At a baby shower I attended today, there was a little card on my plate that read, in squiggly, pink script, “Your Advice to the Mother-To-Be”.
You’d think that as a new mom and blogger on everything pregnancy and motherhood-related, I’d have mounds of advice to give… right? But I didn’t. I had to think about it for a long time and ended up improvising something because her sister in law was collecting the cards before lunch was served.
But tonight, as I sit here drinking a well-deserved glass of Cabernet (my son’s molars are ripping through his gums and, as you can imagine, he’s been as pleasant as can be lately), the prompt really got me thinking about whether or not there is such a thing as “one size fits all” advice.
Sure, there’s the whole, “sleep when the baby’s sleeping” line, which is definitely a good one, but easier said than done when you have loads of laundry to do and the sink is piled high with day old crusty dishes. There’s “Take it a day at a time” which is definitely a line to live by, but is also easier said than done when you have no idea if what you’re doing is the “right” thing and if you’re currently failing horribly at motherhood.
Because, yes, new moms almost always wonder whether they’re failing miserably at mothering, even when they’re not. That’s a fact. When you’ve never been through life with a newborn before, you have nothing to compare it to, and self-doubt is usually the road taken.
Been there, done that, believe me.
So I started thinking what my advice to a first time mom would be. What I would tell that woman who has no idea what is ahead of her (even if all the women she knows, young and old, have tried to explain it to her) and is trying to remain calm even though she is freaking out about literally everything, from the IKEA crib still in pieces in the nursery to the birth plan she can’t decide whether she should write or not. How in the world could I possibly give this woman glimpse of a world she’s never experienced before?
Okay, time for a bad analogy. Ready? New motherhood is like that relationship everyone tells you is a terrible idea but you ignore them and keep plowing on until, boom, it hits you right in the face. Suddenly, you understand why everyone warned you about it weeks ago. But it’s only until you experience it firsthand that you get it. Until that very moment, you just nod and say “yes, yes, yes” as if you do get it, but deep down, you don’t.
New motherhood can only be understood firsthand. It’s when you hear those first cries, clean that first tushy, give that first bath, deal with the first meltdown, that it hits you.
I mean, hits you like a brick, right in the face.
So if I had to come up with one piece of advice to a new mother weeks away from popping, I’d tell her to take advantage of time. Of late night talks with her hubby in bed, and not having to keep their voices down. Of going to the movies, because God knows when that will happen again in the near future. Of cooking an elaborate meal together while sipping a good wine.
In a few weeks, your focus will shift, and there will (temporarily) be no room for those simple moments. Leaving the house with a newborn is the furthest thing from spontaneous: it will involve a lot of planning, packing, and “I feel like I’m forgetting something” moments. Enjoy the fact that you can say, “Wanna grab dinner at the place around the corner?” and all you need to do is slip your shoes on and head for the door. Enjoy the fact that you can direct all your attention, all your energy, towards your significant other for a little while still.
Don’t get me wrong, you’re about to embark on a thrilling adventure, to say the least. There is nothing more gratifying and fulfilling than sharing your life with the little human being you created and love so much it literally hurts. But temporarily, there won’t be much room for “you” time, so enjoy it while you can.
And yes, when that baby comes, try to give up that much needed “control”. The need to have a routine, a plan, because let’s face it, most of us need that to hold on to when we get overwhelmed. But guess what? It’ll only make you more overwhelmed to try to accomplish that before your baby is ready. Like I told my friend on her little advice card, “Having a newborn is like a rollercoaster, every day has ups and downs”. It’s not because one day is grueling and exhausting that tomorrow will be, necessarily. If you learn to accept those highs and lows and roll with the punches, you’ll be more serene than you think.
Trust me, Mama, I’ve been there.
We all make plans ahead of time, but just like with your “birth plan”, be prepared to change it. Be open-minded. At the end of the day, your baby calls the shots. You’ll learn to know him, figure out what he needs to thrive, and go from there. That’s why most “one size fits all” advice seems implausible to me. Your baby is as unique as can be, and only time will tell how you should navigate motherhood to make sure all of his needs are met. So no need to worry now… there is nothing to figure out quite yet.
When the time comes, your baby will tell you exactly what to do. It’ll take some time to figure out, because you’re just only just getting to know each other, but it’ll happen before you know it. Before then, learn to let go.
It’s almost as if the quote, “When you can’t change the direction of the wind, adjust your sails”, was written for new moms. Our babies show us, in their own way, how to be good mothers. This isn’t something we can prepare for, read dozens of books about, or be lectured on by our wise, experienced mom friends. Our babies teach us everything we need to know, but in the meantime, we just need to be patient.