After having my baby, there was an unbelievable high of happiness pulsating through my body. Suddenly, I had all the energy in the world, and I was elated to show off my baby to family members, visitors, and even the nurses. I was literally holding a bundle of pure joy. And it was truly one of the best moments of my life. Then, finally, it was nighttime. And we were eager to get some sleep. My husband looked totally exhausted from sleeping on a cot for three nights straight during my long long labor. So I told him to go home where he could get some rest, and that I would take care of the baby. Once he left, I realized that was one BIG mistake. The crying started…and she wouldn’t stop. I thought, she’ll eventually wear herself out. It had been a long day for the both of us. But no. She didn’t eventually drift off into a deep sleep, like I had imagined she would. She wouldn’t even let me put her down in the bassinet, like I had dreamt many times during my pregnancy. That night I realized, having a baby was going to be nothing like I expected. I was ready for hard. But nothing could have prepared me for the really really hard that would become the next chapter of my life.
Finding My Moms
It was brutal. The first month was entirely a blur. I was running on the smallest amount of sleep I had ever experienced in my entire life, and I had a little human attached to my chest the whole time. Yes, even when I went to the bathroom. My husband, God bless him, was a saint. He served me breakfast in bed, made sure I always had my Boppy pillow on hand, and changed many many diapers. But I cried. Because, I was tired. Because, my hormones were literally taking over. My baby woke up every hour at night, so I was beyond exhausted. Each day, my sleep debt kept climbing upward. And the less sleep I got, the more blue I became. I was sick of napping during the day. I wanted to be awake and functioning like a normal person. I wanted to feel normal again. But this was my new normal, and I wasn’t taking it well.
So my husband suggested I attend a local New Moms group. He handed me a flyer and said, “Email the coordinator…Now.” I got the hint. By next Tuesday, I bundled up my baby and set out to the New Mom’s group, unshowered and extremely caffeinated. I was the first person in the room. I had left a half hour early in case the baby needed to nurse, or there was a diaper explosion. But mostly, I left the house ahead of time for the sake of just getting out of the house. More moms trickled in with their babies, and I started to get excited. One mom asked how old my daughter was and how I was holding up. I explained the hard time I was having, trying to get my baby to sleep through the night. She gave me some tips on coaxing my baby to sleep and recommended I join a coffee meet up on Fridays to caffeinate and retain sanity. Another mom overheard our conversation and chimed in about her son going through a colic phase at night too. She suggested taking the baby on a car ride to help with the drifting off to sleep. It had been a really rough time for her but she said this group saved her from pulling her hair out. She loved her son, but she needed to talk to adults every once and awhile. She looked forward to it every Tuesday. And she valued the feedback and resources that were shared, not only between the social worker, who ran it, and the moms, but among the mothers themselves. It was all so refreshing to hear. The warm welcome, the suggestions, the empathy, the listening ear. All of it. Finally! These were my people! This was what I needed. This was what every mother needed.
By the end of the 1st group meeting, I had learned so much about how to get through this difficult time with my baby. But most importantly, I had discovered a new found peace and support among these mothers. And as I continued to attend this New Moms group every Tuesday, I realized that the words and caring advice shared among these women had gotten me through a lot of challenges with my daughter. Challenges that I couldn’t have even begun to imagine solving without these ladies. It was amazing how helpful it was for me to talk to these women, mere strangers at the time, about my real struggles as a mother. We were all in the same boat. Vulnerable, tired and scared out of our minds about what the next day was going to bring. But that was the beauty of the group. We were all going through the same experience. An experience that created a powerful bond among these women to lift one another up in times of need. What I had been going through with my daughter, was exactly what the mother sitting next to me was going through with her son. We were all breaking a sweat through those first 3 months. No sleep, no date nights, no routine and no eating meals without a baby on top of you. The group leader called it, “survival mode”. It was a time of keeping it together, and not losing our minds as we all adapted to our new lives as mothers. It was about finding moments of self-care so you would have the endurance and patience to care for your little one. But most importantly, it was realizing, as a first time mom, that you are never alone.
