New Mommy Stress (by request)
Nothing is more frightening than the moment in the hours, days or weeks after the birth of your first child when you realize the enormous scope of what you have taken on to accomplish. Somehow you are supposed to raise this incredibly small life form to adulthood with all its limbs and digits still attached and hopefully in possession of a conscience, some social skills and some smarts: at least enough smarts to take care of him or herself and even better…pick out a nice safe nursing home for you when the time comes. Uh…right.
There is that one moment in time when you consciously or unconsciously start screaming the question from somewhere in your soul – Oh My God What Have I Done?! It’s ok if you don’t want to admit it that you want to stuff the baby back where it came from and pretend to still be pregnant for a few more years. It makes you normal and it’s ok to admit it.
Truth is it is scary, even more so these days with parents who have already gone on before us to wherever we go when we die or are so far away geographically that they might as well be gone and aren’t around to comfort us in our insecurity. It used to be there was someone in the next hut over or at the next fire that could help us at 3am when the baby just will not stop crying and absolutely refuses to tell you how to give it what it wants. Or could help us get some sleep when the circuits in our brain are starting to overload from the lack thereof.
I remember moments when my daughter was small and I would have to drag myself from sleep with an internal system of pulleys and levers and force my body to move. I remember literally feeling nauseated from waking up so many in the night. My baby would cry and I would cry with her, as all moms eventually do, because it breaks our hearts knowing our babies must be thinking that they are lost in a foreign world and don’t speak the language and none of the large people around seem very competent to meet their very pressing needs. How scary for them! How scary for us!
There are so many books out there and methods and procedures and experts and family members and family-in-law members that it can become overwhelming to try and figure out the “right” way to parent. Food choices and diaper decisions. Waitlists for the “best” schools. And budget choices of do I buy new because I want my baby to not wear stranger baby clothes or do I buy used because it’s practical and means I can save more money for little Paulette’s college fund or little Wilson’s first fender bender?
Should I make him comfort himself at night or should I hold him or should he sleep with us as most of the rest of the world’s babies do? But what if I roll over on him? Should I feed her on demand or every two hours and when do I start with the solids? Should I breast feed or bottle feed? And what the hell do I do with all these stretch marks?!
Here’s the thing. You are going to mess your child up in some way or the other. Accept this and forgive yourself in advance. You are going to mess them up less if you relax and remember to breathe. Hold your sweet dumpling baby and take deep long breaths and you will stay calm and able to ‘feel” in your gut what is right for YOUR baby. Not Dr. Spock’s baby or Nurse Bossy’s baby, your baby.
I made myself feel better as a mother by starting a therapy fund for my daughter for future psychoanalysis to undo all my mistakes. I tried so hard to do it “right”. The right clothes, right book, right diet and you know my daughter did what she knew was right for her every time in spite of all my book learnin’. When I finally accepted that she knew a lot of the time what worked for her and that I really was going to make some serious mistakes and some not such a big deal mistakes and everything in between I relaxed.
Practice saying the following: “I’m sorry, little Chelsea that I fell asleep from exhaustion and was late getting you from daycare.” “I’m sorry, little Mateo, that I made you go to (insert one) public, private or alternative school and it warped you and now you can’t stop sucking your thumb even though you’re 30 years old.” “I’m sorry I made you come home at a decent hour and wouldn’t let you wear thong underwear in kindergarten.” And “ I’m really sorry for that terrible haircut I gave you when you were 4.”
Seriously though recognize that you might have to do some apologizing at some point. It’s all right to apologize to kids when it’s really necessary. Don’t let them “work” you over it though! You’ll know when it’s right to say you’re sorry. Recognize too that when they have kids they’ll understand what a great job you did but most likely will take you 100% for granted until then and it’s ok.
Take every moment to remind yourself you will get to sleep again someday and impress upon your mind every time you can the image of your baby’s face. It’s so true that overnight they are grown and gone. Remind yourself that hundreds of millions of mothers who have gone before you, and are with you in spirit now, know exactly what you’re going through. Get some friends you can call when you need to sleep or when you need a moment of non-baby time with your partner.
I can’t stress enough to new moms the value of some parenting classes here and there, lots of play dates and remembering to slap on some lipstick now and then so you don’t forget how pretty you are. One of the best gifts I got right after my daughter was born was perfume and nail polish. I’ll never forget how happy those two little things made me feel!
Also let your partner or your own parents help you more often without hovering over them every second. Chances are they’re willing to do more if you can get yourself out of the way. They aren’t “doing it wrong” either. If you don’t have a partner please take time to find some friends to help you along this road and take care of yourself as much as you can.
It’s the middle of the night and she won’t stop crying and you want to scream out loud. It’s not ok but it will be. Really it will. You’re not alone. You’re ok. Babies have been overcoming adversity since the beginning of time. It’s ok if they cry sometimes because you can’t figure out how to make them happy. It’s ok if you forget to do all the “right” things. It’s ok if you wonder if you are really cut out for all this and maybe Auntie Joan and Uncle Bob would like to raise another child.
When you get overwhelmed by it all call a 24/7 prayer line of any faith, call your parents, call a friend, preferably another mother and cry your heart out. Heck make up some symptoms and call Dial A Nurse, hearing a human adult voice can go a long way to re-centering. Talk about your fears and your concerns and go ahead and think you’re the worst mom ever because you aren’t. If you’re reading this and you’re trying at all, in even the tiniest of ways, to understand this new creature and your new, oh so unfamiliar and strange role then that alone should tell you something about who you are already as a mother.
Keep firmly in mind that as long as you don’t drop them on their heads (too often) and take time to breathe, breathe and breathe again they will be fine. And so will you. And hey, if they turn out not to need that therapy fund after all, you can take a helluva cruise with that cash!