We welcomed our daughter into the world on a Tuesday night at almost 10:00 p.m. As I watched the doctor catch my baby and hold her up to me, I stared at her with wide eyes, completely breathless. I didn’t know what to say, what to think, what to do. So, I held her awkwardly and cried the proudest, happiest tears of my life, and then I waited for my next instruction from the nurses.
I have never in my life felt so completely inadequate, unprepared and terrified. The truth about motherhood that no one told me is that in an instant, you change forever. You will learn to survive on little sleep and missed meals. Your nerves will be so worn down that you will laugh in situations that would usually make you cry. But the real surprise is that there is no scarier feeling than leaving the hospital with a teeny, tiny baby who can’t hold her head up or understand a word you say.
Two-and-a-half years later, I can barely remember the person I was before I was Mommy, and it’s hard to imagine feeling anything other than a love more pure and intense than can be described. And raising a child has given me greater perspective and taught me so much about myself and life. In fact, I wish I had enjoyed those scary newborn days a little more, because the second strongest emotion I feel now is frustration (toddlers are scary af). So, if I could go back in time to the day before my daughter’s birth, here’s what I would tell myself.
Oh, sweet, clueless, little Liz. Can you hardly believe you are about to become a mom? I know you thought this day would never arrive, but here you are checking that everything was packed in the hospital bag and making last-minute changes to the nursery as if your newborn baby is going to judge the angle of the rocker in her room.
I know this is just your way of coping with nerves and trying to convince yourself you are ready for this. Trust me, you are. You will soon learn that you are stronger than you think and more maternal than you ever thought you could be. The next 72 hours are going to be a whirlwind, but hang in there. Here are a few words of wisdom to keep in mind…
You will cry a lot. Giving birth is an incredible experience, and you will feel so many emotions when it’s finally over. (You will also be really thirsty, so tell Brian to have a fountain Coke ready for you to combat the nausea and re-hydrate you.) You are going to be thrust into an entirely new and unfamiliar world, and your hormones are going to be crazy as hell, causing you to cry. A lot. You will cry because you miss being pregnant and feeling your baby’s kicks and wiggles. You will cry because you are afraid and overwhelmed by the enormous responsibility you now have. You will cry because you question whether you gave her the right name and because you doubt that you are capable of the love and hard work that is required of a mom. And you will cry because you can’t stop crying. And it’s okay.
It’s okay to be afraid. If you aren’t a little apprehensive about taking on the responsibility of keeping another human being alive – and socially well-adjusted – that would be a little weird, don’t you think? So, try to remember that your baby won’t know that you have a terrible singing voice. She won’t know that you don’t even know how to hold a baby or what a mom is supposed to do when her baby cries. Instead, she will be comforted simply by being in your arms and hearing your voice. You will both learn together and form a special bond that is unique to the two of you. She will look to you to show her how to interact with everything in her world, and you are going to really enjoy experiencing things through her eyes.
You may not love your child. And that’s okay, too. You’ve only just met! You will feel like you are holding a stranger at first, but love grows over time, and your love for your baby girl is already so much more than you realize. Forget what you’ve seen on TV or in your Facebook feed about the reaction you should have to welcoming a baby into the world. This is your relationship with your baby. If you need a few days to adjust to it, that’s okay. You aren’t the first – or the last – mom who requires a little extra time to process that immense motherly love.
Breastfeeding is not as glamorous as celebrities make it look on Instagram. But it’s rewarding, and you will love it (you will also really love having boobs this swimsuit season). Be sure to use Lanolin cream, find pump parts that fit your nipples and don’t worry about your baby nursing too much or too little. She’s human, too, and she may not eat exactly like they described in your classes. Try to relax; if she’s not getting enough food, she won’t poop and pee. It’s that simple, really.
Trust your instincts. For the love of God, do not Google anything, especially an “Is this normal?” question. When you feel the need to learn more, call the pediatrician or another mom before resorting to the fear-inducing internet forums. But trust yourself, because you are going to surprise yourself with how strong your parenting instincts are. In fact, you’ll even write blogs about parenting one day. Not bad for a girl who has no maternal instincts…
“Build” your village. Despite all your best efforts, your life is going to change, and you will find it easier to adapt once you surround yourself with other moms who have children about the same age as yours. More importantly, you will need mom friends who won’t judge you when you need to give your child the iPad while you finally have a glass of wine in peace. Or who won’t push her Ferber method for torture (er… sleep) on you. And don’t worry, you’ll show them when she finally sleeps all night in her crib at 16 months old! Don’t be afraid to ask for help, and please accept help from your friends and family when they offer it. You and your baby will be better off for it.
Time will fly. It’s cliché, but it’s true. At first, days will feel like weeks, but you’ll soon hit your stride. And before you know it, days are going to feel like tiny blips in time. Remember, everything is a phase and is so short-lived. Just when you think you can’t go another sleepless night, she’s going to sleep six hours straight. And just when you feel like you can’t take another tantrum over sign language commands you don’t understand, she’ll learn a new sound that means “milk”. Hold on to this piece of advice, because when she’s two, you’ll look back at the newborn days and wish you hadn’t sweat the small stuff.
Liz, your little girl is going to be so very strong, determined, thoughtful and funny, and her reputation as a singing, dancing social butterfly will soon precede her. There will be days when you feel like you are doing everything wrong, but the days when your heart is so full of love and pride that you think it might burst make it all worth it. When you have those beaming moments, just remember: you made that.
So, get to the hospital, listen to your doctor when she recommends the epidural the first time and push hard. You got this, mama.