Dear New Mama: You Will Survive.
Beth Woolsey’s Open Letter to New Mama Me inspired this post, which is dedicated to my best friend who is due in December, her sister who had a baby six weeks ago, my new friend due with triplets in November, and the other moms of multiples whom I have been blessed to join on this crazy ride.
Dear New Mama,
I have been thinking about you and how hard this time is for you. How hard it was for me. Oh, I was warned. Everyone I knew told me it would be hard. Sleep deprivation. Cracked nipples. I thought I should write to you to tell you what I wish other mamas had told me.
What no one told me about was the intensity of the isolation, even while I was surrounded by people–Alan, other family, friends, helpful strangers who are now like our family. How rocked my world was. My identity. Everything I had held as certain and true, shifting under my feet, threatening landslide and burial in an avalanche of infant care.
I didn’t anticipate how hard it would be to accept and accept and accept help and not be able to reciprocate for a long time, because I was just trying to find solid ground: a routine, a sense of capability. Setting, working towards, and meeting goals. This was just a grinding cycle that was both predictable and unpredictable (how long will it take to feed all three so we can go for a walk? Or anywhere that was not our four walls?). The constant demand of responding to new crises (or cry-ses).
In lots of cultures (our recent past included), women’s social identity was largely about motherhood. When a woman finally had a kid, she probably breathed a sigh of relief that she had done what she was born to do. Our culture has both shifted away and not shifted away from that. Women are told we can do anything, be anything, learn, grow, lead. We are also told that if we don’t stay home, it must be because we have to work, because isn’t every woman’s natural mothering instinct to be with her offspring 24/7?
I was used to being a professional: dressing like one, having a routine, meeting or exceeding expectations in my job. This new job of mothering came with no set of standards, such that I (and this is in my nature anyway) pretty much always felt like I was failing at it. I built a large part of my identity around feeling successful in my work. It was years into my career before I figured out how to balance my work life and personal life, and now they were conflated so that I was pretty much always “working” at being a mom.
Something Beth says in her blog is not true for every mom: that the old you is dying and being replaced. For me it’s more like the me I was used to being got shoved aside for a while, when other higher priorities took over. Slowly, I have been integrating the Mama Michelle with the original version. The original did not die, but my first loves of reading and running and writing and cooking and praying and being with friends took a bit of time to resurface beyond the tsunami of nursing, pumping, eating, sleeping, rocking, soothing, and occasionally showering.
Good news: she has resurfaced. More centered. Less judgey. More compassionate. [Slightly] less guilt-ridden.
Writing to you also helps me clarify those weird first few months of exhilaration and frustration. Because it is hard, but the hard moments are balanced by the “holy wow, this kid is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen, and she (or he) is part of me and my husband, and all the people who came before us.” The profoundness still staggers me from time to time. As I hope it always will for you.
As Beth says, new mama, you are not alone. You will feel so. I felt so–that no one in the world had ever experienced this uncertainty, that all the other parents have it all figured out and I was stitching my days together with the frayed threads of my nerves. You will want to scream. Sometimes at your baby, whom you love beyond any measure you have ever known.
And it is normal. YOU are normal. This first phase of motherhood: it’s normal to feel like you’re falling, without knowing when or how you’ll land.
Reach out your hand. Even a fingertip. I promise there is someone–your partner, your friend, another mama you haven’t met yet–to grab onto. To give you a moment of respite. To remind you that you are still you, and that your whole self will return. With the bonus of a child who believes you are amazing and so incredibly worthy of love.
Because you are.
Much, much love,