Right before I gave birth to my first child…I had just finished a thirty page research paper on Infant Mental Health. I got an A PLUS. Outstanding.
While I lie in my bed, in the hospital, staring at this little guy, all seven pound of him…I thought about that paper. I thought about the nurses trying to help me breast feed, I thought about the way they just expected me to know what to do. Cleaning his umbilical cord…diapering…listening to his what sounded to me like erratic and shaky breathing.(I was pretty sure he was in heart failure…i was wrong) YEAH, The knowledge I had so recently wrote about was simply put, not applicable to this child, in this moment. The information was just not accessible to me in any way that felt like it would help me be able to keep this little creature ALIVE.
I JUST KEPT THINKING; HOLY CRAP IT IS MY JOB TO KEEP YOU FROM DYING!!! I felt love that was deep and wide and unexplainable. I felt fear that I never knew existed. The research paper and seminars and my clinical background offered about as much comfort as soaking wet jeans on a freezing and rainy day. My love for him felt GIGANTIC..but this little being seemed so incredibly and unbelievably “breakable”. So Fragile. Like he could just stop breathing or choke or come undone just as easing as a pair of frayed, thread bare shoelaces.
Again the two prominent thoughts that took up residence in my brain were… GOD, THIS LOVE IS UNREAl,I AM SO HAPPY YOU ARE HERE and HOLY SHIT I HAVE TO KEEP YOU ALIVE. It was a loop that repeated every four minutes for years…I kept it to myself. At least for a while.
So it goes…baby goes home, we adapt the best we can to this amazing little dude and BOOM; fast forward… I have NOW spent the better part of 13 years PERFECTING the art mothering. I am a psychotherapist…I specialize in women, children and adolescents. I am a freaking expert people! An EXPERT on the human condition and our emotional health. Right?
When raising a child…and experiencing a newborn, an infant, a toddler for the first time. Do you know how much comfort my knowledge base has brought? I will answer…sometimes (a tiny bit) but most of the times…it would be none. In fact, I think it made me feel worse because there was the whole “you should be fine with this, you should know this ” thought process that was incorporated into my thinking…and that just added to the baffling nature of becoming a parent.
NOW,Let me enlighten you further (and by you…I mean ME) enlighten by way of brief,(doubtful) yet salient list of my…(Cue Leave it To Beaver Music)
TOP MOTHERING TIPS I WISH SOMEONE GAVE ME 13 YEARS AGO… BUT DIDN’T. SO I AM GIVING THEM TO MYSELF NOW, IN THE FORM OF A LETTER TO MY PAST SELF FROM THE CURRENT AND FAR MORE SELF-AWARE AND SEASONED MOTHER OF TWO. (clears throat and read’s aloud to invisible self of the past) Feel free to read aloud with me…
1. Dear YOU, you ROCK STAR of a brand new mommy…first of All. Let me start with this, congrats on that childbirth thing. First order of business, that no one is going to let you know…your lady parts are going to hurt like a motherfucker for way longer than anyone prepared you for. Bring home that foam donut thing to sit on. You won’t be sorry. And ice packs . And Tucks pads. And the water squirt bottle in the bathroom. And don’t feel bad about “borrowing” changing pads and baby supplies from the hospital. You know…that thing they have that is all filled with supplies for the baby? They have a ton of that shit, you don’t… and you are kind of on the brink of crazy. take it. (turns out they want you to have it anyway and it is not STEALING)
2. I know you are terrified and think your baby will DIE. Babies can and do die and it is heart-wrenching, mind-blowing and horrendous. However…You will spend the better part of the first five years worrying in excess about the possible impending death of your child. Here’s the Good news…thirteen years later…that fragile, tiny, breakable baby is still alive and doing kind of remarkable. (not that there haven’t been challenges, but nothing to the extreme you have imagined) IN FACT…he did so well you even did it again! The really important message I want you to hear is this; even though bad things do happen…BABIES AND CHILDREN TURN OUT TO BE WAY MORE RESILIENT THAN YOU THINK. THEY ACTUALLY DON’T DIE AS EASILY AS YOU HAD IMAGINED…
3. PARENTING is hard. Parenting with postpartum anxiety and depression is even harder. Good for you for getting help. Managing your own anxiety and depression turn out to be one of the most important parts of being able to take care of these crazy little men who are living in your home, sleeping in your bed, eating all your freaking food, messing up your shit and stealing your heart. (side note…don’t go off your MEDS even if you feel a “little” better) As it turns out, Serotonin is something you can’t simply “imagine” or “will” into your brain, but I digress…
4. You will not be the BEST MOTHER…You will make mistakes. Your kids will fall out the crib, get stung by bees, fall off chairs and need x-rays. They may even suck the helium out of a balloon and “kind of” faint, they might tear their cornea, fall on the steps and need more x-rays. of their face. OH BOY…a lot more unexpected and terrifying shit happens. But: SPOILER ALERT…They SURVIVE. YOU are not going to be the “best mother!! “WHY?”…Because it does not exist! Even if you buy organic food and read every parenting book or have “Waldorf style” wooden toys that you can’t afford. Even if you commit to a certain “style” of parenting…family bed, cry it out, Ferber, attachment, helicopter, tiger-mom, WHO GIVE A #$%@!!!!! FYI. For your sanity and self-esteem and quality of life, it simply does not matter what “parenting theory” you cling too…You will still fuck stuff up. And your kids will still be awesome and think you are awesome and will love you.
