Letter to a New Mom
Recently, I had the good fortune of spending an afternoon with a childhood friend. She and I had babies on the same day, a state apart. We were both over a week overdue and were induced within hours of each other, texting updates and sharing the joy of new motherhood.
She came to visit with her beautiful 4 month old baby and we got to catch up, swap stories and share a few hours together. She is doing very well. She is a confident, loving, natural mother. She looks beautiful as always and seems genuinely happy in her new role.
Although we had babies on the same day, I was having my second child, and she was having her first. Having a second child was completely different for me than being a new mother. The joy, amazement and love were the same, but I was different and so was my confidence as a mother.
I was planning on writing her an email after our visit. I wanted to tell her how great it was to connect and how much joy it brought me to see her so in love with her baby. I also wanted to share a few thoughts with her regarding our discussion around being new mothers. What struck me as well, was my feelings about seeing a friend I'd known since third grade, as a mother, holding her own child. I felt a depth of love, admiration, and a new connection, acknowledging the mystery we now both shared, seeing her in a new way and sharing a part of myself that had grown as well. In my daily life, everyone I know has only known me as an adult, already a wife and mother. It is different spending time with a friend who knew me as a girl, who knew me as an athlete and a fumbling teenager and who saw my many heartaches through the years. I felt a great love for her, comfort in our shared memories, and a joy that we have been friends and although not in each others daily lives, that she has and continues to mean a great deal to me.
Thank you so much for making the trip down to see us. I know it was out of your way, and I was so happy to get to meet A and be giddy together about our birthday twin babies. Your manner with him is so familiar and loving, I loved seeing you in this new way.
I wanted to say that I am so proud of you and that I know this new adventure can be hard; very hard, at times. There are a few major adjustments that are taking place in your life and daily routine, marriage, relationship to yourself and relationship to your child. Not sleeping is a huge burden and sacrifice and at times it has often made me feel panicky. It can cause resentment towards the baby, your husband and the non-child rearing world in general.
I wanted to say that children can be a great strain on marriage, and many will write about this burden and cite statistics that show the period of rearing young children can be the least satisfying season of marriage. It certainly is harder than being a happily in love newly married couple. Freedom to travel, go out, sleep in, be selfish, be romantic, and dote on each other is easily found pre-children. The shift from being a childless fun couple to being new bleary eyed parents can be jarring. The roles are not equal. The child rearing burden at this stage is much more on your shoulders, at least in a day to day, minute to minute way. I know your husband feels some of the larger and financial burden and over time as A gets older, you can share more of the day to day responsibilities as well. What I've found is that although there can be resentments and frustrations towards one another, the growth that can occur in a marriage as you bond over parenthood is tremendous. You get to know each other in a new way, you deepen your attachment and affection. Your fights can also get much bigger. If you do the work of communicating about these issues, if you focus on softening your heart and forgiving each other, if you take moments to hold hands and lock eyes after a difficult night, if you find humor in the tantrums, diapers and having to change the crib sheets three times in one night, you will pull closer to one another and discover the silver lining of these years and the strength of what it means to be married.
Being a stay at home mother, who has recently given up the work world, and who is adjusting to having a baby, no sleep and negotiating a new sense of self, and a new dynamic with friends and former co-workers also brings a whole new set of challenges and adjustments. You've gone from being a fairly autonomous woman, to being a pregnant woman which is a special state in and of itself, to being completely relied upon to support a small life and feeling the responsibility it brings. All of this is a little surreal and can bring up a lot of questions about who you are and what has happened in your life and you will find you don't really have time to think the answers through or your brain is too tired to sort any of the feelings out, at least this was my experience in the early days. I always knew that I wanted to stay home with my children and I am so thankful that I have the opportunity. Even so, I paused work and professional development that I loved and started developing another aspect of my identity and that has taken time to settle into and wrap my head around. Give yourself time to find a rhythm and a balance. Carve out time to take care of yourself and you will find more energy to take care of your family.
The biggest and most wonderful change, is that you have a baby! He is so precious and sweet, a great mix of the two of you. I know he will bring you so much joy, and heartache as well. I still look at my girls and marvel that we made them, that they exist, that we've kept them safe and alive. It is awe inspiring, wonderful and terrifying all at once. They are like little buddies that I spend my day with, that know me so intimately, and yet know so little about my life and my thoughts. The relationship with your child will teach you so much about yourself and your heart and abilities will stretch as both of you grow and get older. I initially thought that she was an extension of me, a special baby all my own. Yes, this was partially the case, but truly she is her own. Our children have mind and spirits all their own. He will amaze you as you get to learn more and more about the person inside his little body.
I am sharing all this with you, because I think we (as women and mothers) need to share and support one another in this transition. It is wonderful, and it is very, very hard. My sense is that the transition is different than in generations past. We are part of a generation of women who were expected to grow up and be educated and have careers. Our identities and paths have shifted from finishing basic education, becoming a wife and then a mother and homemaker to independent educated women with careers, who become wives, and mothers who are fortunate enough to choose to work or stay home. We have much more freedom than our fore mothers and this is both wonderful and complicated as we navigate fulfilling traditional roles in a society that has drifted away from traditional ways.
