Before having a baby, you might have had a romantic idea of what motherhood would look like. If you’re like me, in this vision your hair is wrangled in the perfect messy ponytail, you fit into your pre-pregnancy jeans, and the cutest baby you’ve ever dreamed of coos and smiles at you with “thank you, Mama” eyes. Sure, you’re tired, but you’re so blissfully happy that nothing else matters.
In these perfect visions of motherhood, we often edit out the crying, anxiety, and dirty diapers. Moments after you deliver, and they plop your little bundle down on your body, you quickly realize that this is going to be different than anything you could have ever dreamed up. Real motherhood is incredible, but it’s also raw and all-encompassing. Just like many birth stories, motherhood is messy, chaotic, and beautiful.
Starting your new life with your baby is a special time, but it’s a major life adjustment where words like “hard,” “overwhelming,” and “scary” are in the realm of normal.
You used to be your own person and suddenly you’re responsible for a tiny, helpless being. Your job is to keep your baby alive, and you might not always know the best way to accomplish that.
Navigating this new life with your partner can be incredibly hard. You’ve likely never needed one another more, but things between you can quickly grow tense. If you’re breastfeeding and feeling tethered to your baby, you might feel jealous watching your partner head out of the house. You might experience legitimate resentment that you’re not able to run out to the pharmacy or bank.
What You’re Going to Need:
- Extra hands - Maybe you need a friend to come over so you can shower. A postpartum doula can also help. Take people up on their offers to help.
- More sleep - Is there a friend, family member, neighbor, or babysitter who can come over and let you sleep? As hard as it can be, take people’s advice to nap while your baby naps.
- Daily reminders - You had a whole life before your baby, but it might be hard to remember what that looked and felt like. Book a date night out or plan an at-home date night after your baby goes to sleep. You are still you, I promise!
Ever had to call a friend to tell her you’ll be late because you got poop on your pants … and shoes? All the best-laid plans can and will go awry. The fact is, getting out the door is harder, getting into the car is harder, and remembering everything you need to leave the house is harder – diapers, binky, bottle, snacks, favorite stuffed animal or security blanket, shoes, extra pair of clothes – the mental checklist is overwhelming. Maybe it’s just easier to stay inside?
You will learn to improvise; you will become a master of distraction, a random song-singer, and a daily dance party cheerleader. You will become an expert in listening to your friend’s story, while your child is screaming at you for attention. This skill will take you far! Life might have been simpler before, but it was probably less interesting.
What You’re Going to Need:
- Laughter - A sense of humor can really help with the struggles of having a baby. Join a moms’ group and watch relatable movies (Baby Boom, anyone?).
A friend - You might just need to commiserate with someone in the same shoes as you. Plan a play date with someone who has a baby near the same age as yours. And if you forgot a diaper, chances are she’ll have you covered.
- A stress reliever - I found taking long walks with my baby really helped me clear my head; it also allowed her to nap.
When planning for your baby, there are lots of lists to read and ways to prepare, but there’s absolutely no way to factor in how you will feel about your baby. While these feelings are not the same for everyone, it’s possible that your emotions may surprise you. Some parents feel an intense, all-encompassing love. Some have experienced something akin to a middle-school crush-like feeling. Some take a bit longer to feel connected and bonded.
I assumed that it would be love at first sight for me. It wasn’t. It took me a couple of weeks, but when we finally bonded, I was confused how it was possible to be smitten with a wiggle worm who couldn’t even make eye contact with me. I was confused how my heart could expand to 40 times its previous size and somehow still fit inside my body.
That huge love you have for your baby will somehow make the sleeplessness, the jealousy, and the mourning of your old life seem like smaller potatoes. Stressful moments can turn blissful with the flash of a smile – you might not even care that you left the house without remembering to brush your teeth. Or your hair. Or change out of your pajamas. That might have a touch of poop on them.
What You’re Going to Need:
- A camera - Capture these moments. The early days feel like they go by so fast because babies change so dramatically and so quickly. It’s hard to even remember what they were able to do a month before. Every day, they wake up a new person; remind yourself to take a breath and meet your child every single day.
- A doctor - If you're recently postpartum, reach out to your OB with any concerns; don’t wait until the six-week check-up. Your body will be undergoing enormous changes as it heals and your hormones regulate. From pelvic floor physical therapy to psychiatry, do not be afraid to go after the help you need so that you’re fully able to enjoy the beauty of it all.
- Self-care - Honor yourself for all you’ve been through. Your body is a miracle. Whether or not you carried and delivered your baby, you will be cradling, holding, and wearing your baby – you are a life force. Do not underestimate the power of hot baths, massages, exercise, and rest. Treat your body right.
* Please note that if you’re not bonded or connected to your child, there is help.
It’s completely normal to miss and mourn your old life – perhaps even while feeling joy about your new one. Becoming a parent will likely be one of the biggest changes in your life. Moms often ask, “When am I going to feel normal again?” “When” is different for everyone, but you will feel normal again – a new normal.
The truth is I barely remember the old me. She had her nails done, she worked out religiously (without peeing her pants), and she drank coffee while it was hot. She never had gray roots showing, and her clothes had never come in contact with applesauce, oatmeal, or yogurt. But the truth is that if I were fixated on getting “back” to the old me, I would be doing myself a huge disservice. The new me has infinite possibilities that the old me never even dreamed of. The new me is capable of messy, chaotic, and beautiful love.
You deserve to treat yourself as you would treat your best friend who is in need of support: with lots of love and care. The better you feel, the better mom you’ll be.