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Advice for myself, one year ago today

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April 30, 2013

A year ago today I was a brand new mother and my world was a jumble of joy and fear. I was both over- and under-stimulated. Days were spent doing very little while somehow being horribly chaotic.

I was the recipient of lots of advice, support and praise, and yet I was filled with self-doubt. I was (and continue to be) my own harshest critic.

No one prepared me for the reality of new parenthood as I was experiencing it, and I realize now that’s because to be honest with expectant moms is to admit to things we don’t like to talk about: that in the midst of all this joy there is a dark cloud of loneliness, fear, fatigue and frayed nerves. There are emotions you weren’t ready for and can’t articulate, tears you try to hide. You feel numb, depleted and exhausted. You feel heavy. You see other peoples’ pictures on Facebook: of sleeping babes and beaming new parents and you think they are breezing through something that’s very, very difficult for you. You think something is wrong with you. You feel abandoned. You feel fed up. You are at the end of your rope every second of every day. And for this you feel very guilty.

This dishonesty – and I’m guilty of it, too – is a disservice to new moms. We vaguely say, “Those first few months are tough” but we never elaborate, and this is where we fail women. It ill prepares them for what lies ahead, leaves them horrified that something is wrong with them when they hit those rough days, afraid to reach out or admit they need help because, as far as they can tell, no one else feels like this. No one else needs help. No one else holds their screaming newborn and cries because they don’t know what to do, because they just want a shower.

So, looking back on those tumultuous, exhausting and emotional first weeks – and knowing what I do now a year into motherhood – here’s the advice I would have given that tentative and overwhelmed new mom:

Go easy on yourself

You want nothing but the best for your baby, but what’s “best” is subjective. And it will change. It’s okay to try cloth diapering, breast feeding, organic sheets, cry-it-out. It’s okay to stop, adjust, change and adapt. Because as long as you truly have what’s best for her in mind, you will be giving her what’s best.

It’s okay to not know what you’re doing

The how-to’s of raising a baby are not downloaded into your brain by osmosis the moment your baby is born. You’ll figure it out really quickly. In the meantime…

It’s okay to ask for help

You think “supermom” means you should do everything yourself? It doesn’t. You are a better mother if you are rested and fed, if you feel balanced and happy. Call your mom. Ask your husband to take a half day. It really does take a village, and that’s okay – that’s how it’s supposed to be.

It’s okay to give her a bottle

I know everyone keeps telling you breast is best. They tell you to never give her a bottle or a soother. But they don’t really know what is best for you – you do. It’s okay for your husband to give her a bottle so you can sleep through the night. You need to hit the re-set button, and that’s not something you should ever feel guilty about. There’s a link between sleep deprivation and post partum depression, so give yourself a night off. Your supply will be fine. She will be fine. I promise. And you’ll both be better for it. Speaking of feeding…

Breastfeeding gets better

It’s going to be awful at first, and you’re going to want to give up. And you can give up if you want – that’s okay, too. But know that it gets better. It gets much, much better. It gets easier. It stops being painful. And you will come to love it.

You will get sideways glances

You can’t please everyone, and their approval doesn’t matter. Someone will be offended that you’re breastfeeding in front of them, or that you feel the need to cover up. Someone will roll their eyes that you use cloth diapers, that you use disposable diapers, that you put sunscreen on her in the shade, that you don’t use enough sunscreen, that your diaper cream is natural and organic, that it’s not natural and organic. Shrug it off. You have it under control, even when you feel like you don’t. And in the meantime, read this wonderful post and this wonderful piece of insight, and breathe easy:

Parenting is a lot like giving a hug: It’s all about love and pressure and there is no one way to do it.

Accept advice but go with your instinct

Don’t let people talk you out of something you feel passionate about, and don’t let them make you feel silly for the choices you make. (Caveat: within reason)

You are not alone – so make friends with other new moms

Every new mom in your community feels the same as you: tired, overwhelmed and full of self-doubt. And they’re all around you: at Starbucks, at baby-and-me-yoga, at the gym, at the dog park. They are all walking in a haze, and they feel alone, too. Find them, connect with them, ask them questions and commiserate with them. You will find more support and love in this community of women than you ever knew possible.

