Brava! You did it. You brought this baby into the world. You. No one else. No matter how your baby arrived, he or she is here, thanks to you. Some feel giving birth is as natural as the sun rising and setting. I believe you are a miracle-worker. You deserve to feel great about yourself.
Go ahead and mourn the expectations you may have had for your baby’s birth. That’s okay. So much dreaming and imagining and hoping and praying went into your birth fantasy. Talk to someone you trust about these feelings. Tell them you are disappointed. All women have these feelings—just because they don’t share them aloud doesn’t mean they don’t feel exactly the same way. Admitting your disappointment is normal. Healthy. It doesn’t mean you love your baby less. Releasing the anger and hurt will help you move into the moment and celebrate what you have accomplished.
There are many things about new motherhood that you may have expected. Your mother and mother-in-law, and all the women at your baby shower, warned you, after all. You’ll never sleep again! True but temporary. Life will never be the same. True, but it isn’t a loss. Yes, life has changed. But, I promise you, cross my heart, pinky swear, it is for the better. As Emily Rapp, a mother and writer I admire says, “Life isn’t over. It’s just different.”
What surprised me most, in those first few weeks of motherhood, was the fear. Fear that I might accidentally hurt the baby. Fear that my baby wouldn’t be nourished. Fear that I could make the wrong choice. Fear that I wasn’t doing a good job. In the first few months of your life as a mother there will be times when you think, I can’t do this! You are not alone. The first night we brought my son home from the hospital, after a four-day stay in the NICU, he cried. And cried. We swaddled him, but he still cried. We changed him, and he cried. I was terrified that he was ill. We fed him and sang to him and gave him the pacifier and the breast and the bottle and… he cried.
Finally, I turned to my son’s father and said, “We can’t do this!”
He looked at me and said, “We can’t return him.”
We laughed, and the baby cried.
In time, I was able to accept that babies cry. Some cry a lot. I wish my birthing class instructor had mentioned how normal it was for babies to cry, and that there would be times I wouldn’t be able to soothe my baby with a pat on the back or a diaper change. In those first few weeks, when my baby cried, I felt as if I had done something wrong. I obsessed over my baby’s unhappiness. Was he in pain? What I did I know about infants after all? I was the eldest child in a small family. The little time I’d spent around children was with toddlers and preschoolers I babysat for a few hours at a time. Both my babies were not of the chill, fall-asleep-on-their-own variety. Why wasn’t my baby like her baby? Or her baby? I asked myself at play dates and visits to the park and the pediatrician’s office. Comparing my baby to other babies became an obsession. I had no idea what normal looked like. Now, I know there is no such thing as “normal.” Babies are just like adults—we learn at different rates, we enjoy different things, and we have an infinite variety of personalities. My children, not surprisingly, were like me—active, alert, and fussy. Even my lactation consultant could tell, when she held my son at two weeks old, that he was a fiery one. “Now here’s a spunky little guy,” she’d said. Now that my children are older, I can see how those busy, and often fussy, babies made the most fascinating people. So, as simple and obvious as this advice may seem: Remember, babies cry.
Trust your instinct. What instinct, you may ask, shaking your head, I have no idea what I’m doing! I’m lost in the woods, alone and without a map. No one told me it would be this hard. Your instinct is the whisper in your head, the twinge in your gut, the loosening in your chest, that tells you to do what’s easiest. Even if it is the very opposite of what the parenting books preach, or what your mother-in-law swears is “the only way.” You know what’s best for your baby—your constant companion for the last nine months. Do what feels easiest.When the drone of the breast pump begins to sound like a foreboding chant—for me, it said You can’t do this, you can’t do this, you can’t do this—you chant louder, Do what feels easiest, do what feels easiest….
Choosing the simplest way to soothe your baby, and therefore soothe yourself, isn’t always the first choice we new moms make. We want to live up to the lesson plan we adopted from the prenatal classes we took. The piles of how-to parenting books we consumed. We want to be A+ students of motherhood. Forget those lists and charts. Throw away that pad of paper you’re using to record the timing and color of the baby’s pee and poop, his or her feeding and sleeping schedule. He or she is going to pee or poop, sleep or not sleep, whether you keep diligent records or not.
What feels easiest for you will be the best for your baby. If it is easier for you to sit on the sofa and let your baby sleep in your arms while you watch back-to-back episodes of Battlestar Galactica (I’m speaking from experience) or Sex in the City (I’m also speaking from experience), do that. If it is easiest for you to let your partner give the baby a bottle at night so you can catch up on sleep, do that. If it is easiest for you to let the baby fall asleep at the breast, so you can answer a few work emails, go for it. If it feels more natural to let your baby sleep in your bed, trust yourself. If having your baby sleep in your bed is keeping you up at night, then use the crib. If it feels right for you to give your baby formula, then make that choice knowing you are doing what’s best for you and your baby. There are no wrong answers here, only what feels right, and there exists a unique definition of “right” for every mother.
In no time at all, although it may feel as if time moves in slow motion those first few weeks, your baby will reward your incredible efforts. With smiles and coos and little giggles mid nap. With swoon-worthy eyelash fluttering. Soon you’ll be gifted the greatest surprise of motherhood, something all those experienced mothers at your baby shower forgot to mention. They promised that you would love your baby, but your baby will love you—yes, you—with a devotion you never knew possible. You are his or her first and truest love.
With love and admiration,
Julia Fierro’s novel, Cutting Teeth, about the complicated and often comical contemporary parenting experience, is one of the most anticipated debuts of 2014 and publishes on May 13th. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and their two children. Visit Julia’s website at www.juliafierro.com and find her on Twitter @juliafierro.
Postpartum Progress, the world’s most widely-read blog on all things related to emotional health around pregnancy & childbirth, is a service of Postpartum Progress Inc., a 501c3 nonprofit devoted to raising awareness of postpartum depression and similar illnesses. Please consider making a donation today, Mother’s Day, so we can continue and expand our work supporting maternal mental health. Thank you!