For New Mamas Trying To Make It
One year ago.
One year ago, I was a brand new mom.
Three hundred and sixty five days ago, I wasn't sure who I was anymore. Who I was supposed to be. Who I wanted to be -- the old me or the new one.
Before I start counting off a year's worth of time in increasingly minuscule iterations, let me walk you back to December 2015.
Almost thirteen months ago, I gave birth to my little girl. My baby. The one I'd prayed for, planned for. Talked to, sung to, nicknamed, and spoiled. We bonded with the belly between us, ready to meet one another and manifest the destiny we'd dreamed of together. The one she made possible.
When she arrived, I was speechless. In shock. Over having given birth, and seeing my daughter's actual face for the first time. Looking in her eyes, hearing her brand new grunts and gurgles, feeling her weight in my arms. Flesh, blood, and love. In a seven pound package.
During my pregnancy, I did a bang-up job of managing my new mom anxieties. I'd say I graded out around a B+: happy, positive, reasonable, with only a couple irrational bumps in the road. With so many hormones at play, who's to say I was totally to blame for those momentary meltdowns anyways?
But once Harlow arrived? The tentacles of worry, fear, and dread started creeping up like a plant in the Addams family conservatory. I knew I was in love. So in love my innate inner mama bear roared to the surface, swiping left and right at any and all dangers either real or potential that could harm my cub. When I realized what, or rather who, scared me the most, it set me back on my haunches.
It was me. I scared me the most.
You see, when I'm out of my element, I feel like I'm standing alone on stage in a bright, white spotlight, with saucer-sized eyeballs and wooden knees knocking at a tempo that would make a woodpecker blush. I feel so exposed, like a square peg banging her corners against the circle's round hole and everyone inside is thinking "enough already. This isn't for you, go back to your regular bar stool at your rectangular haunt. It'll just be better for everybody that way."
I felt so thoroughly unequipped to be a mom and I felt that everybody knew it. Holding Harlow made me nervous. Trying to change her diaper turned me into a nervous wreck. I couldn't sleep for the first 48 hours after giving birth because the minute I relaxed my reptilian brain snapped awake, warning me that the worst possible scenario would rear its ugly head the minute I drifted off. Good moms don't look away, it said. Real moms would know that. Faker. You're a liability at best.
My inner Sith is really hard on me, you guys.
To put it simply, I was terrified of falling short of perfect. God blessed me with this miracle -- didn't I owe it to her and to Him to give my everything? My all? But what if my kit and caboodle couldn't hack it out of ignorance and inexperience?
I felt paralyzed by not knowing what I didn't know. That all the books, emails, conversations, and phone calls omitted the golden nuggets of knowledge because real moms just know them. They have that thing called maternal instinct. I couldn't tell if mine was broken, on hyperdrive, or overridden by an over-tired, overly analytical brain. I "couldn't" call a mechanic for fear I'd be judged that I wasn't happy or grateful or totally in love with my daughter.
Which brings me to the whole reason I'm writing this.
For all you new mamas in the thick of it, do not fear, for you are not alone.
You are not alone in your fear. Your worry. Your doubt.
You are not alone in your pain. Your exhaustion. Your loneliness.
Please, PLEASE know that if you are reading this at 3 AM while you nurse your child for the umpteenth time in the last 24 hours while your partner snores away in the bed you used to share, in a bedroom you used to sleep in, in pajamas that used to make you feel pretty, in a life you used to know - you are NOT alone. There's another mom just like you. Right now. Sitting in her rocking chair, thinking what the actual hell is happening?
(Actually, you both might be online shopping right now. Amazon Prime, amiright?)
It is okay to feel happy. Then scared. Then sad. Then smile when your baby makes those brand new clicks and gurgles. Then cry when you realize all your friends are together having margaritas right now and you can't go because of so many reasons.
You used to be able to go at a moment's notice. Those days are over.
For just a little while.
The best way to describe the early stages of infancy, and by extension motherhood, is it feels like the longest shortest time on Earth. Sometimes the twenty-four hours in a day never seem to pass, and the days run together because you no longer enjoy a peaceful night's sleep in between to break them up. Or because the baby won't sleep, or has gas, or reflux, or won't latch, or will only fall asleep in the car. Those are hard, hard days and nights. Believe me, I know. Harlow had colic and we had to hire a sleep therapist at four months because I suffered an emotional breakdown after roughly 160 days of no sleep. I sat in my stairwell, sobbing over FaceTime to my husband as my daughter wailed from her crib.
