Dear New Mom,
If you’re holding your precious new baby in your arms and feeling immeasurably blessed and overwhelmed, you should know that you’re not alone.
As a newly initiated member of the motherhood council, you’re likely to have questions. Big, important questions, such as: When are things going to get easier? When will I start feeling like myself again? Why am I always so scared? You might be grappling with a vision of how things are supposed to be, what parenthood ought to look and feel like, and the kind of mother you expect yourself to become.
I had all those same thoughts and feelings when I started out, too. Take a look at my journal entry as a first-time mother of 1-month-old Boy Wonder, dated November 23, 2002:
Well, motherhood isn’t at all what I thought it would be, at least not yet anyway. I keep wondering why EVERYTHING has to be so hard. Sitting is still hard — it hurts! Nursing is still hard — it hurts even more! I’m beyond exhausted and being nice to [my husband] is almost impossible. Getting dressed is hard because none of my clothes fit. Going out is hard because hello, packing a diaper bag takes like 30 minutes! I’m drowning in laundry and I still can’t get [Boy Wonder] to properly latch on. If it’s possible to fail at motherhood, I’m pretty sure I’m doing it. Why is no part of this instinctual for me? People tell me it’ll get easier. I really hope that’s true because I don’t think it could get any harder.
Aww, hugs to new mom me and even bigger hugs to new mom you if you’re feeling the same way right now. The good news is that motherhood does eventually get easier, but it takes so much longer than just a few initial months to adjust. So here’s what I’d like you to know about this scary but amazing new time:
One day you will sleep again— I promise.
Let’s start with the root of all evil when it comes to new motherhood — sleep, or rather, lack thereof. While you’ve long known the merits of a good night’s sleep, you may not have realized just how vital sleep really becomes until after you became a parent. You need sleep to parent responsibly and make rational decisions, and yet here you are, unable to get what you so desperately need. Take a look at my journal entry from February 6, 2003, penned with sleepy frustration about my 4-month-old’s sleep habits:
OK, so I think we finally have feedings down (HALLELUJAH!), but sleep is still an issue. He’ll only stay asleep if he’s held in the upright position. Am I supposed to hold him all night that way? I’m not even sure I can. What if I fall asleep and drop him? People online say to let him cry it out. I tried that for like five minutes last night and then gave in. I couldn’t take it. I’m afraid there’s something wrong. People are telling me that he should be sleeping through the night already. Shhhh. Sleep, baby, just sleep. Please, baby, Mommy’s so tired.
As it turned out, there was nothing unusual about my baby’s sleep habits at all. A new longitudinal sleep study published in PLOS One found that Australian mothers suffered from dangerous levels of exhaustion even after 4 ½ months. So it’s not just the first few sleepless months of parenthood that everyone remembers so well — it’s a mini lifetime! The good news is that it gets better. Sleeps takes practice and as your baby grows, extra sleepy minutes will turn to extra sleepy hours and over time, you’ll begin to feel human once more.
You’re going to look at everything differently.
Speaking of feeling human, the human you become is likely to change. Take a look at my pensive journal entry, dated March 4, 2003:
I feel so lost sometimes, like I’m not really sure what just happened. I love being a mom, but I’m not really sure I know who I am anymore. Before I had [Boy Wonder], I knew what I wanted, but now that he’s here, everything’s changed. I don’t want the same things anymore. I’m not really sure what it is I want, but I know it’s different than this.
Know this feeling? Welcome to the super-secret hazing ritual of parenting nobody warns you about. As you begin to reprioritize nearly everything you once held so dear, an evolution of the spirit takes place without warning. You’ll begin to purge the people and priorities that fail to support this stage of your life and you’ll begin to develop strong convictions surrounding community, environment, and wellness. You’ll grow up, grow in, and grow outward in a way you could have never prepared for. The change will be gradual and yet sudden, easy and difficult. It’s OK not to feel like yourself anymore. You’re changing, becoming a seeker, and reconciling everything you thought you knew about parenthood against everything your newfound experience has taught you to be true.
You’re not going to be so judgmental of other parents.
I humbly present the following entry from my journal of confusion, dated July 12, 2003:
[Boy Wonder] is nine months old today! Things are crazier than ever here. [Boy Wonder’s] been crawling for about a month and this kid is into EVERYTHING! Yesterday he ate a ton of sand at the beach. I tried all day to get him to stop before finally giving up. I used to see kids do that kind of stuff and freak out. I wondered why their parents would let them do such disgusting things. Now I know. I never realized how harshly I judged parents and kids until I became a parent. I just seriously had no idea at all.
I was beginning to realize then that parenting wasn’t as easy as it looked from the outside. At any given moment, we’re all just doing the best we can out of love — crazy, crazy love.
You’re going to be really, really scared — of everything.
Case in point, illustrated in this entry, dated September 3, 2003:
I love my baby so much that it actually hurts sometimes, you know? Why does the world (and even our house) have to feel like such a scary and dangerous place? There’s sharp corners and steps, pinched fingers, heavy dressers, bad people, illness, and so many things I can’t protect him from. It feels wrong to be consumed by the many fears these dangers bring, while at the same time irresponsible not to be. Watch out! Protect! Be careful! Think! It’s exhausting. So. very. exhausting.
I’m not going to tell you to relax, because I know if it were really that easy, you’d be feeling all kinds of chill right now, but I will tell you this: there will be tumbles and bruises, and maybe even a few stitches. There will be close calls and near misses, times when you’ll have to put on a brave face and times when you’ll need to ask for help. But you’ll manage and it’ll all be more than OK because it’ll all be rooted in love.
Time is going to go by so slowly, and so fast at the same time.
I wrote a birthday letter to my 1-year-old son on October 12, 2003, that went exactly like this:
Happy 1st birthday to my beautiful boy! Well, kid, we made it. There were so many times I had my doubts. I wanted to be the perfect mom for you from the start, but we had a rocky time of it, didn’t we? You cried a lot and I cried too. I cried because I loved you more than my heart could handle. I cried because I was scared so much of the time. But we made it through, continuing to learn each other until smiles replaced our tears. I wondered sometimes if I was failing you somehow, but I now understand that all the smiles you gave me … they were your way of telling me that I was doing something right. I wished for you without knowing all the joy and heartbreak and heart-bursting love that you would bring. And I’m grateful for the not knowing, because had I known, I may never have been brave enough to take a chance on the challenge and opportunity of you. Thank you for the surprises and for allowing me to guide your bright light. I can’t promise you that growing up will be easy or that I’ll always have all the answers, but I can promise you that your time with me will always be filled with love.
New Mom, if you’re reading this, I urge you to stop searching for the fast-forward button in this new motherhood phase, because I assure you, it’s already pressed. It’s pressed through this phase and every wondrous phase that follows. It’s been nearly 11 years since I wrote this letter to my son, and if I could grant myself one great do-over, I’d accept the beautiful imperfection of this journey.
I’d stop wishing for things to get easier, stop comparing myself to others, and stop obsessing over every last percentile, milestone, and skinned knee. I’d be patient with myself as a mother, discover joy in the process of learning my child, and seek opportunity instead of dread with every new challenge.
I’d focus on my child and try to let the rest go, do my best to trust to my developing instincts, and allow myself to be human without apology.
Mama, even when it’s hard, I urge you to steer your course towards joy. It’s in your arms, it’s in your heart, and it’s even right in front of you when things seem impossible. Motherhood is different and easier and harder on any given day, but the one constant is joy, even when you have to look to find it.
Welcome to the ages, welcome to the stages, and most of all, welcome to the joy. You got this.