Thursday, September 8, 2011

Five Things Every New Mom Should Know

I am at an age where all  of my friends are becoming moms. If they don't have kids already, then they're pregnant or trying to get pregnant. With my friends who do have children, we talk a lot about all the things no one tells you before you have a baby (like how awful the recovery process can be, how much it hurts to start nursing, or how guilty you feel for enjoying your alone time). Everyone talks about the love and the joys and the fun, and of course those things are amazing, but there are a lot of struggles and challenges and tears, and those things are normal too. Of course, there are a lot of things you can only appreciate by experiencing them, so it won't help anyone to hear about how painful contractions are or what sleep deprivation feels like. So when I say, "There's so much no one tells you," I'm mostly referring to the things that would have actually made a difference in the way I started this journey. My actual list is quite extensive, but here are the top five:  

5. Maternal instinct is real. I was so nervous about knowing what to do when Reese was born. I had never breastfed, bathed, or changed a newborn baby. Will I even know what to do?  How will I know if something’s wrong with her? How will I handle extended bought of unexplained screaming? Looking back, I wish I would have spent a little more time enjoying the anticipation of becoming a mom and a little less time worrying about it and preparing myself for every aspect of it. So much of motherhood really is instinctual, and I am still amazed by how much I “just know” about Reese. So go ahead – put the books down. You already have all the skills you need to be a great mom.   

4. Don’t drive yourself crazy trying to do everything right. When I first had Reese, there were so many things I tried to research – like the best toys, when to start solid food, how to discipline, and the list goes on. But the more research I did, the more confused I was. Every book, website, doctor, and parent will tell you something completely different. Not that you should disregard every piece of advice, but just listen to it knowing that nobody knows your baby and your family better than you. So try not to worry about giving your kid attachment, digestive, or social issues because you let her sleep in your bed or started solid food too late or waited too long to start preschool. There’s conflicting evidence about everything. Just do your best to do what you know is right for your unique baby, and don’t worry about what everyone else is doing. Listen to those maternal instincts and, again, put down the books.
3. It’s okay to have moments of misery. After Reese was born, there were days (lots of days) where I was absolutely miserable. The aftermath of childbirth, the first few weeks of breastfeeding, and the sleepless nights were some of greatest physical challenges I’ve ever experienced. I remember standing in the kitchen with my head on the counter promising myself that I will never do this again. There were days in the early stages of breastfeeding where I would cry just thinking about her next feeding. In those challenging moments, I remember wondering if there was something wrong with me. I thought I was supposed to be overcome with unwavering happiness, which only added emotional guilt to the physical misery. I never understood why we’re not supposed to talk about this part of motherhood. I don’t say it to be negative or to scare unsuspecting moms-to-be. I say it so you know that you’re not alone in those dark moments.

2. Life doesn't go "back to normal." When Reese was about 6 months old, I went through a small period of minor depression. I thought, “It’s been 6 months. Why don’t I feel back to normal? Shouldn’t I be adjusted to this role by now?” I waited for my body and my marriage and my daily routine to get back to what I had always defined as my “normal” life. When they didn’t, I thought something was wrong with my ability to cope with motherhood. I knew that babies turned your world upside down, but I always thought that eventually the dust settles, your body heals, you make the necessary adjustments and then everything feels normal again. Clearly, I was wrong. It’s not about waiting for the dust to settle. It’s about learning to stand on your head and accept your upside down world as your new “normal life.” 

1. The greatest self-improvement tool in the world is growing inside you. After I had Reese, I realized that I have both an amazing opportunity and challenging mission ahead of me. There are so many values I want to instill in her so she can become the best possible version of herself, but I can’t give her what I don’t have, which means that I owe it to her to become the best possible version of myself first. I decided to work on really get in touch with who I am and address the parts of my life and my personality that need improvement. I’ve learned more about myself and my purpose in the past 15 months than I did in every other stage of my life combined. One of the many things I’ve learned is that personal growth doesn’t happen automatically. Self-improvement is a choice. We all have room for it and we owe it to our children to capitalize on the opportunity to seek it.

That’s it. Those are the 5 things I wish I knew before I became a mom. I hope all of you who are expecting moms, new moms, and future moms are reminded that everything you feel is normal; that you’re never alone in your struggles; that no one has all the right answers but we’re all doing our best; and that every day is an opportunity to celebrate the good times, learn from the bad times, and grow into our best selves so we can provide our children with the skills, support, and encouragement to do the same.  

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