When my newborn was about 3 weeks old, I stayed home with her by myself for the first time. My husband had returned to work and the steady stream of visitors had slowed to a trickle. I fed her, changed her, held her and watched her sleep in the crook of my arm while I tried to eat breakfast with one hand. I was afraid to shower: What if she woke up screaming with gas pain and I couldn’t hear her? I needed to put her down, to brush my teeth, to change my clothes at least. But I couldn’t put her down and leave the room. What if she scratched herself with those tiny sharp nails I was too scared to trim with the clipper? What if her last meal wasn’t fully digested and spit up on herself, silently? What if, what if, what if?
While motherhood inspired self-assurance in certain areas (I’m finally taller than someone!), it mostly served to rattle my confidence as a responsible, level-headed grown-up. At the office, I had yearly performance reviews, received raises and always basically knew where I stood. At home, with my first newborn, I second-guessed almost every decision because I had nothing to go on. My mom’s advice and parenting books were decent guidelines, but how would I know any of it would work for me, or my baby?
I had a lot of doubts that I was doing anything right. As it turns out, unsurprisingly, this kind of new-parent self-doubt is experienced by just about every person who’s ever had a baby. Here are some of the biggies.
“I’m Using The Wrong Kind Of Diapers/Pacifier/Stroller.”
I checked all the reviews and safety reports, polled every mom friend I have, lurked on every child safety thread online, and still, I was convinced there was better baby gear out there. The truth is, sure there was. But guess what? My kid had no idea, and as long as I made sure that what I picked A) did the job I needed it to do, and B) didn't actively endanger my child, I made a good choice. That's all there is to it.
“I Probably Shouldn’t Be Hungry All The Time, Right?”
With breastfeeding sessions clocking in every 90 minutes, I was hit with pangs of hunger, the intensity of which I had never before experienced. So I ate it all. It was for a good cause.
“I Picked The Wrong Name.”
I would stand at her crib, repeating her name in a whispered mantra and it would sound so alien. “That’s not her,” I would think. We should have chosen Juliette or Casey or Axelle. I was convinced her name didn’t fit her, that she was destined to be someone else. That feeling lasted a month, and after I had written it on countless thank you notes and insurance forms, it was, of course, the
only name for her. “My Body Will Never Be The Same.”
This isn’t about weight loss or getting into pre-pregnancy clothes again—this is about literally getting control of my body back, in spite of my child, who clearly thought it belonged to him. This is about the new little roommate, my second child, who was running roughshod over me. If he wasn’t attached to me, nursing, he was sleeping on me, pulling on me, gnawing on me. It’s like even after he was born, he was still a physical part of me. As much as I loved the feel of his skin, the weight of his body, and the toothless slobber of his kisses, I worried I’d never have full ownership of my physical self again. And nursing exclusively meant my boobs were off-limits to anyone other than my infant. Even when he turned 3 months old, when I sensed a hint of horniness starting to brew again, my chest was a no-fly zone, as I was employing it as a milkbar.
“I Will Never Feel Normal Again.”
The Happiness! The Sadness! The Madness! It’s all so very...
very! My hormone levels had made a gradual shift over the nine months I was pregnant. But postpartum, it felt like a freefall from euphoria to despair and back over the course of a minute. The sadness was not at level where I thought I needed help, so when the occasional emotional roller coaster hit, I knew this was my body’s way of see-sawing back to a kind of a new stasis. In the meantime, I avoided any Lifetime movies. “I Can’t Leave My Baby.”
My one-week postpartum check-up was fraught with anxiety. This was going to be the longest I would spend away from my daughter in the 7 days she had been on Earth. It was going to be a three-hour trip, taking the subway from Queens to the Upper East Side and back for my appointment, while my dad watched the baby. I had to time it perfectly between feedings, as we had not introduced a bottle at that point and I hadn’t expressed that much milk by then anyway. I was out of my mind on the E train, where my phone couldn’t get service. I was totally off the grid! What if something happened?
(She slept the entire time I was gone, for the record, which is what usually happens the first time we leave our babies and freak out about their ability to survive without us.)
“Going Back To Work Will Mess My Kid Up.”
I cried the first day I returned to work after 12 weeks of maternity leave. My daughter didn’t. Yes, I missed a lot by putting my child in someone else’s care while I worked. But would I have had
that many more memorable moments if I had stayed with her 24/7 when she was a baby? I have so many stellar memories of her infancy and toddlerhood. Being away from her nine hours a day didn’t mess her up. In fact, I think it primed her to see the value of having a lot of different influences in her life. It takes a village, whether you work outside the home or not. “I’m Not Interesting At All Anymore. I Am Boring. It’s Official.”
When I had my first kid, I didn’t have any local mom friends. We had only been in the neighborhood a year and my closest friends were childless. While they all came to see me (well, they really only wanted to see the baby), I could tell perpetuating friendships with a kid in the mix was going to take more effort. All I wanted to talk about was baby stuff. What was going to keep me connected to my child-free pals when my whole world was charting feed times and diaper contents? Luckily, I joined a local baby group and made new friends with similar tunnel vision. And the non-mom friends stuck it out to listen to me rattle off all my daughter’s firsts, because that’s what awesome friends do. And I eventually started talking about non-kid things, again, because that’s what awesome parents eventually do.
“My Memory Is Failing.”
Funny thing about becoming a mom: I couldn’t remember sh*t. Some laypeople call this “mom brain,” which is just a bad misnomer. Not remembering certain things was my body’s way of saying, “Hey girl, you don’t need to carry all that baggage around. Just focus on the important stuff. Like this new little human that just came out of your body.”
“The World Is A Horrible Place And I Should Never Have Brought A Child Into It.”
This feeling doesn’t ever completely go away after having kids, but luckily I am distracted from it enough, simply by locking gazes with my children and reminding myself love, Lysol wipes, and Netflix conquer all.
Images: NBC; Giphy(6)