Despite the fact that broad swathes of the population go through it, early motherhood is a time shrouded in misinformation, useless advice, and mystery. Why? Well, everyone is different and what works for some people won't hold up to someone else's situation. But the understanding of post-baby life is also rooted in dumb suppositions and wishful thinking, even when we all know better deep down. As such, new moms find themselves feeling like failures. So I want to state some obvious truths new moms should know.
New motherhood is such a vulnerable time for everyone involved. While society (reasonably) focuses on the physical vulnerability of a newborn, new moms often feel fragile and just barely hanging on when they themselves are supposed to be a pillar of strength for their little one (who is so needy). Doesn't sound like the picture-perfect postpartum life we've all been sold, now does it?
Some of the truths I want to talk about run contrary to popular belief. Others are things that we all know, but don't really accept when our time comes. So I feel like I need to shout it from the rooftops to assure other parents that, "No, really honey: this is how it goes and there's nothing wrong with you... it's just that there's something wrong with the way we discuss what it is to be a mom."
It's Not Always Love At First Sight
As is perfectly reasonable for someone you just met who isn't talking to you and will not stop screaming in your face and puking on you. If you happen to be someone who fell in love with your baby right away, great! It certainly happens. But there's nothing wrong with you, the baby, or your general situation is that doesn't happen.
It's Not Always Fun
See previous statement about child refusing to stop screaming in your face and puking on you. There will certainly be a clutch of people (usually older women, in my experience) encouraging you to "treasure every minute" and while I get where they're coming from (because it does fly by) there are absolutely minutes, entire days, even, that I'm very happy not only not to treasure but to completely forget.
You Will Often Feel Like Crap
You just had a baby. You may have had surgery, or you may have squeezed an entire infant out of your vagina, and even now they may be treating your nipples like a chew toy. And even if you escaped all that feeling good, you're at the very least exhausted. Any one of those things can make you feel crappy, and you're likely dealing with several (and then some).
Your House Will Often Look Like Crap
Who has time for deep cleanings in times such as these? I certainly didn't. That's OK. Anyone with a passing familiarity of the infant stage will get it. Anyone who would judge you for it is a moron and deserves precisely zero percent of your cleaning efforts.
You Will Often Be Covered In Crap
Crap is a pretty prevalent theme in a lot of the early days. It's no unusual to have baby poop somewhere on your person. After all, they're little crap machines. Also, if this is your first baby you're still probably getting the hang of the best way to put on a diaper, so there will be leaks. It sucks, sure, but it's normal. Also, it's not personal, even when it feels like your baby is doing this intentionally to mock you.
You Will Screw Up
You're going to get food on your baby's head or drop your cell phone on your baby or pinch their fat little leg in their car seat buckle or put them in bath water that's too cold, or a million other little things that you're going to beat yourself up over and your baby is going to forget about in 12 seconds.
Don't beat yourself up too much. Everyone screws up.
You Will Need Help
Every parent, since the dawn of parenthood, has needed help. It doesn't make you weak or a bad mom to ask for/accept a helping hand. This is how we've survived as a species: helping each other. The rugged individualism Americans prize above so many other values just doesn't work well when it comes to life with a newborn (or, really, children of any age, but especially newborns).
Your Body Has Changed
Some of those changes might be permanent, others won't be. Some may change again on their own, some will require effort. Point is, early in the game is not the time to be stressing too much about the cosmetic changes.
Your Hormones Are Still Raging
In some ways it's like pregnancy times a thousand. Your postpartum hormone life is as rich and chaotic as anything you went through while you were gestating. You're coping with some completely normal (if annoying) changes, all while learning how to parent a new baby. It's a lot, so be kind to yourself.
Your Doctor Wants You To Call
Your doctor presumably went into pediatrics to care for children. Moreover, they are used to new parents who call for every little thing: they aren't judging you and would much rather call with questions than suffer in silence over something they could quite possibly clear up over the phone. So go ahead and call! You can't put a price on peace of mind, especially when you have enough of practical considerations to stress you out!
"Taking Time For Yourself" Isn't The Same As It Used To Be
Lots of well-meaning people will encourage new moms to engage in some kind of self-care, which is really nice and thoughtful... but a lot of the time it's unrealistic. The whole" go on a date every week" or "have a spa day" thing? Yeah, I have a baby whose age could still be counted in weeks. There's no way I can get away for any substantial period of time. Besides, if I have a couple hours to rub together in this time I'm going to sleep!
A Little Goes A Long Way
The good news is that a little dab of self-care will do you when you have a newborn. So having an hour out of the house just sitting with a cup of coffee at a neighborhood coffee shop is the new mom equivalent of a two hour massage in many ways.
You're Going To Say No To A Lot For A While
You're not going to be able to go to every social gathering or take on every new work project or be the perfect friend/partner/daughter/cousin/grandchild/employee. Your primary relationship right now is the one between you and your baby. Other things, sadly sometimes, have to fall by the way-side.
Your Priorities Are Your Own
No one else lives your life and they cannot tell you what your balance looks like. That's not to say other people can't offer your helpful perspectives, but never let anyone make you feel guilty for knowing your limits or what's important.
Your Baby Doesn't Hate You
This can be an easy thing to think when your baby won't be comforted, or when you have to go to work and feel guilty, or when you're just absolutely exhausted and convince yourself that they looked at you funny (beware the raging hormones!). But, truthfully, your baby loves you on a primal level... and on a cognitive level they don't know they have toes yet, so don't take their being uncomfortable or pissed off personally.
However You Feed Your Baby Is Fine
I feel like this is something all reasonable people know but lots of moms haven't truly internalized. I'm here to tell you: no, really, any way you nourish your child is absolutely great. Well done.
There Is No Perfect Mom
Don't let social media or your obnoxious friend Tammy fool you: no one's mastered this. There is no one you're supposed to be living up to. In time, you will find the perfect way for you to be a mother (and even then you won't be perfect).
There Is No Secret To Making This Easy
There might be some books, philosophies, methods, or products out there that can help make things easier, but nothing is going to magically make it easy. (And if any book, philosophy, or product makes such a claim, skip it.) Motherhood, maybe especially at this stage, is grueling and soul-crushing... but it can also be uplifting and magical. Unfortunately there's no way of separating all the powerfully terrible stuff with the powerfully wonderful stuff. It's a package deal.