A dear friend of mine recently had a her first child and sent me a tiny email about her labor and the first weeks post partum that brought me back to those glorious days of sore nipples, monster maxi-pads, and no-sleep induced crying jags. Since I love to give unsolicited advice, I gave some to her, and now I'm going to give some to you.
Actually, the truth is, whenever I see or hear from a first time mama, I want to wrap her up in my arms and hug her (after I clean her house, do all her laundry and settle her in for a nap, of course). But since I can't do that, here's a small slice of my new mother survival guide.
YOU MAY BE CRAZY, BUT YOU'RE NOT THE ONLY ONE
New mothers often suffer in isolation, thinking that they are the only ones who have a hard time with...(pick two, three or more) nursing/sleeping/emotions/marital relations/ healing/ bonding with the baby/ going to the bathroom/ adjusting to not being yourself any longer (I could go on for a long time). When IN TRUTH, most, if not all mothers, have had some if not all of these troubles. Some mothers will talk about it. Find some moms who aren't afraid to say how hard it is. There is great comfort in knowing THERE ISN'T ANYTHING WRONG WITH YOU IF IT'S HARD. It's supposed to be hard. Especially if you, like many moms, have spent a decade or more being an adult without children. You are not alone.
WHEN YOU THINK ABOUT IT, IT'S ALL PRETTY FUNNY
Vagina displaced? Breasts the size of small boulders (and just as hard)? Small, vulnerable, crying being placed in your care that won't let you sit down/ go to the bathroom/ talk to your husband, friend/ read a book/ eat a meal/ think a thought? If you love to read, you will find humor at the ready for the post partum period. I consider Operating Instructions a must read. Of course, This Little Mommy Stayed Home is sure to get you peeing in your pants (for a good reason). My short reading list includes:
Katherine Center, THE BRIGHT SIDE OF DISASTER
Trisha Ashworth and Amy Nobile, I WAS A REALLY GOOD MOM BEFORE I HAD KIDS
Doesn’t the title say it all?
Naomi Stadlen’s, WHAT MOTHER’S DO: ESPECIALLY WHEN IT LOOKS LIKE NOTHINGRadical stuff, this book. Awesome, especially for a new mother with a small baby.
Nursing and reading is a lot easier than bottle feeding and reading, but if you love to read, sneak it in. Even one page and one laugh can be life saving.
BUT MY LETTER TO DEAR ABBY SAYS IT BEST
I don’t make a habit of reading Dear Abby, but my husband reads the comics that get printed on the same page. I read an awful response she wrote to a new mother who thought she needed some post-partum meds because she was bored to tears playing with her infant son. I sent Dear Abby a long and not so dear letter that I reprint here, in case you too have experienced some boredom playing with your precious angels. (Who you love beyond reason, of course. But we KNOW that!)Needless to say, Dear Abby didn't publish it.
I am writing in response to the letter of 11/4/08 from the New Mom in Las Vegas. Whether or not you are able to publish my letter—in full or in part—I would appreciate it if you could pass it on to this new mother.
Though it may be possible that she has post-partum depression (although it didn’t sound like it from her letter), MOST stay-at-home-mothers (SaHM) are bored, at least sometimes, especially if they’ve left interesting, busy or creative careers to spend time with infants who don’t walk or talk!
Telling this mother that she has a condition that might need medication (as post-partum depression often does) perpetuates a dangerous myth about the stay at home mother. Staying at home with a young child is hard work, tedious, repetitive and often quite lonely. Our mothers may not have had the same experience; they may not have been raised to expect as much as we do in terms of personal satisfaction. Babies, meanwhile, don’t interact as adults do. They are demanding and not always interesting. I have friends, in fact, who love their daughter immensely and always have, who said “we didn’t even enjoy being with her until she was one!” This woman should know that by the time her son is walking and talking, her feelings may change.
Not only that, our ideas of child raising are so different from reality. Life with two children, 6 and 8, may have been what she imagined—school, games, fun times. Even life with a toddler can be more engaging—playground, play dates, singing funny songs together. Most women find that they enjoy certain ages more than others. That’s normal! Being bored is normal!
Here are some things that can be done to make the first year or so of life more fun for everyone.
*Find a family center where parents go during the day. These places are usually packed with toys and other mothers and fathers to commiserate with and enjoy.
*Join a local library story hour. This is a great way to meet other mothers.
*Join another class for babies—swimming, yoga, music. Check out the YMCA or town recreation center. This will be another place to make friends.
*Have play dates with other moms—once you’ve found them—at least weekly! If you can’t find one, start one.
*Read up on baby development. Some books have great ideas for playing that can make it more fun for mom, and an active mind, like this mother obviously has, might enjoy the playing more knowing about what’s actually happening in the baby’s mind
*Hire a babysitter—maybe a young neighbor so it isn’t too expensive—and take an hour every day or so to read, walk, have ADULT time. Many mothers find if they spend some time away doing what they love and what feeds them, they appreciate the time with the baby much more.
*Know that it will pass, soon enough. She might find she enjoys being the mother of an active toddler or even of several children more than the mother of one young baby.
READ about how it is for other mothers so she doesn’t feel so isolated in her feelings. There are some great reads about being a new mother—funny, HONEST, and live-saving.
Most importantly, this mother is doing a wonderful job! She is an excellent mother. Not only is she doing hard, often dull work, in an isolated setting (no chatting at the water cooler for her), she is doing it despite the fact that it, as she wrote “bores me out of my mind.” It’s a myth that all mothers enjoy every stage of babyhood and have a great time. And it is long past time to shatter the myth. We can LOVE our babies and not love being with them—all the time, or some of the time. Some of us love it more of the time, some less, some find it harder than they thought, some easier.
This mother, and all who feel the same, ought to know that they are good mothers. Motherhood is much harder work than ever gets spoken about.
A mother of two
P.S. Did you have children, Abby? I am dismayed by your response. Motherhood is hard enough without having someone tell you that if you don’t find it fabulously fun you need Prozac!