Right now there are a lot of women in my life who have either just become or are about to become first time moms– including my wonderful sister-in-law, Ann. As a result I find myself in a lot of conversations about childbirth and newborns. I answer a lot of questions and offer a lot of advice.
“How will I know if I’m in labor?” (If you have to ask, you probably aren’t).
“Did you use cry it out?” (Sticky subject; I plead the 5th).
“How do you know if they’re getting enough milk?” (They grow).
I can give all the standard advice: sleep when the baby sleeps, wear nursing tanks instead of bras, swaddle tightly, burp firmly, use steam to calm croup, triple make the crib for ease in flu season… the list is endless really, but that isn’t the advice I want to give, so if you don’t mind, I’d like to take a moment to address new moms, especially my sister-in-law, directly.
Dear New Mom,
This is such an extraordinary time. This child, your first child, is so special. He or she will always be the baby that made you a mother, and you will love him for it forever. All your children will be special, but it will never be like it is with your first, when everything is new and fresh.
But because it is new and fresh; because you don’t really know what to expect or what to do, it will be hard. There will be tears; yours and hers. There will be frustration; yours and his. Every day will be a roller coaster with crazy highs and super lows, and you will need a support system. Your husband may be wonderful and that should not be under appreciated, but you need more than him. You need other women, other mothers, women who have been there or are there. Women who can share and teach and empathize.
You need older women, mothers who have done it and survived it, who reminisce fondly about their babes and can give you the perspective of time. There will be moments when you’ll wonder how you can go on, when exhaustion and frustration will rule your mind, when you’ll wonder if the work of motherhood is really worth it. The older mothers, the grandmothers, the mothers of adult children can be your touchstones to the future. Full of sage advice and good example, they have weathered the storms of parenthood, sometimes to the extreme, and come out the other side in tact. Their children in tact. These women are invaluable to us young mothers.
You need women with children slightly older than yours. Nostalgia and time has not yet clouded their memories; they remember the trenches you’re in, and they have tried all the things you’re trying. Sometimes you will envy them because they are over this stage and on to that stage, but they are full of practical advice, empathetic hugs, hand me downs, and best of all, they are living proof that children learn to feed themselves, potty train and sleep through the night!
You need women who are also new moms. You need them because they know. They understand. If at 8 weeks you sit across from them, sleep deprived, sore, overwhelmed, and wondering aloud if you made a mistake, they will not judge you. They know what you’re feeling; they don’t have to try and remember. The complexity of it is with them, in that moment. If you lean in and whisper a slightly inappropriate question about your post baby body, they will not reel with disgust, they will sigh with relief because, yes, their body is doing that too and thank God it’s not just them! These are women who can walk with you all the way through, and if you’re lucky, like me, they’ll become your dearest friends.
Finally, you need the women you’ve always had. The women who have known you forever. When you become lost in mommyhood, they are the ones who can pull you back. Who can remind you of who you are beyond diapers and dinner and daycare. They can provide carefree breaks and the relaxation that comes with the familiar.
New mom, Ann, it is hard to find time to foster friendships when you have a new baby, but if I can give one piece of unsolicited advice, build yourself a village of women. Find gals you can trust and count on. You don’t have to see them every day or even every week, but don’t forget them, pull them close. You can survive motherhood without them, but I guarantee it will be more fun with them!