They tell you you’ll be tired. They tell you that you should sleep when the baby does, or that you should let others do for you. Allow the influx of chicken pies from well-meaning church members. Let you mom do your laundry and your sister do your hair. Spend just a little too long in the shower because it’s the only time you really get to yourself and once they’re crawling or toddling, they can easily throw a shower curtain open, so even that luxury is short-lived.
When I first had my daughter, I was a mess of emotions, unwashed hair, stretchy pants, sleep deprivation and newness. It took a solid two years before I started to feel like myself again and while that sounds like a stretch, I believe wholeheartedly that every new mama would nod her head in agreement with such a realistic timeline.
Still, the advice came like a flood and as someone who’s always eager to learn, I took it all in. I listened to my parents, my siblings, my friends with babies and the ones without. I listened to my neighbors, my in-laws and strangers on the internet. I spent hours, days even, researching the best baby shampoo and the best baby monitor. There’s nothing wrong with doing your homework. This is a real-life person after all, and suddenly he or she is thrust into your tired arms and you have no clue how to get it 100% right.
Yet, what no one really tells you is that there comes a point when the research, the listening, and the note-taking give way to intuition. You’ll be nursing your baby at midnight, trying to get her to fall back asleep. You’ll cry when she does and you’ll wonder what’s going on. Is she gassy? Is she overly tired? Is she hungry? Does she need a new diaper? You’ll think you’re doing it totally wrong. Then, she’ll look up at you with eyes as big as the moon and smile her very first smile as the moon is peeping in through the shutters. She’ll grab a tiny piece of your hair with her infant fist and wrap the other arm around your waist. She’ll let out a tiny sigh and fall back into dreamland and you’ll realize that all she wanted, after all, was just to be near you.
You see, the thing about new motherhood that was so foreign to me was how to manage it all. I didn’t understand how to keep this baby happy while also tending to my own needs and I just knew that as soon as one cup ran dry, the other wouldn’t be too far behind. Yet, by giving myself a little grace to learn along the way, I opened up the door to freedom and contentment. I learned that there’s a place for free-range, organic, grass-fed baby food. There’s also a place for spaghetti-o’s at 2:00 in the afternoon in front of the television.
There’s a time to mop and clean the floors so they’re clean for baby feet and hands to crawl upon. Then, there’s a time to let loose and get flour, sugar, and an entire bag of chocolate chips on your hardwoods while your giggling baby helps you make homemade chocolate chip cookies. There’s a season to everything, and a purpose for it all, and leaning into that understanding was paramount for me.
No, they don’t tell you that some days you may need to excuse yourself to go into the laundry room, hold the dryer while it spins, and just let out a few hard tears. There are days when I can’t text my husband soon enough to ask when he’s coming home from work. There are days when I go to bed wondering if I was too short with them, or lost my patience too many times. They only get one shot at childhood, and am I giving them the one they deserve? Am I the kind of mom to them that mine was to me because I sure hope so. I lie awake some nights and wonder just what exactly I’m doing right, and if there’s anything I can do better.
The truth? I could probably do all of it a little better. I could make more meals at home. I could let them watch fewer cartoons. I could dress them in finer clothes or let them spend a little more time on the playground. It’s easy to become enraptured by mom guilt, especially with online social media platforms that make it easy for mothers, even the new ones, to paint parenthood as one giant ray of idealized sunshine.
Yet, whenever I find myself going down that rabbit hole and wondering if I’m not good enough, I remember that night four years ago, when it was just my baby and I in a dark, new nursery. The furniture was freshly assembled and the rug hadn’t been stained by that giant bowl of blueberries yet. She looked at me and I met her gaze. Together, we both gave a little grin. “We can do this,” I whispered. She smiled and fell asleep.