It’s okay to need a break from her

You think a good mother gives everything of herself? You’re a good mother. You’re a good mother when you give her to your husband so you can have a long hot shower. You’re a good mother when you take a cup of tea and a book into the bedroom and close the door for half an hour. You’re a good mother when you return to her refreshed and grounded, with a feeling that you are still YOU. Take care of yourself, and take time for yourself.  It’s okay to need a break.

It’s okay to feel sad

You don’t even have to know why you are sad. It doesn’t matter. You’re tired. Your hormones are totally out of whack. Your clothes don’t fit. Your nerves are frayed. She cries a lot. A LOT. You are really, really sore. Feel sad.

It’s okay to miss your old life

Everything changed really quickly, didn’t it? You left for the hospital living one kind of life, and you came home two days later living a totally other life, one that you have very little control over. Someone else is dictating how and when and what and where. Someone else who relies on you to do everything for them 24 hours a day. It’s hard and thankless work right now. Wait until she smiles at you. Give it four months. Trust me, it will be worth it. But for now, you can miss that old life. It doesn’t mean you don’t love her.

Stop comparing yourself to everyone else

You are not everyone else. It doesn’t matter that they had a 12-hour natural birth and you had a stupid four-day labour and needed the epidural. It doesn’t matter that they lost all their baby weight three weeks later and you are somehow up. It doesn’t matter that they breastfeed exclusively and you need to give her formula. It doesn’t matter that they have the $2,000 stroller and yours came pre-used and dented. What’s best for you isn’t what’s best for them, and vice versa. Are you happy and healthy? Is she happy and healthy? Then you are a rock star.

It’s okay to feel put out by her endless demands

You know sleep deprivation is a form of torture, right? When she gets you up for the fourth time in a night, she is torturing you. So you I give you permission to curse her as you throw your legs out of bed and quietly sob as you head to her crib. And remember…

You will survive the sleep deprivation

And so will your marriage. Be kind to him. He’s tired and overwhelmed too. So ask him how he’s doing, sometimes. And while she will keep waking both of you up every night for the next year (or two, or three), you will learn to adapt to the fatigue. This is just life for the next little while, and everybody gets through it.

Stop what you’re doing and take a minute to enjoy her

I know, the house is bombed. It’s 4 p.m. and you’re still in pyjamas. But take a minute every day to sit down and soak in the moment. She will be one in the blink of an eye. And then she will be two, and you will wonder where the time has gone, where your baby has gone, and you will actually miss this.

Go for a walk every day

Even if you don’t feel like it. Even if it’s only to the end of the street and back. Get outside and join the world.

This stage will go by in the blink of an eye.

And then it will get so much easier. It will become so much better. It will blow you away, and you will feel like the luckiest person who ever lived.

You are not perfect. But to her, right now, you are

So every time you compare yourself to others, stay up at night with guilt or beat yourself up over a perceived parenting flaw, read this post. Then read it again:

One of the hardest things for me about being a mom is that I make about 107 little decisions every day, and most of the time, I am totally winging it. Unlike work at a paid job, I don’t get regular feedback on how I’m doing. My kids know they’re loved. They are growing. They trust me. I keep them safe. And they go cuckoo with delight when I pick them up from daycare. And maybe, just maybe, by cozying up to my imperfections, my laundry list of weaknesses, I can teach them that they don’t have to be perfect, either.

And then read this: When love feels heavy.

Right now, in the thick of it, this season will feel never ending. While others’ newborns are napping sweetly in their stylish organic leggings via Instagram, yours is miserable. There are over 2 billion mothers in the world, yet you will feel deeply alone. Compared to everyone else, you are failing. No matter how many hands you have on deck, you will be deserted. You will not be able to tell the difference between exhaustion and depression, and that darkness will rob you from what should be the most tender months of your daughter’s new life. … Though you may never have parenthood all figured out, there will be a day when you will find a way to wrap that love around yourself, instead of being buried in it. You will be better. You will grow. You will adjust, and settle, and adjust again. That is what motherhood is, I think. Finding ways through the good heartbreak to fit more love inside of you. There will always be something that stretches your capacity for more. You will learn how to balance the goodness with the heaviness.  And, I beg you, embrace that things will always feel unfinished. Let unfinished be okay. Let unfinished be enough.

I know that you know you will be a good mother. But you are worried about whether you will be good enough. If you are driven by love, you will be good enough. You will be a good mother. I promise.

 

 

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