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Advice for New Moms: Don’t worry, I was scared of my baby, too

Dear New Mom,

Congratulations! Your new baby is beautiful and perfect, and well : ever so small and totally intimidating, right? Oh mama, I remember.

The moment I first held my newborn son, I swore I would do everything in my power to protect my precious baby forever and ever. I made a deal with the universe to be the best mother I knew how, and if that meant witnessing every breath he ever took until he turned 18, I was prepared to do that – and then some.

The idea of motherhood was awesome : but even more than awesome, it was scary. Even my baby scared me. Sure, he didn’t look scary – but that was the even scarier part.

You’ll find yourself facing all sorts of completely rational new mom fears, and when you do, just know: You’re so not alone. Here are some things I went through as a new mom:

You’re afraid you might actually break your baby, like for reals. So your baby is small. He’s even smaller than your favorite handbag, and it’s freaking you out, right? I get it. While it’s true your baby is tiny, he isn’t quite as fragile as you might think he is. I know the floppy-neck thing has you stressing – when was the last time you were responsible for keeping another human’s head up? – but as long as you keep baby’s neck supported and continue to handle him with tender loving care, you’ll both be fine. Get an emotional (and literal) grip, and rest assured, you’ll soon be handling your newborn like a pro, or at least like a nurse. Best of all, your baby will only get bigger from here on out – whew!

You’re consumed with baby’s every breath. I sacrificed sleep, so much glorious and much-needed sleep, just to ensure my baby was breathing. I felt like I had to, like the universe and I had a deal. Don’t make the same mistake I did; understand that your baby will continue to breathe even without you bearing witness to every breath. I know you probably don’t believe me (I wouldn’t have, either), so remain diligent, follow your doctor’s infant sleeping recommendations, and educate yourself on SIDS prevention.

You don’t know why baby is crying. Help! The sound of your crying infant is enough to send you into instant panic mode. You frantically run through your mommy mental checklist: Fed, check. Changed, check. Cuddled, check – yet the crying continues. The longer and louder your baby cries, the more frantic you become. Mom, before you buckle baby in the minivan and race to the Emergency Room, put the keys down and take a deep breath. Unfortunately, you won’t always know why your baby is crying. As frustrating as that can be sometimes, remember that your baby takes his cues from you – getting more stressed out won’t help you or your kid. If all else fails and your mother’s instinct is insisting, call your doctor.

You don’t know how to be a mom. Once baby comes home and you realize you’ve been left in charge, wicked maternal doubt creeps in. Is there a grownup in the house? Wait, that’s you. If you’re hoping your maternal secret senses will organically awaken now that you have a baby, I can assure you they will. It may not happen right away, but it will happen. My baby thrived in spite of my inexperience and yours will, too. I may not have had all of the answers when it came to my baby, but my instincts were there all along – I just needed to listen to them. You’re armed with more than enough maternal instinct to earn your stripes. Trust me on this one.

You feel overwhelmed. Oh mama, big hugs! Anyone who tells you new motherhood is all sunshine and rainbows is totally doing it wrong. Think of motherhood as a veritable hodgepodge of magic, fear, bliss, poop, adoration, leaky boobs, crying, and exhaustion. You’ll laugh until you cry, cry until you laugh, fall asleep while standing, and find yourself rocking back and forth even when you’re not holding your baby. If you’re somehow convinced that you’re failing or have wondered what you’ve gotten yourself into – congratulations! You’ve made it through the hazing ritual of motherhood; welcome to the mom sorority! (We’re decorating T-shirts at my place.) Be patient with yourself and just know it gets better (pinky swear).

I survived the fear-mongering trenches of new motherhood and so will you – not to say it’s always easy. I was a crazy-in-love new mom and almost certainly not in a good way. I obsessed over every cry, every fidget, every everything. I fixated on milestones. I tried feeding my son constantly. I was afraid to let people hold my baby. My pediatrician was on speed dial, and yeah : his nurse could recognize my voice.

On my umpteenth visit to the pediatrician (likely for a hangnail), my son’s doctor said to me in his most serious tone, “Listen carefully. Your baby is healthy; you’re lucky. You need to stop all this, you’re missing out on the magic and your baby won’t be a baby much longer.”

Magic? Harrumph! Nothing about this baby paranoia felt particularly magical to me. My pediatrician was right about one thing: My baby was growing – and fast. Already speed crawling and jonesing for adventure, my son was no longer content to sit and cuddle for hours. He was busy becoming a toddler, and his baby days were numbered (cue ovary twitch). My baby boy was really pretty amazing; his giggle was hearty and infectious. He was silly and adorable with chubby cheeks I just loved to nibble. When I finally stopped worrying long enough to recognize the happy and healthy baby right in front of me, I realized the magic had been there all along : and I had been missing out on it. Talk about mom guilt! Maybe I didn’t need to witness every breath or panic over every weird poop; maybe I needed to enjoy the magic for awhile.

New mom, parenthood is undoubtedly the hardest job you’ll ever love. I know you want the very best for your baby, and in time, you’ll realize all the obsessive worrying really didn’t make you a better parent at all. No amount of hyper-diligence or overprotection will protect your baby from explosive diarrhea, unexplainable crying, diaper rash, or the sniffles. As long as I’m being honest, I can almost guarantee you will accidentally clip your baby’s nails too short, pinch him with the car seat buckle, dress him too warm, and bump his head – at least once. Chances are this stuff will happen and when it does, you’ll make it all better, as only a mommy knows how to do.

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