5. About that sanity thing…You could seriously CLAIM the shit out of some peace of mind, IF AND ONLY IF you remember the following…even when the house is a mess, the sink is full, there is dog hair everywhere, the kids are SCREAMING…YOU ARE SCREAMING…YOUR HUSBAND IS “NAPPING” THROUGH IT… You are still a good mother. Your children feel inherently safe and loved. NOT Because you didn’t yell or you bought gluten free, organic pumpkin bread or you had “family game night” or “taco freakin’tuesday”. Your children feel safe and loved because you LOVE THEM. As it turns out…kids really don’t care if the house is messy or their bed has no top sheet or if they have frozen waffles for dinner sometimes…they DO care that you go to their Lacrosse games and get snacks for the team. They care that you read books at school and show up for “MY FIVE SENSES” THE MUSICAL! They care when you let them snuggle with you at night, even though you honestly don’t want anyone in your “personal space” (about that…you won’t have that for awhile)
They forgive you more than you can imagine. They don’t hold grudges like grown ups. They mess up. They are loud and wild and wrestle and break your furniture. They GET SICK, SCARY SICK AND THEN…THEY GET BETTER. THEY ARE RESILIENT. So don’t spend too much time doubting, second guessing and emotionally beating the crap out of yourself down that long road of parenthood.
6. I must reiterate to you the capacity that these little dudes have to show you forgiveness and how they will crack you freakin’ heart wide open to be able to LOVE WITHOUT CONDITIONS. Mamma…being a mom is so incredibly hard and that is something no one person could possibly prepare you for. You are terrified…I know. BUT I want you to understand, that 13 years out…I think you are a rock star and you are doing a bang up job. NOW, LISTEN UP. THERE is a thought that you seem to have that will continually haunt you for the better part of this journey…it is this: ” IF I AM A GOOD MOTHER I WILL DO__________FILL IN THE BLANK” AND you fear that if you don’t do _____________, you may fundamentally fuck up your kids and they will spend 15 years in therapy talking about the suck-fest known as “MOM”. HERE IS THE TRUTH, AS YOUR 42 YEAR OLD WISER SELF BELIEVES. (see NOW..#7)
7. No matter how “good” you do, Someday’s your children think you suck. No matter how bad you do, your children still love and want to snuggle with you. No matter what “approach” to parenting you take or how infrequently you change the sheets or wash the floors, at the end of the day…if you have loved your kids (despite them being a huge pain in the ass sometimes), IF you have shown up despite being bone crushing exhausted and tucked them in at night even though you wanted to hide under the covers and look at Facebook…If you have made the frozen waffles for dinner and somehow convinced them this is an incredible dinner; well it seems that all of the mistakes seem to gently fall away. THEY LOVE YOU WITH THE SAME RECKLESS ABANDON THAT YOU LOVE THEM AND THAT IS SOMETHING YOU CAN’T IMAGINE. Not when you first see those little eyes of a seven pound newborn staring up at you. It is something that permeates your soul over time. They love you in spite of yourself. They accept your hugs AND your apologies. They mess up, they scare you…you mess up and scare them and at the end of the day…even on the worst, the messiest, the sickest, the scariest, the busiest, the WHAT THE HELL WAS I THINKING HAVING KIDS’ kind of days (yes those exist), you still all end up being each others favorite people in the whole freakin’ UNIVERSE.
8. AND Lastly…carry on sweet mamma. It’s all a series of learning and there is no “figuring it out”…Just hang on, reach out, don’t judge yourself, other parents, your husband or your kids…and you will be FUCKING FINE. YOU will be GOOD ENOUGH…you are not a perfect mother, but you are THE PERFECT MOTHER FOR YOUR CHILDREN. CLAIM THAT SHIT AND WEAR IT WELL. (and tell some other parents along the way what an awesome job they are doing, because you would be surprised how many feel just as shitty or terrified as you do)