The long awaited day has finally come. After forty weeks of carrying around this baby, he/she is finally outside and laying on your chest. Suddenly, you really are a mom. You knew that you were a mom for the past forty weeks, but now it really feels like it. Overwhelming love rushes over you with every rise and fall of their little chest. At that moment, everything in the world seems perfect. A moment or two after that, reality starts bringing some new lessons.
Here are 5 lessons I learned about motherhood:
1. The “Mama Bear” instinct is a real thing.
No, you don’t start randomly growling or catching fish with your mouth, but the innate and fierce protective spirit is for real. Even in my still groggy state, I didn’t want to take my eyes off of my little one while I was laying in the hospital bed. Thankfully, many hospitals, mine included, allow the baby to stay in the room with mom for 99% of the time. A common symptom of Mama Bear instinct could be anxiety about people not thoroughly cleaning their hands prior to holding your baby.
Don’t even get me started on how you will fear people having the plague when they clear their throat in the presence of your baby. Regardless of the severity of your Mama Bear instinct, the strong desire to protect your young is just as strong in humans and in my experience, comes to new moms instantly.
2. Men don’t always become dads instantly.
Some men might have read The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Fatherhood already or maybe they held someone else’s baby for ten seconds and prayed that they would not break it, so they feel somewhat prepared. Although many men may be excited about the prospect of fatherhood, the bonding process can take time. Technically speaking, men are dads pretty much instantly, but I am hinting at being a dad in a bonded sense. Men don’t have the luxury of carrying the baby for nine months before he/she arrives on the scene. Yes, I did call pregnancy a luxury. Although there are plenty of times where you feel like a beached whale and wish instead you were a seahorse, so the husband would be carrying the baby, the time you were carrying the baby was bonding time.
Even with dads being able to feel kicks, the connection to the baby is not the same as what the mom experiences. When men become bonded dads, they start to see why their wives can just stare at that baby all day long. Despite the fact that my husband had never spent very much time around children, I expected he would just instantly and naturally jump into the daddy role. I was wrong. He wanted to be helpful, but he had no idea how to help. Even though it will be hard on your soul, when you pass off the baby, let your husband work it out. In time, dads will navigate their way into fatherhood and seeing your partner become a daddy is a truly beautiful experience.
3. Boobs are wonderful and terrible things.
How amazing is it that you have a baby and a food source for said baby right afterward! Whenever the lactation specialist comes in to talk about milk coming in, but they don’t talk about the pain which can come along with it. In the hospital, moms are encouraged to get the baby to nurse as much as possible to clue the body in about the supply needed to support the little one. Nursing is a supply and demand thing which has to be established in the beginning. My baby was born on a Monday, but the arrival of my milk on Wednesday night might have been a more shocking arrival. For the record, prior to pregnancy, I was barely a B cup. Pregnancy had already done me favors in this regard, but I had no idea what was coming.
Suddenly, I woke up from a nap and I had cleavage. For the first time in my life, I could be described as busty. Momentarily, I enjoyed being Dolly Parton and I felt certain that my baby would be enjoying a buffet later. I learned a new adjective for breasts that night: engorged. The contractions of pregnancy were painful, but I think being engorged might have been worse. Imagine trying to dump an entire gallon of milk into a baby’s mouth. Baby boy was crying because he felt like he was drowning in milk. I was crying because the glory of the cleavage had become like hard rocks on my chest and the baby couldn’t help relieve it. Now, I know why unmilked cows whine persistently. If you are currently engorged, I am so very sorry, but don’t give up. I think if you can make it past the first two weeks of breastfeeding, the hardest part is over.
4. Take all the help you can get.
You is tired. You is hungry. You is a mom. Excuse my rewrite of the phrase from The Help—it may only be funny to someone as sleep deprived as me. In the first week, you are in the process of healing, but you are so needed in the midst of this. Your baby does not know the hell your body incurred hours ago to have them; they just need you. In some circumstances, there is no substitute for you, especially if you are attempting to nurse. There are going to be plenty of moments where your baby could be just as content with your partner, parents, friend, etc. It is important to realize that you are not the only one desiring to slide into your new role. Your baby’s other new family members are probably itching to love on that sweet baby too. I wish everyone had the family circumstances which I was blessed with.
My family and in-laws both live close by and are willing to help. In the first week of my baby’s life, one of his grandmothers was with us every single day. If your family or friends offer this sort of support, take it gladly. There will be plenty of days where you will be making a sandwich with one hand and taking unbelievably fast showers (if you get one at all), so embrace the time when you have help. If your family offers to help, know that you are giving them a blessing by letting them bond with the baby and you are receiving a gift of time from them. There is no award for being independent and you are no less of a mom by accepting help.
5. It’s okay to break “the rules”.
In the age of information, we are bombarded with parenting dos and do not’s through the web. Through a simple Google search, you can find all sorts of things which could be advisable or inadvisable. It is very easy to get stuck thinking you have to follow all “the rules” you see online and suggestions touted by your pediatrician. Some rules are black and white, like the importance of a car seat for example, but there are plenty of “rules” which are gray and might need to be broken. As previously mentioned, boobs can be terrible. When the doom of engorgement hit, my baby was unable to provide relief for my overfilled watermelons. In my head, I heard the lactation specialist saying, “Don’t pull out the breast pump for six weeks so you can make sure your milk supply is established properly.”
I am a bit of rule follower and I was feeling the newbie mom pressure at that point to not use it. At about three a.m., I was pulling that pump out of the closet. “Rule” one had been broken. Thankfully, the pump solved the problem and my supply established itself just fine. On that same day, my rebellious and desperate self broke another “rule”. The lactation guides say to wait 4-6 weeks before giving a pacifier. The possible problems which could occur relate to nipple confusion and latching issues.
My baby was really needing to suck badly. This innate desire in babies is a good thing and is probably how mammal babies manage to survive. After watching my baby struggle for a couple of hours, the pacifiers were ripped out of the package. Just moments later, my baby was happily snoozing with his pacifier. He never had any issues as a result. I’m sure there are some scenarios where strict adherence to the “rules” is important, but I guess the lesson I learned was that not every “rule” applies perfectly to you and your baby. Your baby is an individual and you will find that “rules” are different for each one.