Before I was a mom I was a social worker focused on families and child safety. In my six years of undergraduate and graduate courses I learned a lot about child development and human behavior. I used to joke that my first four years of college was so that I could understand my own crazy family.
Since becoming a mom I’ve learned that there is only so much that a professor or a book or even “in the field” experience can teach you (duh!).
Until you are a parent and you have your own child you can never fully understand the depth of love you will feel for a piece of you that lives outside of your body or how complex the actual act of parenting a child can be.
Let’s be honest, being a parent is hard, but at the same time it is the most rewarding job you can ever have.
With time it’s easy to forget the beginning. As I write this my daughter Caroline is approaching 6 months old, and while those early days are still fresh in my mind, I want to share what I have learned, in part so I don’t forget. I didn’t suffer from post partum depression, but I definitely had the baby blues and the first three weeks after Caroline was born was harder than I ever thought it could be. I thought maybe there was something wrong with me until I started reaching out to family and friends and everyone kept telling me: it’s hard and you do whatever you have to to survive. Six months later I thankfully can now add: it gets easier and it is a beautiful ride. Sometimes I now amaze myself at how naturally parenting feels compared to when Caroline was first born.
These are some of the lessons that I have learned:
This is just a moment in time.
I have found that everything (good, bad, or indifferent) is just one moment in time that can only last for so long. Sometimes those moments last longer than others, like Caroline refusing to sleep flat on her back for 4 months versus her not sucking while breast feeding for three stressful days, but regardless if you want it to or not, the moment will pass. This isn’t an original idea, but it has gotten me through some tough times and has made me appreciate the amazing moments.
In the early days everything felt like it would last forever. Caroline has been an amazing baby, but even she has had really rough days and nights. No matter how trying a day would be I always saw the night time as a chance to “reset” for the next day. Even if Caroline was up all night and I was constantly sitting in the living room bouncing on a yoga ball (this was my life for the first month)eventually she would fall asleep and the next day would come giving us a fresh slate. Caroline began sleeping 6-8 hour stretches around 6 weeks old (God, was that amazing!) but between 3-4 months she experienced a sleep regression for 3 weeks. In the middle of it, when I was sleep deprived and would have given my right arm for a good night’s sleep, I kept telling myself that this moment can only last so long. And eventually we got through it.
Stop and appreciate every moment.
The first weeks of Caroline’s life are such a blur because of my own hormones and exhaustion that it’s hard for me to remember everything. I tell Caroline (I narrate our whole day to Caroline out loud, that is a skill I learned “in the field”) I can’t remember a time when she couldn’t hold up her head, grab for toys, or babble. What I am able to hold onto is when she first smiled at 3 weeks old, that she learned to roll over 20 minutes after I had a conversation with her Great Grandmother about how she wasn’t rolling over yet, and the two weeks last month that she constantly stuck her tongue out like a little frog. Recently while holding her, Caroline has begun wrapping her arms around my neck and clinging to me like she is hugging me. Every time she does this I stop what I’m doing and hold onto her as tightly as I can, because I know a time will come when she will be embarrassed to have me touch her.
Having all that baby crap is worth it if it even makes one day easier.
We were very fortunate when Caroline was born as she was the first grandchild and first niece/nephew so we got a lot of things from friends and family. Initially my husband and I thought that a lot of it was just “stuff” taking up space. But goodness, we could not have lived without the Rock N Play, activity mat for the floor, the swing, her infant car seat with the travel system, the lightweight frame that her car seat can click into, a carrier, noise machine, Aden and Anais muslin blankets (we used those for everything), a monitor, and most importantly a yoga ball. This “stuff” made it so that I have been able to shower every day, that Caroline was able to take naps and sleep through the night, and that we could get out of the house, saving my sanity. If I could do it all over again though, I would have asked everyone to buy everything used, not new! New is not worth it.
Take Care of yourself.
This looks differently for every person. For me it means that I take time to shower and even do my hair and apply a little make up each day. I make sure I eat good food and drink enough water. I reached out to people and was very open about the difficulties (although now they seem so easy) I was having with either breast feeding, getting Caroline to sleep, and my mood swings that were up and down. I depend on my husband Jason for support and in general as my partner through all of the ups and down of parenthood. I accept help from my family and friends. I attended weekly play groups and hosted/attended weekly play dates just to connect with other moms. And probably the hardest but most important, I take time for myself away from Caroline.
Listen to your gut and do what it says.
For me this seems to revolve most around getting Caroline to sleep or with nursing difficulties. When she was brand new and home from the hospital we had the common witching hour in the evenings and nothing we did seemed to make her happy. One night I jumped on the yoga ball, which was still out from when I was two weeks overdue and was bouncing on it hoping to start labor, and she almost instantaneously calmed down. I don’t know why I decided to give it a try, but I did and from that point until she was 4 months old we lived on it. One time in the middle of the night Caroline would not eat or go back to sleep, I was exhausted, and felt like giving up. My mind turned off, my body took over and the next thing I knew I was bouncing and twisting my upper body while nursing Caroline and patting her back. She ate and was asleep in 5 minutes! This became a go to on the most difficult nights. It makes sense that my body knows what Caroline needs, it carried her for 42 weeks, it’s just a matter of not over thinking it and allowing my body to do what it knows how to do.