Group Advice That Stuck
1. The only constant in raising a child is that your child is always changing.
Nothing is set in stone. So don’t waste your energy worry about all the “what-ifs” around future bedtimes, nap times, mealtimes…whatever it is. You and your baby are going to experience many different phases of schedules. Where they may sleep through the night one week, and then have several terrible bedtimes a month later. There are so many variables, it’s impossible to pinpoint why a baby may have a great feeding one day, and not so great one the next. But yet, we cling to reason. And are always beating ourselves up, looking for a solution to every challenge with our baby. As a mother, you crave the constant in raising your child, but one of the hardest lessons I learned was relinquishing my anxieties over the unknowns, and embracing the everyday successes. If I was able to get a shower, it was a good day. If dinner was on the table at a decent time, I was happy. If the baby fell asleep on any safe place other than me, I called that a win. Rolling with the punches was definitely my motto during those first few months. Not having that solid routine, drove me nuts, but it always kept me present with my baby. I started to read her cues and slowly realized, she had her own routine after all. It just wasn’t mine.
2. Trust your Mommy gut, it knows what’s up.
There are a lot of opinions out there in the world. And when you have a baby, it seems like everyone, and I mean everyone, wants to share their advice with you about the wrongs and rights of raising a baby. From family members to strangers on the streets, you’ll get an ear full. My favorite has got to be the old lady in the grocery line that tells you to put socks on your baby because they are too cold. Or maybe it’s the mother-in-law who tells you constantly to feed your baby or they will never grow. There are really some gems out there when it comes to advice giving. And in the beginning, it’s hard to filter out what suggestions are the best ones to follow. That’s why, you gotta trust your instincts as a mother. You know your baby best. And everyone else? They know what worked for either their baby or someone else’s baby. So don’t be discouraged if that same advice doesn’t work for your own. When you get that “helpful” piece of advice, be opened, grateful and don’t knock it until you’ve tried it. If you feel totally uncomfortable with someone’s suggestions, just don’t do it. Rely on your mommy gut. It doesn’t lie.
3. For every phase and transition, know that you will walk through it.
Experiencing every twist and turn of motherhood is a challenge for every mother. There is endless amounts of worry and wondering, “what if I’m not strong enough for this part?”. The group leader of our New Moms group said it best when she told us that the suspense of a transition is usually worse than the actual transition itself. She always encouraged us to envision ourselves successfully achieving a new phase in our lives. Imagine yourself going back to work, visualize dropping your baby off at daycare, see yourself making it through that dreaded 1st year pediatrician appointment. The power of positive thinking and knowing that you will make it through, really got me through the worse days. I can still hear the group leader tell us over and over again, “This is hard. This is one of the hardest things you’ll have to do. But you WILL walk through this.” Something about that last line will always create a sense of empowerment within me. It quickly became my mantra to keep me calm through the hardships of parenting, and establish a new found confidence in my role as a mother. With those few words, I learned to believe in myself. It was the greatest gift of that New Moms group. Having that group of women gave me the strength to discover the inner strength that came with being a mother. Because of them, I will always remember, that no matter what I face, I will forever have the capacity to walk through it all.
4. Make Mom Friends with Humor, they are keepers.
Although my New Moms group days are long behind me, I have remained closed friends with these mothers. Some are full time working moms, some are part-time, and others are stay at home moms. But we all continue to stay connected through our active Facebook group, where we still seek out support around parenting, and provide resources to new moms everyday. These women are so present in my life. They make being a mom so much easier because, we chose to continue the discussion of motherhood and dedicate ourselves to raising up each other in so many ways. Our self-care as moms is preserved by endless book clubs, home playdates, library story times, community playgroups and, my absolute favorite, monthly mom’s night out. We have learned to celebrate motherhood, with all the ups and downs, through these events. Through tears and laughter, but definitely, mostly laughter. Because finding the humor in the grueling part of parenting is really important. Find the moms with the humor. They are going to get you through. They will make the hardships something to laugh about over coffee. They will make the sick days a little easier with a joke or two. They will remind you everyday, to lighten up a little, and find the humor in the chaos. These women are keepers. So put yourself out there, find them and engage with them. I’m so glad I did. Because seriously ladies, it’s take a village.