When I learned I was pregnant with my first child I was thrilled and thought the hard part was over. While that idea seems laughable to me now, finally getting pregnant after a year of uncertain fertility made me feel like I’d won a first class ticket to Babytown. I attacked pregnancy and nesting like a tiger mom, determined to do anything and everything I could to help my baby be the healthiest and smartest she could be. Prenatal vitamins, fish oil and belly dancing? Check. All natural diaper cream? Check. Read books like, The Philosophical Baby and Brain Rules for Baby? Check. Check.
Only when my daughter arrived eight days early did I realize my mistake. I had been caught up trying to be the perfect pregnant mom and had overlooked the fact that after the baby shower and the babymoon comes the baby. A baby that would have her own needs, her own schedule and above all, her own personality. On top of that, I was completely clueless about the many ways my body and emotions would be taxed and tested as I started my sprint down motherhood lane.
After I brought my daughter home I went in to panic mode. In between feedings and diaper changes and frantic attempts to eat or brush my teeth, I scanned every baby book I could get my hands on and quizzed everyone around me on baby care and development. Again, I got caught up and lost perspective. As I focused on being the best new mom I could be, I lost focus on myself, my needs and my feelings.
I had gone from a full time teaching position to a full time stay-at-home mom. My husband left his stable corporate job to start his own business. Spending my days home with baby, I became disconnected from the work friends that had been an important source of community. My family came to visit after the baby was born, but they all lived far away and I didn’t have any day-to-day support. Most of my friends outside of work didn’t have kids, and suddenly it was hard for us to relate.
In my pre-baby life I was physically active, loved yoga, dance and hiking. Now most of my days were spent in pajamas, nursing my new baby on the couch. My normally svelte body had puffed up marshmallow style with no signs of sucking back in. The amount of swelling, stitches, bleeding, leaking and other postpartum injustices my body experienced left me wondering if “back to normal” was a phrase I would ever be able to use.
Everyone told me to sleep when my baby slept, however my daughter was up every 2-3 hours at night, rarely slept for more than forty minutes at a time during the day, and required a constant rotation of play time, baby wearing, nursing and movement to stay content.
Leaving the house felt like a bizarre version of Russian roulette-would the baby be happy or would she scream for the entire outing? Would her diaper blow out requiring a place to change her, a new diaper and a new outfit? Would she be satisfied with the feeding I gave her before we left or would she cluster feed and demand to nurse every twenty minutes? Not to mention keeping track of the myriad diaper bag details: burp clothes, diapers, wipes, diaper cream, extra clothes, pacifiers and toys. Pack the wrong amount or forget any of these items and disaster could result.
I was overwhelmed as well as physically and mentally exhausted. My body and my life had become unrecognizable. In the attempt to be my own version of super mom I had lost myself. Swallowed up by a sea of expectations, I couldn’t be everything to everyone no matter how hard I tried. It was difficult to admit, but I needed help.
I talked with my family and made a plan to have someone visit for at least one weekend a month. I talked with my husband and we came up with a number of ways for me to get some time to myself so that my “me time” consisted of more than the occasional shower. My husband began to do the lion's share of the grocery shopping, we lowered our standards for the cleanliness level of the house, we divided up time with our daughter for parts of the day during the weekend so we both could have some baby-free time, and, instead of trying to go out, we invited friends over for easy ‘happy hours’ at our house after work.
I found ways to exercise with my baby: hiking with her in the carrier, Stroller Strides and weekend family walks. I put on the research hat for myself and found a supportive mom’s group and enrolled in a ‘mommy and me’ baby swimming class. Occasionally I was even able to squeeze in a solo yoga class or dinner out with friends. I found new community and new routines.
While I still kept high expectations for myself, I learned to include my own needs in those expectations. The farther away I got from actually giving birth the better able I was to find a balance between the ideal and the real. Gradually, I began to feel like someone I recognized instead of a mommy zombie.
My new life might not be the perfect image I once thought I wanted, but I have found a new self within it. My body has changed but I'm still me, I’ve lost a few fickle friends but I've gained incredible new ones, my house is often messy but I'm less stressed, grocery shopping alone is now a privilege and I'm ok with all of it. This is my new normal and it’s as full of beauty as it is struggle. I’ve learned to delight in the imperfect and measure my success by the laughter of my children. For a parent after all, is there any better sound?