New motherhood brings with it a million firsts, including moments of sublime discovery and just as many of absolute paralysis. As prepared as anyone may think they are, there is no amount of book reading and note taking that can truly prepare you for the chaos and upheaval of a baby. It’s exhilarating, joyful, overwhelming, and more than a little eye-opening. In the last eight months I’ve come to understand that trial and error, hands-on experience, and lots of repetition are the only ways to become a confident mom. I’ve also learned these five little lessons:
1. Ask for help. Especially in those first few months, finding time to do anything at all except hold, sooth, and feed my child seemed like an impossible feat. Some days even the most basic human tasks like eating a meal or taking a shower were beyond my capabilities. Enlisting help from friends and family made a huge difference. But remember: People can’t read your mind or anticipate what you need. Learning to delegate and recognizing that I couldn’t possibly do everything myself helped me stay sane. So don’t be afraid to ask someone to make you a sandwich, grab you a glass of water, or put a load of dirty clothes in the laundry. It really does take a village to raise a child, and we need all the help we can get.
2. Trust your gut. Not everything is going to come naturally, and there will be plenty of people telling you how to parent their way. Take advice from whomever you want — there are thousands of books, blogs, and articles (like this one!) that can suggest different approaches to parenting — but remember that no one knows you and your baby like you do. We read (and listened to) lots of advice and then took what we liked best and adapted it to fit our life and our baby.
3. Don’t be so hard on yourself. I could find plenty of reasons each day to feel guilty or inadequate about something related to motherhood, whether it’s how much time I spend away from my daughter, how much time I spend away from my work because of my daughter, what I should be doing with her that I’m not, or what I am doing with her that I shouldn’t. It’s endless and exhausting. But I have learned to quell the self-loathing and focus on what really matters: My child is happy, warm, well-fed, rested, and most of all, loved beyond words. Other than that, I aim to take one day at a time and allow a little leeway with my own expectations.
4. Laugh. Babies are funny! The situations you find yourself in as a new mother can feel straight out of a bad sitcom (or a horror movie!), like the time I leaked milk through my dress while shooting a TV show in front of a live audience, or when my baby daughter refused to sleep on a five-hour flight to Los Angeles (and kept the whole plane up with her!). There will be many reasons to be serious about your child’s life along the way, but I find it hugely important to separate out the not-so-serious moments, realize how absurd they are, and laugh at them. The best part is your child quickly learns to laugh along with you, which is the most beautiful, joyous sound in the world!
5. Everything’s different. But better. I am definitely not the same person I was nine months ago. My body is different, my brain is different, and my marriage is different too. I work differently, prioritize differently, and expend all my energy in a totally different way. This takes some getting used to, partly because I really liked who I used to be and didn’t expect to feel this way, and partly because to the outside world I may not appear different at all. But the fact that the person I have become, and the reasons for these changes, are due to one small, delicious, and wondrous little person who I get to care for every day, makes me realize how privileged I am to have gone through these changes in the first place. And I know through it all I’ve turned into a stronger, better me.