Becoming a mother is the single biggest shift in identity, daily life and routine I have ever experienced. The postpartum period is particularly acute in demonstrating this shift. You go from the fantasy of motherhood you had always imagined to the reality of 4am feedings and clipped comments with your partner while the baby sleeps.
In a word, it’s overwhelming. Yes, it’s beautiful and amazing and joyous, too. But it’s a lot to manage at first. In retrospect, I did some things right to get me through that time of overwhelm that were a tremendous help.
Seven Ways I Helped Myself as a First Time Mom
I joined a mom’s group
I will spend my life extolling the virtue and beauty of a new mom’s group if it convinces one other new mom to do this for herself. At around the two month mark, I was feeling more exhausted and overwhelmed than I had ever been in my life. I was lonely, anxious, and just so, so tired. I had no idea if what I was feeling was normal, if it was okay, if what I was doing to keep my baby healthy and happy was enough. I searched, found, and joined a mom’s group on a random afternoon after cluster-feeding had me crying on the floor while my husband was at work. I was nervous to go, but my loneliness and isolation outweighed any fear I could have had. Having other moms to talk to, witnessing the variations of normal, seeing how other moms do it and talk and are, not to mention the friendships both my son and I developed from it, helped save me from myself.
I made consistent plans
Once I had mom friends, I had other people home on maternity leave to hang out with! We made lunch dates, play dates, coffee dates, walk dates. I had a reason to get dressed, put on a little make-up, leave the house. We would plunk our kiddos on blankets, or walk them around in our strollers or baby carriers and chat, eat, and just be together in solidarity while getting fresh air. As an introvert and homebody, it’s really easy for me to chill at home and not realize that days have gone by without having talked to another human adult (other than my husband). This was true before I had a baby. With a baby and all the things you need to bring? I needed to have plans with other moms who would know which restaurants had changing tables in the bathrooms, who also had to stop every ten minutes to nurse. It made a huge difference to have a reason to get out of the house.
I was honest
I love being a mom. I miss those baby days with my son on a visceral level. It was also an overwhelming struggle at first. I made no secret of how hard it was for me. Yet, I didn’t sink deep into it because I just talked about it constantly. I sourced it and floated it to my husband, my friends, my family, my new mom friends. By talking about it, these people were able to validate, support, normalize and ultimately help shoulder those feelings. I let it be okay that I wasn’t always okay. If I had sugarcoated or pretended like I was only fine, like everything was perfect, it is likely would have drown in it instead of having moved through it relatively unscathed.
I slowed down & let people help
After a while, I stopped trying to live the way I had before I had a baby. I fully accepted that this new rhythm, the baby rhythm, was the new normal, and it lasted far longer than those first few months. I couldn’t accomplish a bazillion tasks in one day anymore. I stopped trying to do it all. If we made it to the end of the day dressed, fed and alive, I was happy. Dressed wasn’t even really a priority some days. I said ‘yes’ to anyone who offered to bring groceries, meals, babysit. I let my sister wash my dishes, I accepted houseguests without vacuuming first. I napped with my son and let tasks pile up uncompleted. I let my baby be the priority, downshifted all expectation of myself, and tried to be as present to that phase as possible. It was a phase, after all, and it passed in a blink.
I urged my husband to take over whenever possible
Because I decided to stay home with our son, I was on duty 24/7 for many months. This meant I was more adept at some things, more in tune with our son, faster at all the tasks associated with the baby. But once my husband was home from work, I would check out for a bit. I needed a break to shower, scroll my phone, go for a walk, call a friend, not have a baby on my person. This also became their special time that we still utilize to this day. When Daddy gets home, Mama goes to write and have “leave me alone” time, and they play, go to the park, or listen to music. It’s awesome bonding time for them, and I get a much-needed break as well.
Say what you will. By eight months, my husband and I were so insane with sleep-deprivation, we couldn’t see straight. I was still nursing around the clock, I was awash in hormones all the time, we were at each other’s throats and we were all three starting to lose it. My sister, a hippie mother of three who I anticipated would be the last person to support sleep-training, sent me a book that changed all of our lives. Our son went from waking up all night long to sleeping through the night in literally two nights. He had been as ready as were. It wasn’t cruel, it wasn’t traumatizing, it was the exact right move for our family. We have been sleeping and immeasurably happier for it ever since.
I listened to my gut
As with all things in parenting, there is no one thing that is going to work for every parent and every kid. I’ve learned that being in tune with yourself, your child, and your spouse is about all you have control over. When things go awry, or issues come up that throw a wrench in an otherwise functioning system (i.e. sleep, sickness, travel), I would slow down, listen to my gut, and proceed from there.
Whatever it takes to get you through that first year healthier and more in love with your new life as a mom, do it. Take care of you, listen to yourself, and make sure you aren’t at the bottom of your list.