This has led me to spend a fair amount of time reflecting on my experience in those early weeks and months of motherhood. I started thinking about what advice I would give myself as a new mom. If I could send a letter back in time to myself in those early days, here’s what I think I would write...
You did it! You’ve made it through one of the hardest things — physically, emotionally, mentally — that you have ever been through: giving birth. It didn’t look quite the way you expected (an appropriate preview for your journey as a mother), but the end result was everything you have been waiting for for the last 40 weeks: Meeting your baby. Your firstborn. Your son. Who knew it was possible to feel so many emotions at the same time, for someone you’ve only just met?!
As I write to you with almost two years of experience in this thing we call motherhood, I’m not sure that I feel qualified to give you much advice. But I’m still close enough to those early days that I remember how hard they were. Those first six weeks or so will be hard in so many ways you never realized, but also far easier than you ever expected. The real struggles will come later, though. Once you decide that you need to accomplish more in a day than feeding yourself and your sweet boy, snuggling him, and staring into his beautiful, perfect face — to try to establish some sort of schedule and normalcy — that’s when the struggle begins.
Let’s be honest, you’ve never been very good with flexibility and lack of predictability. As someone who has always been achievement-oriented, it’s so, so hard for you to pare down your to-do list, to lower your expectations for what you can get done in a day. But just because you can’t accomplish everything you set out to do in a day doesn’t mean you’re failing. It just means you’re adjusting to a new normal… and that takes time.
So, give yourself that time! Work on setting realistic expectations for yourself, and know your limits. Learn to accept that there are days when things just won’t get done. I promise, it gets easier. Well, maybe not easier, but you will learn to adapt!
In the midst of the moments of frustration, you will often feel guilt over not “savoring every moment” like everyone tells you to do. Well-meaning people will constantly remind you that time passes so quickly, and their nostalgia is certainly accurate. But honestly? It’s impossible to savor every moment of motherhood (and truthfully, I don’t think they literally mean every moment). In those early weeks and months, the sleep deprivation and breastfeeding every 2-3 hours around the clock and the evening ‘witching hour’ and the roller coaster of postpartum hormones don’t usually feel like moments that you want to savor. And you know what? That’s okay!!!
On the especially hard days, when that well-intentioned advice echoes in your mind, and you feel guilty wishing yourself forward to an easier time — I’m giving you permission right now to not cherish every moment.
The advice that I would give you is to take a moment at the end of every day to reflect on at least one good thing that you want to remember, and hold on to that. Those are the things that you will look back on with your own sense of nostalgia, especially once time softens the memories of the toughest moments and hardest days.
The other thing that you need to remember — on repeat, every day of this parenting journey — is that every child is different. When you hear about other precious children who are about the same age as yours who are taking daytime naps for 2-3 hours at time while yours is taking 30 minute cat naps in regular intervals… you’ll start to harbor some resentment. This alone is the biggest challenge to your frustration over your lack of daytime productivity, the biggest hurdle that you have to overcome in that first year.
First, let me validate your feelings of frustration. Thirty minutes at a time to yourself to try reset and recharge your batteries often feels irritatingly insufficient. Second let me assure you that you are doing the right things — recognizing his signs of sleepiness, establishing a nap time routine, keeping things consistent. Let this be the first important parenting lesson about how every child does things at their own pace. I promise you, there are other struggles those parents are facing that you have not experienced. We’re all just doing the best that we can.
There is so much more wisdom I could impart on you — but truthfully, you and Jeremy are doing a great job as parents, and as partners in parenting. As you anticipated, no matter how prepared you think you are before the baby arrives, there are always going to be things that life throws at you that you didn’t expect. Parenthood is all about expecting the unexpected and learning to adjust to those unexpected things when they come. It’s about leaning on each other and tag-teaming it through the hard times together.
The thing I need to emphasize the most is to be gentle with yourself. Motherhood is the hardest job you’ve ever done, but as hard as it is, don’t get caught up in pursuing some self-imposed, unachievable version of perfect motherhood that you miss all the wonderful things happening right in front of you. Your motherhood doesn’t have to — and won’t — look like anyone else’s, and that’s probably the most wonderful thing about it.
You’ve got this. Just keep taking it one day at a time.
Your future self