When I was preparing to have my first child, I'd have never have thought of consulting a life coach about motherhood. Being a mom was a distant, mythical role — something dreamt of since I was a child, a title I thought I would come to deserve as I evolved into the perfect version of myself made manifest by my unparalleled life-management skills and sense of strong self-worth and identity I'd have adopted by then. Girl, was I wrong. And what ridiculous pressure I was unconsciously putting on myself. The truth is we're likely just women in process who become mothers. Women with fears, doubts, and a shit-ton of emotions. For most of us, there's a desire to love someone — and do it as well as we can — underlying all of those other things when we decide to, or perhaps just happen to, become a mom.
Turns out, consulting a life-coach about the baby transition is quite a wise thing to do. With all the hype and genuine excitement I get from the coaching accounts I follow online, I became interested to see how coaching (typically thought of as a practical way to make and meet goals as a CEO with a wardrobe of identical suits) can translate to something as personal as becoming a mother. Can we look at parts of the baby transition just like we would other professional or personal transitions in life?
When you consider your own perspective on transitioning to motherhood or that of other women, it's not always floating cherubs, harp music, and magic. "I found that sometimes it was the loneliest job in the world," says Rebecca Richardson, a 29-year-old mother of one.
I spoke to two coaches with different specialties in coaching to find out what insight I might have missed in my preparations for motherhood. Ray Dodd, the mother of two aged 5 and nearly 3, is a motherhood and business coach based in the UK, but also works with mom online. She started off as a breastfeeding peer supporter then counselor then became a hypnobirthing teacher before launching her business to specifically coach small business owners who also balance motherhood in their professional endeavors.
Steph Brown, mother of three (aged 3, 2, and 9 months) is a baby sleep coach based near Kansas City, Kansas who also takes clients over the web with online training and group courses. She realized that the main problem for the parents she was life coaching was actually the lack of sleep in their lives from having a baby, so she launched a coaching business to specifically tackle that issue.
Here are the top insights I took from these women and how they can change your outlook on the transition that is having a baby.
Look At Your Belief Systems
There's no doubt that what we believe about any given role in life will affect our behavior in that role.
"I felt an overwhelming need to be stronger, healthier, and more cautious with myself. I was now responsible for this tiny little being. Those first few weeks I was scared that I would die and leave her motherless. My whole perspective on life changed," says Janci Cannon, a 34-year-old mother of one with one on the way.
Enter Ray Dodd. She spoke with me about the internal "stories" we tell ourselves.
"I believe everything is a story. Many of those stories don't help us out at all — they're not useful stories," she tells me as we chat over video, her word-of-the-year banner EMBRACE hanging on the wall of her office behind her. "Where you believe a certain thing is intrinsically true, actually someone else doesn't, so looking at it and realizing that those things are stories [is key]."
She gave me the example of the typical mom-belief that if you go out with your child and you can't get them to calm down, then you'll annoy everyone or they'll all think you're a terrible mother.
"One of the things you can do is just be like, 'Do you know what? I just choose to believe that no one cares,'" she recommends, instead of believing the unhelpful story.
"Examine those stories that we all tell ourselves," Dodd says. "And unpack whether or not that's true for us, because those stories can hold us hostage." A paralyzing belief system isn't going to work for us as mothers, because having a kid requires much more freedom than that.
Steph Brown, the sleep coach from Kansas, put it this way: Don't base your decisions on your feelings.
"Most of the time you go into reaction mode. So you're making decisions off your feelings, which could be fear or guilt or inadequacy. As a coach, one of the things I want to help [clients] figure out is what is your end goal? What are you headed toward? Also, figure out what are you making your decisions based on," she tells me over the phone as we chat whilst our children are sleeping — mine for the night and hers during nap time — an appropriate way to get an interview in with a sleep coach if you ask me.
Most of the time those are unconscious decisions based on negative emotions that don't move you forward to your end goal, she explains. Brown tackles false beliefs in her coaching with her clients the same as Dodd — they're a hindrance to being the kind of mother you want to be.
