I have such a soft spot for new mamas. I love nothing more than dropping off food, loaning baby items, answering texts and trying to build up these bewildered, tired women. I remember well how hard those first weeks are and how grateful I was for anyone who offered a helping hand or word of encouragement. And especially those beautiful souls who also brought me delicious food. I try to pay it forward whenever I can, and – since it seems like every time I turn around, there’s a new baby in some corner of my life – I get lots of opportunities.
In all my conversations with the new mamas in my life, five things come up over (and over) once we get past the surface level #blessed stuff. These are the kind of scary, isolating thoughts that make you feel like a bad mom or different from everyone else you know. I’m not breaking any confidences here – because I’ve also had each one of these thoughts following the birth of one (or both!) of my children. So read on, mama, and feel less alone:
1. “What have I done?” This one will hit you out of the blue. If you’re lucky, it doesn’t arrive until at least a couple of weeks in … but sometimes it’s a matter of days. Maybe the baby is screaming and you can’t figure out how to get her to stop. Maybe breastfeeding brings you to tears. Whatever the circumstance, you’re starting to wish you could backtrack 9 months (and some change) and definitely not get pregnant. It’s okay – this does not make you a bad mom. You just endured some wicked physical trauma, completely upended your life and you have a tiny human who is now dependent on you for survival. Frankly, I’d judge you a little if you didn’t freak out at least once. It’s okay to have a little terror mixed in with your joy. You’ll soon learn, that’s the basic recipe of parenthood – two parts joy to one part terror. The balance is important.
2. “When will I get my body back?” Ehhhh, this is a tough one. The truth is, you probably won’t. I know that smarts a little, but YOU MADE A PERSON. That’s bound to leave a mark or two, when you think about it. The good news is that the doughy, Jabba the Hut-ness of your midsection is (probably) not a permanent feature, and you won’t always leak fluids from seemingly every orifice. The best advice I got was to consider the first three months after birth as the fourth trimester – for both you and baby. Focus on survival, and getting to know each other. Let your body heal on its own (and it will!) before you start Pinteresting ab workouts. Regardless of what you do, things are likely going to be softer, lower and a little … different from now on. Make peace with this. Remember that strong is better than skinny – and after lugging around that infant carrier for a few months, you will definitely be strong.
3. I’m so tired. Yes. Yeeeeessssss. All of the yeses. You would be hard pressed to find a mama who’s not tired, regardless of how old her kids are – but that newborn haze of exhaustion is a special kind of hell. People will tell you to “sleep when the baby sleeps,” but that’s crap, because you’ve got to brush your teeth sometime. And do that mountain of laundry that’s taking over your hallway. And eat something. The sleep-when-the-baby-sleeps people aren’t helpful. Here’s what worked for me: if you can, pick one nap per day to take with your baby. Snuggle him or her on your chest, close your eyes and drift off to dreamland. You might be surprised how well you both sleep. And besides, those newborn snuggles are kinda the best part. Don’t miss them.
4. “Is ______ normal?” You thought pregnancy was weird, but it can’t hold a candle to the postpartum phase. It’s absolutely terrifying, to be perfectly honest. Plus, you’ve got all that crazy newborn stuff to worry about, so there’s DOUBLE the weirdness. Normal has a pretty wide spectrum, I’ve found, and there’s a lot of really gross stuff that no one tells you about. If everyone is eating, peeing and pooping on a regular basis, you probably don’t have anything major to worry about. But that’s what nurse lines were made for – call, leave a message and let someone with special training ease your fears. A close second is calling any fellow mom with 2 or more children. Why 2 or more? Because it’s a different kind of weird every time you have a child – the more she’s had, the broader her point of reference. Just don’t Google. There’s such a thing as too broad of a point of reference, and the whole craziness of the Internet is the definition of it.
5. I can’t do this. This one likes to sneak up on you at 3 a.m. when it’s the fifth time you’ve been up that night and, for whatever reason, your baby has decided she hates nursing/the swing/swaddling/all methods of comfort available. And all you can think is, WOW this mama stuff sucks, and you’re not sure you can handle it. But you can. You really, really can. I can’t promise that it gets easier, but it does get less all-consuming. In the beginning, learning to be a mama takes over and it feels like there’s no room for the rest of your life. In time, you’ll find a way to reclaim some of what makes you, you. Just keep pressing on, and you’ll find your balance, your rhythm, your stride. You’ve got this, I promise.