms. When you’re a first time mom, you can sometimes wonder why you’re feeling like you can’t do anything, when a mom who just had her 4th child seems like she has it all together. And that new mom with her 4th baby can be wondering why she can’t pull it together, since this isn’t her first baby… shouldn’t she know this by now? We put so much pressure on ourselves.
It’s totally unnecessary! New babies are a lot of work. New babies require so much, and take a lot of getting used to. New moms need support, from ourselves first. So ask for what you need. It’s ok to ask. Please.. ask!
Dear new mom..
it may take longer than you think, but you will adjust. You will develop a NEW normal. It doesn’t really get easier, you just get better at this thing called parenting. Your baby will surprise you, and not always in a good way, but children are worth all the effort. You may not always feel like, but you’re doing a good job. Congratulations. Welcome to motherhood.