Look At Your Blueprint For Motherhood
Whatever was modeled for you as what a mother should be is also going to directly affect the way you transition into motherhood.
"[It] was the hardest thing I've ever done. It was overwhelming. All of a sudden I was responsible for this little life, and she needed me so much. Sometimes it was too much for me," says Holly Korytko, a 27-year old mother of two. "The first six months of [my daughter's] life were a battle to find a new normal and to learn how to be a wife/mum in this new season. One day I was taking naps when I felt like it and binge watching Grey's Anatomy, and the next day I was changing diapers and barely sleeping."
Korytko's expectations played a role in her experience of how motherhood was going. It's not just about looking at the blueprint of motherhood that's a part of our background, it's about changing that blueprint to work for our individual families Dodd tells me.
Human beings love to follow a pattern; they love to follow a path that's already trodden before them, but we're growing up in a different time to our mums.
"You could have had an amazing mum, and that can become a pressure on you. Maybe you had an amazing mum who stayed at home. Maybe you had an amazing mum who worked. Maybe you didn't have a mum. Maybe you didn't have an amazing mum," she explains. These examples actually become "templates" for what our version of motherhood should be.
Dodd would urge women to remember our generation is different to any before. "Human beings love to follow a pattern; they love to follow a path that's already trodden before them, but we're growing up in a different time to our mums, and our mums were growing up in a different time to their mums. Those two generations had a real massive change."
She's talking about the fact that we don't have the conversations and tips that we'd learn along the way that several generations behind us had. Think mothers and daughters and grandmothers all gathered in the kitchen preparing dinner as opposed to moms running around after sports practices in the fast food drive-through line. This isn't a wishful lust for the "good ol' days" of a bygone era, but rather the importance it is to look at what we need that we lack — the importance of finding a place for community with other women in the same baby transition in life, the importance of asking for help.
Your Instincts Are The Best Indicator For What To Do Practically
There's no formula for how to be a good mother. So much of it rests on your desires for what you want your experience to look like.
"I had a master's, money, traveled, worked full-time. I was barely a year or two into my career and my fresh counseling license [when I had my son]. I was losing my mind, had no sleep, was having conversations I don't remember having, calling my sister crying," Jamie Ward, 32 and a mother of one, tells me. "I didn't know anything about having a baby, and I felt so alone. Eventually, it got much better. But those first couple months were so isolating."
Her instincts might have been muffled out by those "stories" she might have been telling herself, because they can make you feel like your instincts are somehow wrong or dysfunctional. Then the pattern of motherhood that we so crave isn't there when you become a mother, and it all makes us freak out a bit.
But, as Dodd tells me, trusting our instincts won't be as hard if we're fully confident in ourselves. "Your self-worth is a concrete thing. The only thing that changes is how you feel about it, not what it is. You can choose not to look at it, but it's still there," she says. Your gut feelings and your desires go hand-in-hand.
"What I do with business owners is let them know that however they want to run their business is absolutely OK. They can be themselves in their business," she tells me. "What I love is that directly translates to motherhood, because when your self-worth is fully intact, you know that you can be the mum who never goes to work and stays at home with her kids, because that makes you happy. Or you're the mum who goes to work five days a week, because that makes you happy."
It's not that you need to become the best mom for your baby; you are already the best mom for your baby.
The point is you can actually trust yourself. Go with what's happening in you, and what you're leaning towards. Everyone else's opinion will make you feel undermined, but your gut is most often the right thing.
I like the way Steph Brown articulates it.
"You are the best parent for your baby. That's why you're their parent," she tells me with a firm tone of authority. She owns that statement in her own experience as a mother, and the testament of living out that mindset permeates her words.
"Regardless of the fears or emotions that you have going with [being a parent], it's best for you if you can become confident in your role. So then a new challenge comes up and you're like, 'Hey, I got this. A couple months ago, we are the ones who implemented what worked.' The new challenge comes, and it's less of a big deal," she says. There's a lot of talk around the concept of reprograming your mind to believe in your abilities in the moment.
