In a transient world, with family far and more far, and in the hustle of big cities and big careers, support networks can seem fragmented at best for new mamas in the western world. In some cultures women are still sanctified after birth, taken care of by their sister women, encouraged not to lift a finger for up to the first 45 days after giving birth. But we’re New Yorkers & frankly, I would have gone mad with the “mustn’t leave the home for the first 30 days” rule. I feel extremely grateful to have had family come support us for the first couple of weeks, which is a lot more support than many women get. But I’m not going to lie, when our beloved parents had to return home and my husband had to return to work, I found myself looking out the window with my baby in my arms, whimpering, “where’d everyone go?” To my friends who just got another hat to hang on their rack, called “mama,” & to those who will, I want to assure you that support will find you, sometimes in the most unexpecting ways. This support comes in the shape of your partner, your friends, a stranger in a coffee shop with their respective new family member, a book, a mommy & me class, or even a blog.
To that end, with a few dear friends about to be mamas (& very dear friend who JUST became a mama!), I was wondering what I could impart that would help manage expectations as they bushwhack their way through the first few weeks of new motherhood, regardless of how little or much support they have at their finger tips. And here are 5 things that I’ve come up with:
1. New motherhood, like all new chapters in life, is best understood in hindsight but must be lived forward, rather blindly at times. I'm only now beginning to look back on these 17 weeks with a decent amount of reflection. And I’m sure I’ll look back in a year with a sense of added clarity. For all my soon-to-be-mama friends, you will be amazed at how primal your instincts are and only when you look back do you realize why you felt such urges to get outside and take those walks during recovery, why you became the master defender of your child's sleep time, and why you didn't give up breastfeeding when you really felt it was a more challenging than birth itself. Trust your instincts, that’s why they are there & they won’t let you down.
2. It so happens that all of my new-mama friends have been or still are career women. Coming to terms with the career-self you’ve always known and the new world of baby that has you raptured, I find akin to catching ether. It is a colossal feat to find a way to have it all & to be honest, I’m still trying to figure out what’s right for me. Your gorgeous baby life will always be the muse of your day; but how do you retain the intellectual stimulation and financial contributor status to your family’s future at the same time? Not to mention time for exercise, learning to cook gourmet origami-type creations with philo dough, those mani/pedis & various other over-achiever goals that plague modern women. All of this on fragmented pockets of 2-4 hours of sleep. So brace yourself for what gives time management a new definition. I certainly don’t have the answers but am always willing to brainstorm. I’m dealing with this aspect of my life similar to the first time I took to the ice on skates – wobbly and on my butt most the time.
3. Let go and let husband. Remember how I said support comes in all shapes and sizes? Well, the honors go to husband. It’s more than support, its partnership and they should get a lot of credit. From someone who has been coined “the porcelain drill-sergeant” and a “miss know-it-all,” by more people than just her husband, I admit that I’m not always one who thinks someone else may have a better idea at how to run the show better than me. Now insert your baby into the picture and if left unmanaged you may find yourself in an army beret wondering why no one is saluting you when they leave. I digress, back to the partner in crime here, your husband. If, for example, its evening time and you think it should be “wind down” time for the baby because that's what all the books say, and dad comes home with 10 octaves of energy in his briefcase and sweeps baby up for airplane…well, try not to sweat it because she is seriously having way more fun in dad’s hands high in the air than being forced to sleep in her bed. Remember the little one is part him so if his style doesn’t make sense to you, it just might make all the sense to her. Looking back, Richard has been the one who’s come up with some of the most useful ideas and has certainly helped make my adjustment to motherhood easy. I’m so grateful for his confidence, his creativity and his willingness to get up in the middle of the night to feed her even though he has to get to the office in early morning. He is the best and I probably don’t tell him that enough… ‘scuse me while I make a call.
4. Lean on your mama friends. Even if you’re not used to leaning on others, just do it. You’re doing yourself a favor and gaining wisdom from these magical mamas to pass it on. It’s a tornado of support, if you’re willing to participate. I’m so thankful for my mama friends and their sisterhood to me. You too will have your Tracy, Hillary, Vanessa, Rachel, Susan, Heather, Leigh, Emily, Janalyn, Maria, Brandi, Keturah, Nicole, Christy & Natalie. And one of my friends who calls it like she sees it with more kahunas than I have, Andra, is especially refreshing. Check out this blog entry when you’re 6 weeks post-natal and you’ll feel hugely relieved that you’re not alone. The Bean Chronicles
5. And I’ve saved a doozy for last – breastfeeding.
The Baby Book
by William Sears MD & Martha Sears MD
Chapter 8: Breastfeeding
(First Sentence) “Breastfeeding is a life-style…”
Italics and all… When I read that I remember thinking “they ain’t jokin’!” As my darling French friend pointed out to me, there is reason beyond the obvious humane element of European maternity leave – it’s 6 months because if you’re breastfeeding, that in itself is a full-time job.
There is an Everest for every new mama, and breastfeeding has been mine. So forgive me for my rather long testimony, but I hope some of you will take from my experience that the challenges, if you have any, won't last forever. Whether or not you have said challenges, breastfeeding will be more difficult & time consuming than you can imagine it will be. I remember those first weeks home from the hospital, quarantined to the Dutatelier, undignified and unable to even wear a shirt half the time because of the sheer pain of engorgement and a potpourri of related issues that I pray will spare you, wondering what on earth was happening to me. Why oh why was I smug in that breastfeeding class that my husband and I took in my third trimester? I remember it clear as day, leaning over to Richard, giggling about how silly NYC is to have a class for everything - LIKE BREASTFEEDING - with a smirk on my face and my eyes on the clock. I was certain something so "natural" (haha) would come easily. After all, I was going to figure out labor and birth, how hard could it be to figure out breastfeeding? The damn breastfeeding gods heard me and my destiny was sealed the moment I whispered "lets sneak out early and grab Starbucks."
I had my last case of mastitis at 12 weeks and have (fingers crossed) been more or less out of the woods since. Whether it takes you three days or three months, if it's something you believe in, I promise you that you will get through it. I still may not be ready for nursing on the go a la Ergo carrier ("Just loosen the strap here, shift your baby to the side, and wah lah! you can nurse and run your errands at the same time." Please! That is not going to happen for this mama!) But I am finally to the point where it's more than the mere science behind all of the health benefits that keeps me going. I'm beginning to really appreciate what I'm doing for her. And I’m fairly certain this won’t be the last time I go through something tough on behalf of what I think is best for my child.
Whether or not breastfeeding is for you, you will have a new-mama Everest, and it is from that experience that you will discover endurance beyond anything you have had to exercise before. You will find in you an uncompromising will to stay the course for something you believe is best for your child. Be prepared to have your socks knocked off and remember to recognize the beauty in your challenges, however tough. Because despite how challenging it is to breastfeed, deal with colic, understand the unfamiliar world of your hearing-impaired child, or whatever your new-mama Everest is, those are the windows to the new depths of fortitude, tenacity, and sheer LOVE you have the capacity for experiencing. And those new depths are parenthood at it’s finest.