5 Things I Would Tell My New-Mom Self
You know how you look back on your life as a, say middle schooler or high schooler, and you think about how serious you thought things were, and you shake your head a little at how absurd those “serious” things were?
Like standing in a bikini in front of a full-length mirror, turned to the side, and squishing your face up at the sight of the soft pooch in the belly area?
Or throwing yourself across your gingham bedspread-covered bed, in a fit of tears because the boy you liked found out you liked him, but didn’t like you back, because he liked your best friend, and the three of you lived in the same neighborhood and rode the same school bus, so you’d have to look them both in the eye the next day, and you just wanted to disappear?
Don’t you ever want to sneak back to those days and whisper a little something to that person?
Gift the Middle School You a little piece of advice from your current self, letting her know that you look amazing in that bikini, and that adorable soft pooch ain’t nothin' compared to what it’ll be in 20 years.
And that that boy isn’t worth one shiny tear. He only thinks he likes your best friend, but what he’s really in love with is street drugs, a relationship from which he’ll never escape, so dry your eyes, fix that side ponytail, and stop thinking about boys until you’re a little older (and out of that river town).
I bring this up because I have a blogger friend who’s much younger than me, and is pretty much just starting out as a mom.
Reading some of her struggles reminds me of when I was a new mom and I want to just pull her aside and tell her all the everything I’ve learned throughout my nearly 19 years of motherhood experience.
My boys are eight and a half years apart and it’s really interesting to see how alike they are, but also how different they are, and I attribute much of that to the way I handled things with them, from a mothering standpoint.
As a brand new mom, I was uptight and edgy. I also suffered from postpartum depression, which I don’t talk about much, and never talked about back then.
Here are five things I would love for the Right Now Me to share with the New Mom Me.
It’s ok that you aren’t in love right away. When they hand you your baby for the first time, you’ll feel dizzy from the delicious smell of his head - especially that warm, soft area right above his ears.
Tears will well up when you look at him, partly from hormones, but partly because you’re in disbelief that his tiny features are like looking at a miniature version of yourself and your husband all morphed together.
And partly because you know that you love him, but you don’t feel it, yet.
And that’s going to be really confusing and it’s going to scare you because you’ll be afraid that you’re missing the gene that makes a woman maternal and nurturing.
It’s going to scare you because you’ll be afraid that you won’t ever love him.
But you will.
You just feel this way because you’re overwhelmed by the magnitude of this life event.
You’re in shock.
You just can’t wrap your head around having given birth to a human, and you’re afraid to love him because what if something happens to him and he’s taken away?
Better if you don’t let yourself love him too soon.
Your hormones are all mixed up - you always have been such a delicate little peach of a thing, hormone-wise - and this is probably the first glimpse of what will become postpartum depression.
You’re going to want to mention all this to a doctor.
Throw in the towel on breastfeeding. You’re going to try to nurse that child, and he’s just not going to gain weight. He’ll continue to get smaller and smaller over the first weeks of his life, and you’ll continue to stress out, worrying that he's undernourished - that stress being probably the single reason why nursing isn’t working out - but you’re riddled with guilt from all the La Leche people and the “breastfeeding is best for your baby!” literature and the whole breastfeeding movement that’s going on at the moment, so you keep trying because nursing is a woman's inherent ability - not something you have to learn to do - so why can't your body just effing do it, already?
And while he’s nursing - every hour (or ninety minutes, if you get lucky) - you’re crying because you’re just so tired, you feel raw. You feel delirious. You feel worried. You feel guilty.
Girl, listen closely: put that giant nipple away and give that baby a bottle, for the love of those holy leaves of cabbage the pediatrician tells you to stick into each bra cup to dry your milk up (btw, who knew?).
You’ll be crying so hard with relief that you’ve gotten “permission” from the doctor to bail on nursing, your hands will shake under the warmth of hers as she pats them and tells you this is common. And that yes, your baby will be just fine if he’s formula-fed.
Take the antidepressants. You’ve been on them for anxiety and depression for years, and now that you’re pregnant, you think you should stop taking them. You’ll discover after this first child that the risks of you stopping your mental meds far outweigh the risks to the baby if you continue to take them during pregnancy.
You’ll also learn eight years from now, when you have another baby (two boys! Can you believe it?), that your anxiety and depression affected your firstborn because you were terrified and uptight about everything for the first few years of his life.
You’ll be so worried about every one of your decisions or actions scarring him, he’ll end up having scars (not big ones, but still. Scars that show up in the form of his own anxiety and paralyzing fear of scenarios outside his control).
When you compare your next go ‘round as a mom, you’re going to see that being happy and relaxed (and medicated) will have helped you enjoy the mothering experience more, mainly because you won’t be afraid this time.
Well, not as afraid, anyway.
Remember whose thoughts and opinions matter. You are about to become besieged by advice. Friends, family, neighbors, even perfect strangers will approach you wherever you are and whatever you’re doing to give you advice that you didn’t ask for.
Some of it is going to be good advice. Some will be amazing. Some will, of course, be terrible.
But truly none of it matters because the decisions you make for your baby and your family are yours.
You’re going to get overwhelmed by all these opinions because a lot of the people sharing them with you are more experienced parents than you are, and you’re going to second-guess yourself because they must know more than you, right?
But nobody - even Dr. Sears himself - knows your child and your home, your family, beliefs, life experiences, and all the other things that have shaped the you that you are, now, and that make you, as a parent, unique and that - ultimately - impact the decisions you make.
Some random neighbor has no business telling you that your kid is too old to still sneak into your room at night. You get to decide when your kid is too old.
That lady at Target who tells you that you need to be more firm when telling your toddler not to grab candy at the checkout line has no business telling you that. You get to decide how firm you will be.
There are so many confusing times as a parent. Don’t let this be one of them.
Every new kid changes the family dynamic. You’ll have a slightly different story than most parents, because you won’t have two or three toddlers running around at the same time. Yours will be eight years apart - almost like having two only-children!
The great news about this is that you won’t have sibling rivalry. It’s just not going to happen, you lucky duck.
You’re going to feel so smart and relaxed the second time around - isn’t it grand to be a little older?
You’ve got life in perspective, now, and you’ll have everything figured out the second time around.
Oh wait. Did I say you’ll have everything figured out the second time around?
Hahahahahaahaha, that’s a typo. That should say that nothing is the same the second time around, and you have to figure it out all over again when the next kid comes.
Every kid is different. And the introduction of each new kid into the fold of your happy little clamshell changes your whole world.
It’ll be amazing, and beautiful, and fun, and scary, and terrible, and stressful, and you’ll become religious again, because that’s what you do every time you have a kid: pray to God to keep your family safe, and that, for the love of Pete, you don’t screw this one up.