Like so many women in their early twenties, I thought I had this motherhood thing down before I had even started. After all, babies are simple, aren’t they? You feed the baby. You clean the baby. You love the baby.
Suffice to say, that is not the end.
Starting even with those three simple concepts, things get complicated. Constantly.
I found myself at 25 the mother of premature twins. They were thankfully healthy and pretty much perfect, albeit tiny. I was able to bring my five pound infants home with me a mere five days after delivering them via emergency c-section.
And, as I learned immediately, I didn’t know squat about motherhood.
Beginning with “You feed the baby,” I was completely lost. Nursing might come instinctively to some women, but it seemed I wasn’t one of those. I was constantly worrying, were they getting enough food? Did they understand what they were doing? And supplementing with formula only confused all of us all the more.
And cleaning the baby… how dirty does a baby get? If I was cleaning them off thoroughly after every dirty diaper or burp up, did they really need a bath? How often? And how?
Then there was loving the baby…
That part was the only part I felt I got right from the word go. It didn’t immediately feel right, I didn’t look into their faces and think, “Yes! YOU are my babies!” I was more confused. I thought to myself, “Who ARE you? And how did you get here?” As if I didn’t know.
Every couple of days, I would devolve into a gigantic mess of sobbing hysteria. Each time one of my babies chomped down on my very sore nipple while nursing, each time I only managed to pump an ounce or two, each time I ended another day without having given my helpless newborn babies a bath… I cried.
And whenever, in my hysteria and my fear, I felt completely at the end of my rope and hopeless, I called a lactation consultant who was a friend of my doula.
I would tell her that I was failing at nursing, that I didn’t know whether or not my babies were dirty, and that I was sure they would never know that I loved them because I spent so much of my time crying.
She always said the same thing.
“You’re doing exactly the right thing. Go ahead and cry. It’s hard. And you’re doing a good job.”
She told me that if I wasn’t crying once in a while, it was a good indication that I was more likely doing something wrong. She told me that if I didn’t feel that this was important, and that I didn’t feel lost, I was probably a lot less able to do the things that I needed to do.
And then she would tell me to do something that would actually help- like taking herbal lactation supplements, or putting cabbage leaves on my breasts, or going ahead and giving the babies a sponge bath.
And gradually, I became more confident. Gradually, I came to realize that she was right.
Being a mother wasn’t about suddenly having all the answers. It was about learning how to be a mother. It was about finding out what worked for my own children. It was about suffering through the difficulties of establishing nursing, of waiting the inexplicably long time for a cord to fall off and leave a tiny and adorable belly button, it was about telling myself that as weird as one of my baby’s reflux might be, it wasn’t actually dangerous. And it was about learning who my new tiny family members were, and learning to love them not just for being my babies but for being the miracles that they are.
Although, you never stop loving them for being your babies. And they always will be your babies. And that is something indescribably amazing. But they also become people, so fast you don’t even see it happen. And then they are more people in your life that you adore more than you could have ever imagined.
Parenthood is hard. But every day, it gets a little easier. And when it gets harder again, it still gets easier. Because every day you have another day’s worth of experience as a mother.
Each time you cry your eyes out and feel like a failure, you must remember that you are NOT a failure. The fact that you care and that you are trying is a gigantic success. The fact that it hurts you not to be immediately an expert is nothing to be ashamed of, but something to learn from.
You are doing a great job. No matter what people tell you about the “right” way to do things, you’re doing them right. Your parenting choices, nursing or bottle feeding, staying home or working, co-sleeping or not, those are YOUR choices. And you, as a mother, are learning.
And you are rocking it.
Good job, new mama. Cry it out, you’ll feel better. And then give that baby a kiss. And know what a good job you’re doing.
You’re loving the baby. The rest of it is just details.
About the author:
Once upon a time, Lea and her little family were struck by an ancient curse, “May you have an interesting life.” She lives in Chicago with her husband, twin daughters, and a fetus that will soon be joining her family, and things just keep getting more interesting. She keeps a blog about her parenting exploits, adventures, and philosophies at Becoming SuperMommy.