What You’re Really Saying To A New Mom When You Tell Her To “Enjoy It”
During a recent visit with a local midwife, I asked for tips on how to start sleep-training my 7-month-old daughter. My partner and I have been co-sleeping and bed-sharing with her since her birth, but lately she's been waking up every hour or two. We keep reading that she shouldn't need night feeds anymore, and we keep meeting other parents who say their babies get 12 hours of sleep an evening. This isn't the case for Luna, though, and we're all exhausted as a result.
"Don't worry about it just yet," the midwife said. "All babies go through stages. Just enjoy this beautiful age while you can. Enjoy the swings and roundabouts of motherhood."
This wasn't the first time someone had told me to "just enjoy motherhood." When I complain about the lack of sleep we're getting or how the baby cried during the season premiere of Game Of Thrones, someone is typically there to say, "Just relax and enjoy motherhood." It feels incredibly dismissive. By confessing that I'm feeling less-than-great about any given thing, it's as if I'm somehow declaring that new motherhood is a great big pile of sh*t. And this couldn't be more untrue.
In truth, I enjoy motherhood a great deal. It's a strange kind of love: all-consuming, completely euphoria-inducing at times, and somehow equally draining. Yet the older Luna gets, the better it all feels.
Watching this tiny creature who was once little more than a splotchy, wailing blob metamorphose into a human has been one of the most enjoyable, fulfilling experiences of my life.
Luna is slowly developing a personality. She can make us laugh and we can do the same for her. She's exploring the world, putting everything in her mouth, and beginning to show genuine affection for her father and me as opposed to apathetic dependency. Watching this tiny creature who was once little more than a splotchy, wailing blob metamorphose into a human has been one of the most enjoyable, fulfilling experiences of my life.
The first smile she gives me in the morning warms my heart. It encourages me to get off my butt and do something with the day. Dressing her first thing is a phenomenal activity. Her little outfits are precious and quirky and I love seeing her in them. Even introducing her to solids is good fun. Will the mushed-up beef stew and potatoes yield a satisfied guffaw or will she scrunch up her face in utmost disgust? I always like finding out.
For every beautiful and rewarding moment, however, there's usually an equally grueling one. No sleep wounds the body and mind. A baby's cry is one of the worst sounds in this world, and before our kids have language and communication skills, they can sob for hours on end without us ever understanding why. Luna's cries come at the most inopportune times: when I'm trying to talk to my boss on Skype, when her dad and I are trying to snuggle up after a hard day, when one of us is trying to cook or the other is trying to clean, or when we're attempting to sit down for two minutes just to answer an important text message that's gone ignored for days.
When I try to talk about all of the inconveniences or struggles of being a new mother, many folks jump to the conclusion that I'm ungrateful. Sometimes it legitimately feels like they're accusing me of not loving my child as much as I should.
When you have a young child, nothing is especially straightforward. Leaving the house requires planning and preparation, a checklist to ensure that you have packed everything your kid could possibly need. There's little time to see friends, or even message them online. There's even less time to do non-parent things, like go to you BFF's housewarming party, or have a weekend getaway, or hit the mall, or even just have some alone time in the bathtub.
On top of it all, I personally find myself unable to escape the self-doubt. I never know how well I'm balancing being a mother with being a person who works, or a person who still wants to go into the city with friends on some weekends, or a person who is only 26 and still wants to do the things that other 26-year-olds are doing. I'm trying to figure out how to be a mother and how to be my own person, too.
No one has ever, in my life, told me that being a parent is easy. Even so, new parents aren't encouraged to be raw and honest in their accounts of these early months. When I try to talk about all of the inconveniences or struggles of being a new mother, many folks jump to the conclusion that I'm ungrateful. Sometimes it legitimately feels like they're accusing me of not loving my child as much as I should. Sometimes it feels like new moms aren't supposed to complain. Instead, we're supposed to assume this role with effortless poise and grace. We're supposed to be so perfect — such naturals — that we appear almost superhuman.
My baby is only 7 months old and she's already brought me more joy than I ever thought I could contain inside my body. It just so happens that she's also made me more scatterbrained, sleep-deprived, and generally overwhelmed than I've ever been, too.
The trouble is, I'm far from superhuman, and motherhood is far from perfect. This stuff is hard and messy and requires constant learning. If we cannot admit this, then we are doing an extreme disservice to all mothers and all parents: people whose inner strength and love for their children encourage them to get through every hurdle and endlessly be there for these little people we have made.
I'm sure I'll make mistakes along the way when it comes to raising my daughter. After all, I'm a regular, flawed person much like anyone else. Not enjoying motherhood has never been, and will never be, my problem, though. Luna's only 7 months old and she's already brought me more joy than I ever thought I could contain inside my body. It just so happens that she's also made me more scatterbrained, sleep-deprived, and generally overwhelmed than I've ever been, too.