7 Things I Wish I'd Known About New Motherhood

by Sage K. Penn
Originally Published: 

Dear pregnant self,

Girl, step away from the Amazon baby registry. There are some things you need to know about new motherhood. Things I wish someone had told me the first time around.

I know you are focused on being ready for the baby to come home. You planned a nursery and bought a layette and researched the best model of breast pump. You’ve subscribed to consumer reports to compare car seats and swings and pack ‘n plays. You picked out the most educational toys and brain-stimulating videos available. You even packed a birth plan in your hospital bag so all your doctors and nurses know you want an epidural, you want the baby to sleep in your hospital room, and you want to start breastfeeding right away. You planned every detail for the new arrival.

But you forgot to make a plan for you.

As soon as that baby is born, you will find yourself flirting with Self-Neglect. You know he is a total bastard, but you will be drawn in by his ability to make you feel needed. You will instinctively put your own basic needs aside to care for the basic needs of your tiny human.

You will go days without a shower. You will think that wiping spit-up and baby cereal off your yoga pants with a burp cloth is sufficient hygiene. You will shave once a month, and only from the knee down. You might be able to maintain your pits a little better, but I can’t promise that.

You will start hoarding items like swaddling blankets, pacifiers, and diapers. Your house will become like the island of misfit toys. Baby paraphernalia will cover all available surfaces. You will not be able to sit down without activating some singing toy or squeaky giraffe. In fact, you will go to bed and there will be a toy activating itself in the dark. You will be too tired to rip out the batteries and will fall asleep to the electronic version of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.”

Your environment will become unclean. Your house will smell like baby poop and sour milk, and your car will be littered with puffs and cheerios. Your friends may start describing you with words like “eccentric” or “quirky” because you will spontaneously burst into manic renditions of “Twinkle, Twinkle” when they come visit you.

At some point your flirtation will become a relationship. You won’t be able to pinpoint when Self-Neglect started controlling you, but one day you will wake up and realize you don’t recognize yourself. Mr. Negligent will seduce you, and make you think that the way he treats you is normal.

Within you, he will create a skewed view of reality. He will whisper words of guilt in your ear when you do anything to care for yourself. He will teach you that actions you take to sustain your physical, mental, or emotional health are indulgent. Eating and taking a shower become luxuries to be savored instead of basic human self-care.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

A little flirting never hurt anyone, but do not let that dude become a permanent fixture in your life! I am telling you, my beautiful younger self, that you must make self-care a priority. If you fall under the spell of Neglect, it’s a long hard struggle to stand back up. You never quite make it back to a place where putting aside time for your own needs feels right. Even when your kids are grown, you will always feel just a little ashamed for indulging in a decadent meal or a spa day.

I want to give you a plan, mini-me, so you can develop a healthy outlook on mothering and what it means to take care of yourself.

1. Pause for 1 minute every afternoon and assess yourself. Are you dirty? Are you hungry? Are you lonely? Mr. Negligent has been around. Take a step to kick him out. You don’t think you can take a full shower? Wash your face. Brush your teeth. Change your shirt. Your baby will not suffer while you do this. Eat a banana. Make some toast with peanut butter. Call/text your mom, or your best friend, or your husband. You would not tolerate this state of being at any other time in your life, and you should not accept it now just because you have another person to care for.

2. Pause for 1 minute every evening and assess your body. Is your heart racing? Are your muscles sore? Is it hard to breathe? That asshat is suffocating you. Go outside and breathe some fresh air. Stretch. Listen to some music. You might have time for a very hot bubble bath.

3. You might lose some friends. Fending off the advances of a persistent guy is time-consuming. You are a little embarrassed about your relationship with him, so you don’t talk about it much. When you do talk about it, your single and childless friends don’t understand. Because they think taking care of yourself is a normal thing to do. It’s OK to set boundaries to give you some time to explore your relationship to Mr. Negligence. But stop at flirting. Maybe at first base.

4. Your boundaries might piss off your mother-in-law. Let your husband deal with that.

5. It’s OK to leave the baby with someone you trust and go be alone. Go to Starbucks, drink an expensive latte, and just sit among other adults. You don’t have to talk to anyone. Just sit there and breathe. Then go to Target and walk up and down every aisle. Buy a new bra, some clean yoga pants, toothpaste, chocolate, shampoo that smells good, and a quadruple blade razor. You will need it for the forest on your shins. And the surprising strays that popped up around your belly button. It’s time to kick out the asshat.

6. Have sex. Make a deal with your husband that you get to orgasm first before any penetration happens. You will be glad and you will sleep well. It will piss off Self-Neglect.

7. There will be moments when you need to engage in real self-indulgence. Don’t do it every day, because it could become a crutch to hide from Mr. Negligence. But have yourself a few indulgent moments. You might need to eat an entire bag of Doritos after you get pissed on for the fifth time in 4 hours. You might need to drink a few margaritas after your baby has been colicky for three days and finally went to sleep. There is a difference between self-care and true indulgence. Indulgence feels really good, but if you do it too much you can become toxic. Self-care feels good all the time, and it makes you a happier, healthier mommy.

I love you. Take care of yourself, because the older version of you needs this lesson, too.

Love, Me

Related post: Savoring The End Of Pregnancy

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