All of this is to say, I know what you are going through, the wonderful and the difficult, and I am here to share and talk. It also helps me to be able to write and clarify my own feelings and thoughts, as I have been on this journey for three years now and definitely feel much more settled and clear than I did in the beginning, but, I too, am still finding my way. Thank you again for your visit, and friendship.
How is it with Two?
I get this question a lot now that I’ve had my second child. Most often from moms pregnant with their second, looking for some ray of hope that having a baby and a toddler could somehow be less difficult than being pregnant and having a toddler. Fortunately, I can give them that, because for me, it is.
I was a miserable pregnant woman. My first pregnancy I was extremely morning sick with daily vomiting, food aversions, endless stomach issues, and general misery. It got better as I was into my second trimester, but I never was a woman who loved being pregnant. I had SPD; body aches, and weight gain, all the normal things pushed to the limits. I was overjoyed to be growing a life, and in awe that my body knew how to do it, but I have always had body issues and struggled with my weight, so pregnancy was hard both physically and mentally.
My second daughter’s birth was amazing and I felt greatly relieved to no longer be pregnant. After a couple of months of healing and building back some basic strength, I was able to start exercising again and felt the high of being an individual with an autonomous body. (I say this loosely as I was still exclusively breastfeeding and had two children on me all day long, but when I can put them to bed and have just me, or I can go for a walk and feel the freedom and strength of my body again, I feel a deep sense of satisfaction.)
While pregnant, I was gearing up for years of sleeplessness with a new baby. Our first didn’t sleep fully through the night (without waking to nurse) until she was about 18 months old. With my first, I didn’t get more than a few hours at a time fro at least the first six months. It was hard, really hard to be so sleep deprived. She was a strong willed child. She amazed me with her will and the fever pitch of discomfort and anger she could reach when I tried all the suggestions from the endless sleep books I read to try and “train” her. In the end, her hyperventilating tears and my poor heart couldn’t take it and we found our own rhythm and path. Since 18 months she slept fully through the night without any problems, until my last trimester of pregnancy when she decided to aggressively self potty train, waking in the night so not to pee in her diaper as well as waking up afraid that there would be no place for her when the new baby arrived.
When the new baby arrived, she calmed down, and saw that we all still love her and her place in our family is secure. She still wakes us more than the baby, as she has decided she needs to tell me when she wakes to use the bathroom, something she didn’t do for a year of independent bathroom trips in the night. Or she needs her pj’s snapped at 3 in the morning, or lately, there are bears in her room. I know all of this is her still adjusting to having a sibling. She is pretty good about telling me when she is jealous and that she needs “mommy time”. “Mommy, put my sister to sleep, I need mommy time” is one of her common requests.
Her sister is one of the babies I read about and didn’t believe existed. A baby, who slept 4 and 5 hour stretches in the night at 4 weeks old, who routinely doesn’t wake at all now at 4 months, who falls asleep mostly on her own, and wakes up happy. She fusses minimally, smiles endlessly, goes a long for the ride, and is generally a fat and happy baby.
If I’d had her first, I would probably not believe the parents who say their child doesn’t sleep or still HAS to nurse multiple times a night after 6 months. They must just not be doing something right. I know there were parents who thought this about me when I said it just wasn’t working the first time around. Having lived it, I know that isn’t the case.
Having two daughters so different from one another makes it clear to me on a personal level that children are just different. They need different things.
I’ve wondered if because this is our second round, maybe we just know what to do and so she’s fallen in line much easier. Yes, in part this must be true, our family schedule was set for children and this influenced her schedule from the beginning. I was also more conscious of not rushing to her at every little noise the way I did with my first. But, then again, my first’s noises were different and grew in intensity much quicker. Her whole temperament was different. She is an amazingly strong willed and intense little girl. She was walking before her first birthday, speaking in paragraphs by her second, self potty trained shortly after, doesn’t let me forget a thing, and loves to run, jump, play, climb and be fully in everything. When she was an infant she used to ball her hands up and shake her head and turn red when she was frustrated. She didn’t cry, she just wanted something so intensely and that was how she expressed it. My husband and I would stare in amazement and say, “is this normal? Do babies do this?” Well, yes. Ours did.
Her sister hasn’t even a whisper of this behavior. She fusses for very specific reasons: she’s hungry, she’s hurt, she wants attention or she’s tired. Other than that she is happy. She loves to coo and talk and observe. She loves to give big open baby kisses and try to eat any of our body parts she happens to grab. I am so curious how she’ll be as a toddler and what kind of stories she’ll tell us.
So, for me, having two is going very well. Having a baby is a lot of work, no matter how “easy” the baby is, but I’ve discovered there are definitely easier baby temperaments and babies that require more patience and sacrifice from their parents.
For all parents out there struggling with children that aren’t sleeping or are high needs, do all that you can to create consistency, boundaries, routines, give them endless love and then know that your doing the best you can and your child is just being who they need to be. I can’t say one is better than the other. Each child comes with her own gifts and challenges. Of course, it is easier now to have a baby who sleeps. If I was as sleep derived as before and trying to manage two high intensity children right now, this post might be very different, but I learned a lot from my first daughter and we shared many special, albeit sometimes delirious quiet moments in the dead of the night. I might even miss some of that with my second, now that it is a distant memory.
Source. God is love and the source of all that is good. The bounty and the beauty of nature, the light in our souls, and the beginning of dreams all flow from this goodness.