Now, almost triple the amount of time since that tearful spell on the landing, I look back and marvel at how quickly the time has passed. How that crying, sleepless baby who didn't have the strength to hold her own head up is now on the brink of taking her first steps. The in-between is fuzzy, and the 'this is when' markers don't really stand out. Yet somehow we're here, thirteen months in, and she is happy. And healthy. And she loves me.
I didn't muck it all up after all. And you won't either.
It IS hard. It IS frustrating. It IS so much more than you thought it would be.
And so are you.
When I was grappling with my new reality, I was reminded that the Lord gives us our daily manna. He is not a genie; God doesn't work on demand. But He does provide. Sometimes He gets us through the day with a plentiful three-course meal and a French red to wash it down with. Other times it's water and a hard block of cheese. It does sustain us, barely. On the bright side it is low carb.
Our daily mommy manna comes in many forms. A loved one who takes over long enough for you to nap. Finding your favorite old movie on at 1 in the morning while you nurse. A surprise package in the mail with a note from a mom-friend that says "this really helped me when my child was brand new." Phone calls. Walks. Laughter. Frozen meal deliveries. Hot showers. Hot coffee. Buckets of hot coffee.
We all find our ways to keep moving forward. That's all you gotta do, honey. Some days it's one minute at a time but they will pass, and so too will the darkest thunderstorms.
Just as no two children are alike no two moms are either. In how we parent, in how we experience parenthood. Some women just seem like they were put on this Earth to be mothers. They walk around, their maternal pheromones wafting around like a seductive scent, attracting every 18-month-old and under like a magnet with their motheriness. Those women are awesome.
Some women needed to wind their way towards motherhood, waiting until they were ready, or at least as sure as they would ever be. They walk around, tucking their wine night FOMO into their back pockets while they Google 'what is lanolin?' and wonder when everybody started using doulas...then promptly Googles 'what does a doula do?' These women are awesome.
We're all awesome. We're all trying. And once you become a mom you see the women that are awesome and trying and doing their best all around you. You'll notice her grocery shopping with three kids under the age of five and she's showered and wearing makeup and managing to smile at strangers and you'll think 'now that is impressive. High five sister friend!'
The same goes for you. On the days you've got it together and on the days it's all falling apart. We know how you're feeling. Moms know. There are thousands, likely millions, of moms feeling those same feels. Even the really ugly ones we don't want to talk about.
But do talk about it. Ask for help. Take it when it's offered. Do what works for YOU.
If you can't breastfeed, it's okay. Feeling guilty about it? Okay. Go to the playground and point out the kids that were breastfed and those that weren't. You can't do it because it's impossible to tell!
(Unless you live here in Asheville and there's a women breastfeeding her three-year-old on the park bench. Let's set them aside for the purposes of this conversation.)
If you're thinking 'why did I do this? I would give anything for just one day of my old life back' then we have something in common. I thought it. I've talked to many other moms who did, too.
Nobody prepares you for the grief that accompanies motherhood. I chalk that up to A) not wanting to scare a pregnant woman to death, and B) not wanting to Debbie Downer a really beautiful time in a woman's life. But it's real, and it's okay. Grief is what we feel when we're processing the letting go of the old and comfortable for the new and unknown. (My life coach's words, not mine...I'm not that profound). It's a shift we can't possibly prepare for, yet it rocks us to our very core.
Unfortunately, life will not go back to the way it was, not totally. There is no 'eject' button or escape hatch once you enter motherhood. But as your baby gets older - even just reaching the four-month mark - the Code Red days will deescalate down to a friendlier shade of orange, then one day you'll look up and realize you're holding steady in a peaceful sea of aqua blue.
You will get there, friend. You're down in the valley now, and the only way to go is up!
Listen to me: love yourself. Love that precious baby. Make decisions that keep you both happy and healthy. Eat, sleep, and sh*t (if you even can yet). Then give yourself permission and space to feel all the emotions that come along with waking up in a new reality. Settling in to a new life takes time and patience.
All the best things usually do.
Thirteen months ago, I feared I didn't know how to be enough for my daughter. That's because thirteen months ago, I didn't know how strong I was. How hard it would be...or how hard I would fight. For her, for us...for this crazy new life to work. By God's grace I found my way.
I made it. You will, too.
Editor's Note: I included some of these imperfect, unprofessional photos from my early days of motherhood because I wanted my visuals to help tell the story of where I was in my life in those first few months. Makeup and hair brushes were scarce....oversized sunglasses and hats were my best friends. I can't say I love the way I look in these photos or in many others from Harlow's newborn phase -- but I'm SO happy I have them! They show us as we were then, like little windows into our past. I only wish I could've captured more simple, fleeting, makeup-free moments....