"It's not that you need to become the best mom for your baby; you are already the best mom for your baby," Brown continues. "That completely changes how you make your decisions. No longer from a place of fear that you're going to do something wrong or guilt that you're being too self-focused, or maybe guilt that you're not doing things like other people are doing things."
This helps you make decisions from a positive and confident place. Brown and I move on to the inevitable trial and error that comes with parenting, too. "You learn and gain more experience as you go, but that doesn't change your identity, that you're already the best mom for your baby," she tells me. "That helps you manage your day better."
There's an echo in Brown's additional comments on this topic. "People know the actions that they need to take. You don't need more knowledge; you need to know how to put it into practice and act in a way that goes along with your goals," she says.
Motherhood Isn't As New To You As You Might Think
One of the mothers I spoke to about post-baby life had a uplifting take on becoming a mom. Jessica Jennings-Nelson, a 34-year-old mother of seven kids says, "The best thing was getting to live through childhood again. They live life through all their senses, and it's refreshing."
All those skills of conquering little fears or stresses or starting a new job are skills that you take with you into motherhood.
As a mom, you're on the other side of childhood, but your experience throughout life will undoubtedly assist you on your baby transition journey. Any knowledge you gained in other kinds of transitions in life is probably going to be useful to you in becoming a mother. Any situation where there is new stress like a new job, new identity, health changes, or a switch in relationship dynamics, you've gotten through it.
"When you have a new baby," Steph Brown tells me, "you're hitting all of those areas."
Her point is: you've done this before. "All those skills of conquering little fears or stresses or starting a new job are skills that you take with you into motherhood. Yes, it's all new. Yes, it's stressful. But those same things are what help you figure out what you want it to look like, and what you want your family to look like."
Motherhood Isn't The Only Transition In Life And It's Not Your Sole Identity
Though being a mother is a grand role, regarding it as the supreme function in a woman's life is dangerous. "I don't see it as the end-all transition in life at all," Dodd says. She reminds me that "it's a transition that some women go through."
'When you feel frustrated?' Dodd asks, 'Amazing, that means you're getting bored with where you're at, and you're going somewhere new.'
Having a baby is a great mirror to hold up and see who you really are and all you can be, but other women experience other life events that brought out the same shifts and points of enlightenment in them. Being in transition means things are being rearranged in you, which often feels unpleasant.
"When you feel frustrated?" Dodd asks, "Amazing, that means you're getting bored with where you're at, and you're going somewhere new," she tells me about her perspective on her clients' experiences. She relates that transition to motherhood.
In my conversations with these two coaches, transition seems to be something to absolutely embrace. The baby transition can open doors for you as a woman. Brown tells me she never thought about being a business owner before having a child. It's something she could have done prior to becoming a mother, but was simply never put in a place to think outside of the box for her livelihood and now family. Instead of fitting into a system, you make your own system is the takeaway from that.
"A lot of people idolize being a mother or put it up on this pedestal — and it is great: you're taking care of another human being who came from you! — but it's just another part of who you are," Brown says. "As a woman, I'm not just a mother. I'm not just a wife. I'm not just a friend. I'm not just a business owner. It's all of those things together that make up who I am."
Being a mother is not your sole identity. "When women come to that realization," Brown suggests, "it's a relief."
There were some practical ideas for preparing for the baby transition from my chat with Ray Dodd, like researching the "fourth trimester," resting in the beginning, and really taking time out to recover in the first weeks. If these women, mothers, coaches haven't proven their wisdom to you yet, Dodd's final thoughts are enough to set you up for a good, long reflection.
We spoke about self-worth being attached to how your day went with your baby or how your child's day went otherwise. It's not a rational idea since building your self-worth on how good of a mother you are is basing it on someone else's (your child's) behavior.
The topic of self-care came up, too. A buzz word in maternal mental health circles. Not to mention it's all over social media and the marketing of products specifically targeted at busy, tired moms. Dodd's simple yet life-changing and you'll-be-way-ahead-of-the-curve take on it? "Your self-care can almost [entirely] be: make sure you're getting your self-worth from something other than your child."