What I Needed to Hear as a New Mom
I have wanted to be a mom for my whole life. I spent much of my childhood snuggling my younger siblings, carrying them around and pretending they were my own. The feeling intensified at various times as I grew up, the longing growing stronger. When I was 13 and read The Memory Keeper’s Daughter, I was moved by a paragraph about the mother’s love for her son, nursing him in the nighttime while her husband worked. She painted a picture of bonding, the two of them against the world.
Four years later, sitting in my AP Psychology class, I was fascinated with the childhood development unit. The more I learned about all the factors that go into a child learning about the world around them, the more I looked forward to shaping my own children. Shortly after, Pinterest came on the scene and I requested an account (yeah, back in the day, when you had to request to join), babies were on my brain. The board I had the most fun and spent the most energy creating was my “Future Babies” board.
Finally, from the time my husband and I started dating until my son was born, I was beyond excited to have babies with him. He’s awesome. And he’s great with kids. And he’s the best partner/teammate I could ever imagine.
So, what happened when my son was finally born?
I felt sad. I wasn’t disappointed. Just sad. And on the rare occasion, I was downright miserable. Now! I also must point out that I was deliriously happy. But the happiness that comes with first becoming a motherhood isn’t a clear-cut happiness. It is a complex happiness; I was happy because my dream came true. I was happy because my baby was more perfect than I could have imagined. I was happy because I loved him so much. But with that dream fulfillment, you realize you really didn’t know what to expect. With that perfection (and nagging comments about how I “better enjoy this time! It won’t last!”) come thoughts of how everything fades. With that love comes fear and anxiety, desperate to protect this heart of yours that now lives outside your body. I was actually envious of the pregnant woman I saw in Wal-Mart a week after giving birth. She got to keep her baby safe in her belly! How could I possibly get my child back in my womb? Could they reverse my C-section?
On top of my emotional roller coaster, everyone I saw gave advice. And the advice was pretty useless. The advice was, almost every time, “Enjoy every minute. The laundry can wait. Just watch him sleep.”
What? Listen, I understand the sentiment. I really do. But every time someone said this, I felt an overwhelming sense of dread. I haven’t been enjoying every minute. I need to do that.
So I would turn to my baby, and commit. I would sit there and watch him sleep. I would stare at him as he nursed. And I nearly drove myself crazy. I felt like a terrible mom! Why didn’t I enjoy watching him sleep? Why did watching him sleep make me almost automatically so, so sad? For the first two weeks, it made me cry to watch him. I didn’t wonder what he was dreaming of. I thought about whether or not he would grow up to be happy, or if he’d grow up and be bullied, and if he were, would he tell me? Would he be the bully? Because guess what! Bullies are perfect babies, too! Aren’t they? Don’t all moms think their babies are perfect?
Now, I know I shouldn’t be snarky about the sweet mom of teens telling me to enjoy my baby. She doesn’t know the inner turmoil and general insanity going on in my head, but I have to think most new moms don’t love hearing, “I bet you’re loving it! Enjoy every minute!” Because in reality, it just isn’t possible. It’s a losing battle to try to enjoy every minute of anything, especially something that involves sacrificing sleep, your body, your mobility, and your independence. There are going to be moments that you don’t love, that you might even downright hate.
What I needed (and still need) to hear as a new mom is that you will be happy and you will be sad. And you’ll be happier than you are sad, but it’s easier to notice the sad. And that doesn’t make you a bad mom. I needed to hear that you will need alone time now more than ever, and that doesn’t mean you love your child any less. I needed to hear the old adage that you’ll wish he was awake when he’s asleep and you’ll wish he’s asleep when he’s awake. I needed to hear that motherhood is a beautiful mess of contradictions. I needed to hear that it is hard, and painful and lonely at times, but despite all of that, what I needed to hear most it is worth it.