A Letter To Myself As A First-Time Mom
It’s you — 16 years into the future! That millennial bundle of joy you’re swaddling and protecting with your life right now…well, guess what? He’s driving now! And I’ll let you in on a little secret: He’s actually a better driver than you ever were. I mean, I know these issues aren’t even on your radar yet, but I thought in these muddled days of confusion from sleepless nights, you might enjoy hearing how you’re going to fare over the next few years.
Perhaps I should go back a bit before he hit 16, though. I guess the thought of him driving is a bit much now.
So, here goes.
Dear younger, more inexperienced, first-time mom me:
I want you to know that some things in your life are about to change like crazy. But some other things, well, some other things will never change.
Because you’re frazzled and somewhat depressed right now, let’s start with a few of the things that will change.
1. That C-section you ended up having? Despite all the horror stories you’ve heard, you’re going to recover very well and very quickly.
In fact, the recovery is going to be such a non-issue that you will end up very glad you had a C-section after that grueling labor. Also, you can go ahead and stop beating yourself up because you didn’t deliver vaginally. That professor you had that one time who told you that birthing was just “mind over matter” and how she didn’t have any pain medication (or pain, for that matter) because she simply used meditation, and birthed her baby out in nature, squatting, in the woods — well, she didn’t have back labor or an almost nine-pound baby, one week early. You did.
Everyone’s experience is different. A century ago, you probably would’ve been one of the countless mothers who died in childbirth because the baby absolutely would not drop, what with shoulders too broad to fit through your pelvis and all. Be glad for modern medicine this time.
Bottom line: The mode of transportation doesn’t make you less of a woman; the arrival is the only thing that matters right now. Focus on that.
2. That first night in the hospital, those awesome nurses are going to offer to take the baby to the nursery so you can sleep. Let them.
I know you don’t want to let go. I know that no one else is trustworthy at this point in your life. I know that those nurses won’t hold him the way you do or feel the ache that you feel when he cries. But here’s the thing: In order to be a good mother, you have to take care of you first.
You’re going to ignore my advice. You’re going to refuse to let the nurses take him. You’re not going to let him out of your sight. You and Matt are going to stay up all night long, playing with him like a shiny new toy. And once you’re finally done oohing and aahing, marveling over this new life you’ve created, somewhere around 6 a.m., you’re going to yawn and decide that maybe staying awake 12 more hours after the 12-hour birthing process was a bit much. You’re going to think, Okay, that was fun, but now we should really get some sleep. You’ll swaddle the baby in his bassinet, lay him down, give each other a peck on the lips, and lie down.
Bottom line: I really hate to break this to you, but that’s not exactly how it works. As soon as you’ve tucked the baby in and your head has hit the pillow, your eyes closing in blissful nirvana, that’s when the baby wakes up and begins screaming for the rest of the day. At this point, a new and repetitive thought will enter your mind, and you’ll hear it over and over again, like a broken record — “Oh my God. I’m never going to sleep again.”
But wait! Here’s the rub: One day that baby is going to be a teenager who sleeps until noon. He’d sleep all day if you’d let him. What you need to know and understand now is that the moment he enters the cycle of his life where he sleeps until noon — you know, the moment you’ve been waiting 12 long years for — that’s the moment your internal alarm clock shifts permanently and you wake up on autopilot at 6 a.m. daily for the rest of your life. And — surprise! — you actually enjoy it! Turns out that 6 a.m. coffee with sunrise and chirping birds is kind of your thing after all. Who knew?
Bonus: Turnabout is fair play. Enjoy waking your teenage son early Saturday mornings to get a head-start on all those outside chores. (But only if you’re feeling a little bit vindictive.)
3. Breastfeeding may be the hardest thing you’ve ever done in your entire life.
They really don’t prepare you for this one. You thought it was going to be all natural and second nature. Well, I have no words to help you here except these: You’re doing just fine. It’s perfectly okay that you have to hole up in your bedroom, completely remove your shirt and bra and simultaneously use two pillows on each side and the boppy. You are going to try and try, but you just weren’t endowed in a way that allows you to “effortlessly” cradle the baby in one arm discreetly in front of you while the other arm is used to sip tea at lunch.
No. You’re going to need both arms just for feeding him — one to hold him like a football because that’s the only way he’ll nurse, and the other arm to support your insanely heavy breast, and/or clean up his spontaneous projectile vomiting from acid reflux.
Between that and constantly prodding him awake every 10 seconds when he drifts off to sleep, it is a ton of work. And this method you’ve got going certainly doesn’t allow for breastfeeding in public. I mean it’s only the year 2000, so we haven’t yet progressed past the double standard of Victoria’s Secret boobs on billboards being okay while openly breastfeeding an infant in public is not okay. (Even though this may sound ridiculous, some people in 2016 still have an issue with a woman breastfeeding in public.) So just keep doing what you’re doing. It’s all good.
Bottom line: Breastfeeding, while not the easiest thing you’ve ever done, is totally worth it despite the extreme exhaustion that is the cycle of feed, burp, cuddle, change, swaddle, put down for five minutes, then start all over again — all day long, all night long. Save yourself a lot of frustration and invest in a medical grade breast pump.
