How To Handle The Transition Into Motherhood Without Neglecting Yourself

by Kali Schmidt
Josh Willink / PEXELS

People often ask me, “How was it?” in regards to my transition into motherhood. Similar to acquaintances asking, “How’s it going?” in brief exchanges on the street, it’s a question that doesn’t want an honest answer. When we hear this question, we new mothers are supposed to smile, maybe peer down at our new little one with pride, and say, “It’s so incredible!” and then go on about our hectic, busy, never-ending day.

I know because I’ve tried to tell the truth.

I’ve tried to say: “It’s not as bad as I thought it would be.” (I was terrified my life would be over.) I’ve tried: “It’s hard, I’m exhausted, but he’s a great baby.” (Usually.) I’ve tried: “Well, having no free time can be depressing.” (I mean, that’s hard to dispute, right?) I’m then usually met with raised eyebrows or looks of concern, like maybe I should talk to a professional or hand my kid over to child services.

But let’s take a moment to be real.

Life with kids, especially life with a new kid, is tough. It is all of the wonderful things too — exciting, heartwarming, miraculous, awe-inducing. But that doesn’t take away from the sheer effort it requires to keep a newborn baby alive, when before we only had to focus on keeping ourselves alive (but somehow, between diaper changes, night feedings, and no sleep, we’ve got to do that too). We finally understand all of the mothers who rolled their eyes at us as college students when we said, “I’m so busy/tired/stressed.” Really, we had no idea.

And yet what I’ve come to realize now that my son is approaching a year old (and I’m pregnant with my second — somehow I didn’t think it was miserable enough to not do again), is that we moms have to live too. Naturally, we need time to heal and rest and bond with our babies. But once the haziness clears, once we are no longer walking around like complete zombies, we’ve got to make time for ourselves. And yes, it is possible. This is coming from a woman who moved abroad, away from all of her family and friends (and thus, built-in babysitters).

Here’s how to get back to yourself:

Ask for help.

Start with your partner. I don’t care if they’re working or busy or playing video games. Parenting is a team effort, and in order to enable you to be effective in your role as a mother and (possible) primary caretaker, you need a moment to breathe. Try an arrangement of a few hours a week where you get to do whatever you want to do, even if it’s absolutely nothing. But on that note…

Keep doing what made you ‘you.’

Were you a runner? An artist? A baker? As soon as you’re ready (and in the case of running, as soon as you’re cleared by your doctor or midwife), get back to it! I run when the baby sleeps or push him along in my jogging stroller. I’m a writer, but I can’t crank out freelance articles like I could before I gave birth, so I journal every day, or at least try to. Find something you loved before you became a mother, and try to fit it into your life now, even if it’s on a smaller scale.

Get some sleep.

I know, it sounds like a joke, right? But humans need sleep, and moms desperately need sleep. Your baby is sleeping anywhere from 11 to 18 hours a day, even if it’s not all at night. If you’re on maternity leave or staying home, try to take at least one nap when the baby does. If you feel you’ve got too much to do in that downtime, get in bed as early as possible. Maybe refer to the first point and ask your partner to get up with the baby on the weekends, or enlist a family member or friend or hired help. There’s a lot of options for getting rest, but new moms are often afraid to reach out or to be seen as “lazy.” Take full advantage of any sleep opportunity that presents itself and forget what anyone else has to say — your baby is counting on you.

Get outside.

Bringing your new baby outside into the “real world” can be nerve-racking and panic-inducing. I gave birth to my son at home, so he had never left. For a while I couldn’t fathom setting foot outdoors — it seemed like an impossible feat. But day after day of being closed in really started to take its toll on me. I was paranoid, anxious and starting to see things (really). When I finally went for a stroll in my neighborhood, I felt a tremendous amount of relief. I felt normal again. And there’s also that sense of accomplishment. We can actually bring our babies outside and have us both live to tell the tale.

Don’t use motherhood as an excuse to stop going after your dreams.

This is a big one. Oftentimes, society (and this can include well-meaning family and friends) likes to tell mothers that they must now put their entire life on hold and whatever hopes and dreams they had for the future must be cast aside. It’s understandable, for all of the reasons I listed above.

Motherhood is hard in and of itself. But it is not a stop sign — it’s more like a speed bump. Sure, you’ve got to slow down a few months, but nothing is over and no dream is crushed because you became a mother. We don’t tell fathers to stay home and resign their career and life goals because they had kids, do we? Don’t limit yourself and give in to the pressure to be “just a mom for now.” (Side note here: If you want to stay home, by all means, do that!) But if you want to, you can go back to school, you can start a new career, you can (and are legally protected in doing so) pick up your place at work.

As I mentioned, I’m the mother of a soon-to-be toddler, and I’ve got another baby on the way. When I started to discuss “law school” to those close to me, they hounded me with a million questions, all in regards to the “babies.” But when my husband decided to pursue his MBA while also continuing full-time work, no one batted an eye. So I ignored the irrelevant questions, gave thought to the pertinent ones (childcare, loans, etc.), and I’ve applied to start law school next year.

There’s no doubt that motherhood is tough. Even the most strong-willed among us need rest, time to adjust, and a minute to breathe. But we can, no matter how many articles try to tell us otherwise, “have it all.” It will require sacrifices on our entire family’s part, maybe even on our wallet, but it is possible.

If you’re in the haze of the transition, still waking up every two hours, and forget work or school, wondering how the hell you’re going to shower this week, just remember that this too shall pass. It’s the nature of life. It will go by in a blur, and some days it may go by in a tear-filled blur, but it will pass. When it does, remember yourself and your dreams and your goals. Remember that you are now a role model for someone who you will desperately want to follow their own dreams, and set the example for them.