12 months in, I know that there is still so much I don’t know about having a baby being a mama. But I do know these 5 things:
1. Breastfeeding is hard, and a little boring. When I took a breastfeeding class at my birth center before my son was born, the instructor asked us what we knew about breastfeeding. “I know it can be really hard,” I said when it was my turn, “even though it seems like it shouldn’t be.” Of course, I naively assumed that it somehow wouldn’t be that hard for me. It was, but I was determined to make it work and fortunately had a lot of support from my husband and the guidance of two lactation consultants. My son weaned recently, and while it’s easy to downplay the achievement because breastfeeding, did, at some point, become one of the easiest things in the world (not counting recurrent plugged ducts), I know that I should really be congratulating myself. I met my goal of nursing him for 365+ days, and that’s amazing. Surprisingly, for something that’s so challenging, especially at the beginning, breast feeding is actually quite boring. Particularly when your babe is new and nursing happens at all hours of the day and night. Yes, it’s nice to gaze adoringly into your little one’s eyes and play with the curl in their hair, but then what? Some of our nursing sessions would stretch into the 30 minute mark. Multiplied by several times a day, that’s a lot of time pinned to the couch or bed. I tried to keep myself from going stir-crazy by reading e-books and refreshing Instagram over and over, but I deeply regretted not taking my husband up on his offer of buying a television and Apple TV for the bedroom. I’m sure I could have watched the entire run of Gilmore Girls by the time my son was 3 months old if I had.
2. It can take a long time to find your new normal. Obviously, I expected some period of adjustment after my son was born. I mean, giving birth is no cake walk, and neither is caring for a newborn. But I was really under the assumption that I would find my bearings again by the time my son was 3 months, and if not then for sure by 6 months. The truth is that having a baby flipped my world upside down and it took me a long time, like 10 months long, to really start to feel like myself again. There were hormones, and getting my body back, and then feeling like I needed to reevaluate every life choice I’d ever made, and struggling to find the balance between being “mama” and just being “Julia.” It was a lot, and I did not always deal with it gracefully. Perhaps it’s one of those things that would have gone better if I had had more realistic expectations, but probably not.
3. It’s hard to actually stay at home when you’re a stay-at-home mom. When I worked at a public library before my son was born, I would listen to the mothers with young children compare notes on the best story times at the libraries in our area. Many would attend multiple story times in one week. I didn’t get it. Surely they could read books and sing songs to their children at home? Why did they need to drag them all over town? But now, now I get it. The days where we don’t leave the house before lunch usually derail pretty quickly. The truth is there’s only so many hours of being interrupted every 7.5 minutes I can take before I start thinking about updating my resume. While our schedule of Stroller Strides and music class doesn’t allow for story time 5 times a week, I am just as guilty of carefully scheduling our week and making sure we have something to do every day, Monday through Friday.
4. Don’t underestimate the power of having a mama tribe. I joined an online due date group early in my pregnancy, and having dozens of other mamas to talk to about pregnancy, childbirth and all of our adventures and misadventures over this past year has been pretty incredible. Sometimes it’s difficult to work out exactly why your child is suddenly suffering from “infant insomnia” when you’re running on two hours of sleep. Having a group of mamas to speak from their own experiences, or at the very least offer commiseration, is huge. I know it’s not always easy to find your tribe (for one thing, you’re a little busy right now), but try. Put yourself out there. You’ll be a better mama for it.
5. Every mama gets unsolicited advice from strangers; let it go and listen to your gut. Tales of (probably) well-intentioned strangers dishing out unsolicited parenting advice abound, but I’d never experienced it firsthand until this week. I was hustling the baby into his 12-month check up with our pediatrician when an elderly lady called out to me as we passed each other in the parking lot. “Miss,” she said. “Yes?” I replied, thinking she was going to remark on how ridiculously adorable my child was, since those are the types of comments I usually draw from strangers when I’m out with him. “Put something on his head! It’s too cold out here!” she scolded me. I instantly felt ashamed, despite knowing for a fact that the temperature was in the upper 40s-- hardly weather that demanded a hat for a quick walk through the parking lot. I hurried into our appointment (where the doctor congratulated me for having only brought him in for well-checks; turns out I might know something about keeping my child healthy after all), but let her comments bother me for the rest of the day. Finally, I realized I needed to let it go. She was a stranger, and I have no idea what might have motivated her to stop me in the parking lot like that. For over a year now I’ve trusted my instincts when it comes to caring for my child, and the result is a happy, healthy one-year-old who is hitting all of the developmental milestones. There’s no reason to doubt myself now, or to listen to anyone’s advice that I don’t trust 100%. (And if I ever find myself dishing out advice to someone who didn’t ask for it, hopefully I’ll stop.)