Let Matt help. He wants to. Believe it or not, when you decide to quit at five months and switch completely to formula, you’re going to miss breastfeeding. Despite the sore, blistered, and cracked nipples, the painful uterine contractions that occur every time the milk lets down, and the discomfort of being utterly engorged, you’re totally going to miss this part — perhaps more than anything else.
4. I lied. Breastfeeding isn’t the hardest thing — sleep deprivation is.
Sorry about that. Sleep deprivation will play screwball mind games with you. Aside from painfully low energy levels during the day, you’ll also experience dizziness, tension headaches, very bad memory, sustained attention, extremely irritable mood all the time, and poor quality of life in general.
Bottom line: See No. 2. This stage is only temporary.
5. All right. Let’s talk about the four pages of single-spaced, typed, detailed instructions titled “Reasons Why the Baby Cries” that you’re going to create and hand your mother-in-law when she flies seven states south to stay, help, and babysit.
Um, just don’t. I know you’re in first-time mom mode, and you think no one else in the world could possibly understand your unique child. I mean everybody knows that babies cry, but this notion that your baby is somehow unique and different and that only you can soothe him? C’mon. At least let someone else try. No one will be hurt or injured in the process, and you will be able to use the break, trust me.
Bottom line: Your mother-in-law raised two boys of her own, quite well. They survived childhood, adolescence, teen years, and adulthood. In fact, one of her sons is the charming man you decided to marry and spend the rest of your life with! For the love of all that’s good, don’t lose sight of the fact that lots of other people have raised babies before you. Your experience is no more unique than was theirs. Let people hold the baby. Let people help, even if you’re afraid they’re going to mess up. Letting go is a very important step in the beginning of a healthy relationship with your child.
6. Somewhere around age 15 months, you’re going to panic that something is terribly wrong because your baby refuses to vocalize anything other than “buh.”
You’re going to rush him to the pediatrician, get a referral to a speech therapist, and take the first available appointment. The young speech therapist is going to work/play with him for nearly an hour, and then tell you how much intensive speech therapy needs to happen, up to three to four times a week. You and the hubs are going to leave her office with tears in your eyes, feeling like failures.
Let me spare you some time and heartache right here — you just got played. After you strap your son into his car seat and get the car started, you and Matt will look at each other, perplexed, as out of the blue there arises a bold, confident toddler voice from the backseat, and it manages to verbalize, “I don’t think I want to see that lady ever again, please.”
Bottom line: While your instincts were right that no talking by 15 months could be a red flag, this time, it’s just a case of your son demonstrating his independent and stubborn nature. He will talk when he’s ready to talk, and not a moment before. His first words will go down in the baby book as being, “I don’t think I want to see that lady ever again, please.”
I know this one is hard to imagine, but you’re going to add two more siblings to the mix.
I know as a first-time mom you’re already wondering whether or not you should even have more kids because there’s no way you could possibly love another child as much as this one. But, you can and you will.
Bottom line: Your heart will expand at least twice its size with more than enough love spilling over for everyone. I promise.
Of course, there are some things that will never, ever change. I’m learning more of them every day, so I’ll have to continue this list in a few more years. But, for starters:
1. Not everyone else will care about your kid as much as you do.
Yes, people will be excited to see the pictures and hear the stories, especially at first, and later, occasionally. But not all the time. You, however, for the rest of your life will never want to stop talking about the newest, smartest, funniest, most clever thing your son has done.
But other people will want to hear you talk about more than just your son. It can sort of sound borderline unstable if you have absolutely no other interests than your child. Seems a no-brainer, but when you’re a new mom, it’s deceptively simple to get into the pattern of thinking that nothing is more important than your child, and thinking that since it’s important to you it must be important to everyone else, too.
Similarly, as your child grows and begins acquiring extracurricular activities, I would advise keeping it simple. If you find yourself doing nothing but playing chauffeur all day, every day, then your kids are probably over-scheduled. It’s okay to have interests of your own, or to say no to that second season of T-ball. Even if you work full-time, you’ll need other things to do, especially when you enter the empty nest phase — or so I’m told.
2. The Mama Bear mentality does not go away.
You will always feel the need to want to protect him. Even though somewhere around kindergarten age you will stop fighting his battles for him and let him begin solving them on his own, you will still feel your blood boil if anyone mistreats him in any way. This feeling has still not gone away by the time he’s 16, so something tells me it may never go away at all.
3. Finally, and most importantly: He will always be your baby.
When he’s 16 and he towers over you both in height and in bulk, you’ll still see the same precious baby who coos and later says “I wuv you” with a lisp. When you look up at him and stare deeply into his sky blue eyes as you hand him the car keys, you’ll still see tones of that sweet, tiny baby in there. He’ll always be your baby, and you’ll love him forever.
P.S. Oh, and one more thing, it’s probably not the best idea to torture yourself by reading Robert Munsch’s book Love You Forever every single night at his bedtime right now. This will only make you cry even more. Let your hormones calm down just a bit. Then read it all you want for the next 16 years or so. Deal?
Your future self
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