Advice for new mothers

Over the Thanksgiving holiday, we had a surprise baby shower for my husband’s cousin who is expecting a baby in the spring. She was barely showing – just about as far along as I was when his family threw me a surprise shower over the holidays two years ago. The look in her eye was familiar, too: a sort of dazed overwhelmed, masking a tinge of fear that seemed to say, “Wait. So this pregnancy thing eventually becomes a BABY? Then what?”

She asked me if I had any advice for her. The first words to fall out of my mouth before I gave it much thought were: “Relax. I surely didn’t.”

What I meant was that we get our britches in a bunch over stuff that doesn’t really matter. For the most part, you’ll probably be a fine mother, or you’ll figure it out. Ignore the judgments coming from other moms, books, society in general, and just trust your gut. If you’re gut isn’t helping much, just Google it.

Sure, be thoughtful in the choices you make about sleep, nursing, food, bottles, pacifiers, schedules. Arguably I overdid it in this arena, reading far too many books and Baby Center forums. In my defense, I take comfort in over-researching every move.

But in the end, it probably doesn’t matter. Just make sure you’re happy and your baby is happy. A lot of it will be confusing and hard and not super rewarding at first, but you might as well just relax and try to enjoy the madness that is new motherhood.

Another cousin who has two young children chimed in with some thoughtful words of wisdom for before the baby comes. She said to enjoy the individual time. Enjoy being one person who can sit alone and not be touched or cuddled or climbed on or clung to. I had never really thought about that before, but she was right.

From the moment that baby is born, and arguably into perpetuity, any sense of personal space is completely destroyed. For the first year, you’ve essentially added an extension to your body that suckles, snuggles, sleeps, drools, spits up, pees and craps on you. When that eases up, you become a human jungle gym. I spent an entire hour at the zoo today lugging around a 25-pound toddler who refused to be put down. You’ll thirst for a second alone with your body, without the clinging and climbing and snotting addition. And yes, after you get that second, you’ll miss that heavy, warm human appendage.

Here are a few more things people (or the Internet) told me:

You don’t need all that baby gear. It’s all expensive crap and we are told we need it to be really prepared for parenthood. Really, you do need a car seat if you plan to leave the hospital with your new bundle of joy. But beyond that I found there to be very few “must haves.” Once my son was born, I realized quickly what we did need (burp cloths, baby carrier, more burp cloths) and what we didn’t (Rock n’ Play sleeper, infant bath tub, baby socks).

For the first few weeks or so, try to do nothing but parent and survive. Do your best to ignore the dust bunnies and dirty dishes. Let your body and mind heal and get used to the new world order. Just because you’re at home doesn’t mean it’s time to craft and hobby and homemake. The goal should be to keep you and your baby alive. If you get a shower – bonus. Try finding a good drama on Netflix and let it be your maternity leave show. I burned through four seasons of Damages while feeding and cuddling my new baby.

If you feel overwhelmed, get help. Find a moms support group or a counselor. It’s OK to feel completely out of whack. You just created a completely separate and insanely demanding human being. Nothing is the same. It can really mess with your head, and you’ll be no good to that tiny human if you’re head’s a mess.

Make time for yourself. But don’t beat yourself up for feeling guilty about it and missing your baby the second you leave the house. Just keep trying. You need the time alone and it will get easier to enjoy it.

I’m sure there are more I’m forgetting. Really, I barely remember even having an infant. That time feels a million years ago and hazy like it was someone else’s life. But I do know it a messy jumble of sleeplessness and frustration and sadness and elation and fullness. And I can say with confidence that it gets easier.