Motherhood 101: The First Year

The summer of babies is upon us. I thought I'd start compiling a list - for me to revisit and read when I'm in sleep-deprived psychosis, flying off the handle at every little thing, weeping over the dirt on my floor, and telling the cat that I'm going to sell him because he's such an obnoxious freak of nature.

And for the other new moms out there who are at this very moment yelling at their pets and spouses, wondering if they will ever feel normal again.

I'll start with the very practical.

1. Don't be quiet when the baby is sleeping. Do not tiptoe or whisper or do anything equally stupid.  Train that little bug to sleep through ANYTHING.  Live your life at normal volume - vacuum, watch TV, talk on the phone, open and close doors.  Just keep living.

2. Don't "save" the cute clothes.  They grow so fast.  Put them in your favorite outfit as often as you can - because before you know it you'll be an weepy mess, sniffling as you put it in the attic, regretting every time you "saved it" and went with something that was "okay to get dirty."

3.  When your brand new little one starts crying in the grocery store (or in church, or at a funeral), don't worry.  It's not nearly as loud as you think.  You will be so worried about being "that mom" with the screaming kid that you'll get stressed and sweaty over what sounds like, to everyone else, an innocent, raspy little newborn cry.  Wait 'til they're 2.  Then they are as loud as you think.

4. It is much easier to take the whole mattress out of the crib to put new sheets on it - then just plop it back in.  You'll break a sweat, pull six muscles, and curse trying to cram your hands between the mattress and the crib slats.

5. Your body has done a nearly impossible thing - give it some grace.  It might not ever look like it did when you were 19 (a moment of silence, please), but it grew, accommodated, nurtured, and birthed another human being.  Anatomically, it's staggering and nothing short of miraculous.  So rest assured, soft is beautiful.  Motherhood is beautiful.  Your body stepped up to the plate and did the most important thing when it mattered.  Give your body some grace. (And with some hard work and a year or so's time, you can get back to a slightly softer version of normal - new normal.)

6.  A long time ago, I was visiting with my Grandma Harness and we were watching my cousin Daniel.  He was just a tiny infant at the time and throwing quite a fit.  After patiently changing him, feeding him, swaddling him, burping him, and singing to him, he was still in a tizzy.  Grandma laid him lovingly in his bouncer, looked at me and said, "Isn't he so adorable?"  I looked at screamy, red-faced Daniel and just laughed nervously, to which Grandma replied,

"You know, Kate, sometimes babies just cry." 

This from a nurse, and a woman who raised five healthy, happy, successful children (incidentally baby Daniel was my aunt's fifth child, too).  My gentle Grandma's words helped me so many times to look at Madeline affectionately instead of desperately, lovingly instead of angrily.

7.  I overheard my mother encouraging a tired new mom, and I never forgot, "Don't waste a minute worrying about whether or not you're 'doing it wrong.'  You can't.  However you hold him is "how mom holds him." Your baby knows your method of doing things.  You cannot change him wrong or soothe him wrong.  The ultimate comfort is mommy - and you're it."

8.  Don't let anyone lead you to believe that motherhood is easy, that infants are easy.  That is BULL. HOCKEY.  There will be moms of elementary school kids, perpetually irritated moms of apathetic teenagers, and sweet elderly ladies that will coo over your baby and say things like, "I remember when mine were that little."  "Enjoy it while it lasts."  "I wish I could go back." 

It is all very sweet - but they only say it because they've forgotten what it feels like to sleep in 40-minute-intervals for 6 months.  Women who look at two-year-olds and sigh dreamily have TOTALLY FORGOTTEN what it's like to live with a two-year-old 24 hours a day.

There are mommy bloggers out there who write enthusiastic, chipper posts about cloth diapering and the magic of breastfeeding, and they are all liars - at least liars by omission.  Breastfeeding is magical, but it ain't for sissies.  It hurts like the dickens for a while, it's exhausting, it's enormously inconvenient.  You will hear people say that babies are blessings, a heritage from the Lord.  That's true, but don't for ONE SECOND think that you're a terrible person for wanting to set your "blessing" out on the front porch for the night because he just. won't. stop. crying.   Don't let the glowing mothers psych you out.  Know that they, too, are just trying to put their best foot forward.  They're trying to encourage you - give you some perspective and some hope.  But let's be straight for two seconds: Motherhood is the most precious, wonderful thing I've done with my life to date.  It's also the hardest.

9.  Advocate for your baby.   Just like before you were a mom, you will be obligated to attend work, school, church, and social functions.  You will have people counting on you to be somewhere, like a wedding or a funeral or some other once-in-a-lifetime thing.  And there WILL BE times when these expectations clash with the needs of your baby.  Trying to find an achievable balance feels treacherous, and like a lose-lose situation.  You either disappoint people you care about, miss out on special occasions, risk being misunderstood and possibly whispered about - or you suffer the agony of knowing you didn't do what was best for your baby.

I remember the tightrope feeling well, as Madeline was born just before Christmas.  Relatives whom we wouldn't see again for a full year "needed" to hold her.  I "needed" to be at a variety of church, community, and family functions.  I remember Madeline being passed around the room from one adoring person to the next - and when she started to cry, each person would take a turn trying to comfort her.  I only got a turn when Madeline was SO worked up and miserable that she'd become totally inconsolable - then it was time to pass her to mom.  I remember sitting in a back bedroom with my hot, over-stimulated newborn, nursing her and whispering to her that I was so, so sorry.  That it wasn't fair - that it was simply too much and I didn't speak up for her.  I've been bummed about missing the occasional wedding or party, but that's the kind of thing you bounce back from pretty quickly - c'est la vie.  I've deeply regretted it, on the other hand, every time I didn't advocate for my baby.

I'm not saying be a shrew and hole yourself up in your house until your kid is 6 - but you'll know when it's too much.  You'll know because you'll feel like you're about to die.  You will know when being home in your baby's safe, familiar place is more important than anything else going on that day.  Your baby cannot speak up for herself - so you must advocate for her.  It's okay to look all the expectations and obligations, disappointment and disapproval in the face and say, "No.  We need to go home now."

10.  And finally, rest assured that every other mother's house has been as dirty as yours is, probably worse.  I've recited the last stanza of a poem called "Song for a Fifth Child" by Ruth Hulbert Hamilton to myself a thousand times.  It calms down my racing mind long enough to make me sit still - and be fully present for my daughter.

...The cleaning and scrubbing will wait till tomorrow, For children grow up, I’ve learned to my sorrow. So quiet down, cobwebs. Dust go to sleep. I’m rocking my baby and babies don’t keep.


And that's all I got.  Except for pray a lot and take all the help you can get.

Veteran moms, what would you add?  New moms in the trenches of 1st year, what have I forgotten?