Some Truths About New Motherhood
by Susan Miller, BScN
The long-awaited day has arrived! Your first baby is finally born and you are a mother. Even the word “mother” sounds a little odd to your ears. A myriad of thoughts and emotions collide in your brain, and it is hard to comprehend that this little being is all your responsibility. The months of worrying and wondering are over, and now you are consumed with getting to know this baby and learning how to care for him.
Many women admit that they thought they were prepared for their new life as a mother, but found that they were totally surprised and humbled in the early weeks and months of motherhood. For many, the prenatal fantasy of “life with a new baby” does not fit with the post-natal reality. If you are a new mother, or can remember back to that time, you will likely identify with some of these basic truths about new motherhood. As with other experiences in life, you can only truly understand once you have been there.
You may not fall in love with your baby at first sight. There is a popular myth that a mother feels overwhelming love for her baby right after giving birth. Occasionally I do meet a mother who has had this moving experience, but it is certainly not the norm. Many factors influence the ability of a mother to bond with her baby immediately after birth. Worries that may have come up in the later months of pregnancy, exhaustion after a long labour or unforeseen events of labour all have a significant influence on initial bonding. The good news is that as time passes, a strong bond does develop between mother and child. A new mother should not feel guilty or inadequate if she does not feel an immediate bond with her new baby.
Babies are not born with Daytimers. Many new parents struggle with the unpredictability of their lives as they are constantly responding to baby’s needs. Just when you think that you have it all figured out, the baby changes her habits again. In a society where regularity, routines and punctuality are valued, we are often ill-equipped to deal with the unpredictability of life with an eight-pound baby. Fighting the baby’s natural rhythms around eating and sleeping is utterly exhausting and usually futile! When parents adopt an attitude of simply responding to their young baby’s needs and cues, everyone becomes more relaxed and rested. Sometimes it’s better to just ignore the clock.
Your partner cannot truly know how you feel. Even the most attentive and engaged new dads have difficulty understanding the post-partum feelings and emotions that new mothers experience. Your partner cannot read your mind, or magically anticipate your every need. Most partners try to be helpful and supportive, but are often baffled and confused by mom’s emotional swings and mixed messages. Let your partner know exactly how he can be helpful and acknowledge his efforts. Don’t let small misunderstandings grow into big resentments. Clear communication is essential to getting what you need and want, and to sustaining your relationship.
“Supermom” is just a myth! Supermom has a spotless house, organic garden and home baking in the cupboard. She is a cheerful, perky woman with boundless energy, a trim figure and a healthy appetite for sex. Her baby eats and sleeps at perfectly spaced intervals—and never cries.
“Real Mom” has a house that is out of control because there are not enough hours in the day to look after baby and do the housework as well. The laundry is piling up and there is only jam and ketchup in the fridge. A real mom does not get much time to herself to work on her hair, nails, make-up and clothes. She is grateful for a shower or bath alone. New moms wear a uniform of T-shirts and sweats and do not want to look at their naked body in the mirror! Real moms are happier when they don’t expect perfection from themselves or others.
Mood is often relative to hours of sleep. Interrupted sleep and sleep deprivation have profound implications for everyone. The most constant stressor expressed by new parents is their adjustment to nighttime parenting. The reality is that babies need to be fed and soothed through the night. If you are a parent blessed with a baby that sleeps easily through the night, have sympathy for those who do not have such good fortune. Sleep deprivation is cumulative, so an hour or two per night adds up to a significant loss over a week. When we are sleep deprived, we don’t relate well to others around us, and small problems become bigger in our minds. Couples report being very snappy with each other when they are sleep deprived. Try to recoup as much sleep as possible whenever you can. Eventually babies do sleep through the night on their own. This is when the overall atmosphere in the family becomes more positive and carefree.
New mothers don’t appreciate Advice Givers. Even during pregnancy you were bombarded with unsolicited information and advice. Once your baby arrives, everyone from the clerk at the grocery store to your best girlfriend has advice for you. The truth is that no matter how well meaning the advice giver is, new mothers report that it always hurts to receive unsolicited advice. You don’t want to offend anyone when you decline their advice, but at the same time you need to protect yourself from feeling inadequate. No one knows your baby better then you do and you instinctively know what is right for him. Don’t let advice-givers confuse you, or diminish your confidence and trust in your own maternal instincts. On the other hand, if you hear some tips that make sense to you, try them out.
“Falling in love.” New moms and dads are astounded with the depth of love that they feel for their newborn baby. This love continues to grow as your baby grows, and life is richer and more meaningful now that your baby is here.
Mothers are not born—they are created, one step at a time.
Happy Mother’s Day!
Susan Miller R.N. BScN is a Perinatal Educator and Certified Breastfeeding Counsellor. She works with prenatal and post-natal families in the Greater Victoria area and is now the proud grandmother of Meredith born July 2008.