New motherhood is no joke.
It will surprise you and thrill you and frustrate you in ways you didn’t even know were possible, and one thing is certain — it will not happen exactly as you had planned. It is better and worse than you could ever have envisioned. The good news is that parenthood is a fast-track learning course, where you learn what you need to know quickly out of necessity. No matter how ill-equipped you are when you enter this maze of parenthood, you’ll eventually muddle your way through.
That said, there are definitely a few things I think would have been helpful for me to know to make the transition a little bit smoother.
1. Breastfeeding is hard freaking work.
Before I actually breastfed a baby for the first time, I naively assumed it would be the most natural thing on the planet. My thinking was that women have been doing this for ages, so surely it would be easy enough to get the hang of. I was so wrong. Breastfeeding may be “natural,” but that doesn’t mean it always comes naturally.
For some moms, breastfeeding isn’t a struggle, but for others — like myself — breastfeeding is a full-time job. I wish I had spent more time reading up on it, and I wish I had known that just because it was hard, didn’t mean I was a failure. I spent so much time beating myself up over the struggle of breastfeeding that I didn’t really enjoy those early weeks of new motherhood. I mostly spent that time in a fog of depression and frustration and feeling overwhelmed. I wish I had known how hard breastfeeding might be so I could’ve prepared myself mentally.
2. It’s OK if you don’t like your baby right away.
I always sort of envisioned that my baby and I would have this magical, love-at-first-sight type of bonding experience upon meeting for the first time. Angels would sing and birds would flutter overhead and it would be twitterpated, mushy feelings from there on out. That didn’t exactly end up being our story though.
Of course I loved my baby, but those “in love” feelings weren’t there immediately. I realized quickly that a relationship with a baby is similar to any other relationship, in that it takes time. You have to get to know one another and build a level of trust, and that doesn’t always come right away for everyone. I still remember having moments in the beginning where I thought, I really don’t like this tiny human all that much and then feeling awful about it. I wish I had known that those types of feelings were normal and that eventually I would fall madly in love with this little person.
3. The lack of sleep will seem like the end of the world, but it really isn’t forever.
I knew well before having a child that I wouldn’t be getting a lot of sleep because it was basically all anyone ever wanted to talk about. Friends and family and neighbors and random strangers at the grocery store all want to regale you with horror stories of just how terrible the lack of sleep really is. But before you actually become a parent, sleep deprivation really is just an abstract concept. You’ve been really tired before, but at some point you would be able to catch up from your lack of sleep. Maybe you pulled a couple of all-nighters during college, but then you were able to make up for it with a 12-hour stretch the next day.
This is not the case when you have a baby.
And no one (even with all of their horror stories) can prepare you for just how difficult the lack of sleep will be. I wish I had known the extent to which lack of sleep would effect my foray into new motherhood, and that it would make all the challenges even more, well, challenging.
I remember thinking that this was going to go on forever. I felt like I just might die if I didn’t get some decent sleep (I legitimately Googled, “How long can you go without sleep before you die?”). But then your baby finally does sleep. Sometimes it only takes six weeks. Sometimes it takes six months. Sometimes you end up with a 3-year-old who still sucks at sleeping. But one day, kids sleep. It will seem like forever, but it will happen and when it does, it will be glorious.
4. Don’t try to do it all yourself.
As a first-time mom, I remember wanting to do it all myself and do it all perfectly. I wish I had known that there is no shame in accepting help. Saying “yes” to those offers of folding laundry or washing dishes or bringing over a meal does not mean you are any less of a parent. It just means that you are strong enough to admit when you can’t do it all. It really does take a village, and I wish I had embraced this beautiful idea a lot sooner.
5. Trust your instincts because YES, you really have them.
The truth is, when you’re a parent for the very first time, you will probably question any and every move you make. You will google ALL THE THINGS and you will ask everyone you know — or even people you don’t know — for advice and input about parenting. You will feel like any and every move you make is one that could potentially screw up your child in some life-altering way.
I wish I had known that my baby was going to be OK and that it was OK to trust my instincts. I remember the stress I incurred as I pored over pages and pages of ideas about sleeping that all seemed to contradict one another at some point or another in a quest to figure out how to get my child to sleep. I wish I had just listened to my instincts and gone in to soothe my baby when I thought she needed it or let her fuss a bit when it seemed OK. Instead, I overanalyzed every move I made by comparing them to other people’s. I wish I had realized that just because I was new at this, didn’t mean my instincts were any less valid. No one could ever know my baby quite like me.