By Sarah Powers
To my first-time pregnant friend,
You’ve been on my mind lately — a couple of you, actually — dearest longtime friends of mine, about to become moms for the first time. I sent one of you a box of old maternity clothes, the few surviving pieces in good shape after my own three pregnancies in five years. To the other I sent a few books (at your request). Toward you both I find my thoughts wandering daily.
With a 3-month-old of my own, I am partly of the world into which you are about to enter; but mine is a third and final babe, riding in a car seat that held her brother and sister before her, pushed in a stroller that is not only no longer fashionable but also probably no longer on the market. I am experienced, yes; but I’m out of touch, too, with the trends of new motherhood.
I want to say the right things to you, offer words that mean something and aren’t just clichés (though, as you’ll find, so many of the clichés are true). I want to be helpful. I want to make it wonderful for you, this thing that is about to happen. I want to save you from some of the parts that aren’t wonderful, and from the disappointment that comes when you realize that some of it sucks, sometimes.
This morning at the breakfast table I thought of you. Big kids slurped cereal, Bryan and I passed the baby back and forth as we refilled our coffee and managed our own breakfasts. When she fussed I lifted my shirt and offered her a meal of her own. A quick latch, the familiar let-down and then after only a minute or so, she pulled off with a grin, a mess of dripping milk and toothlessness as if to say, “No thanks, Mom. I’m good for now.”
And at that moment I saw myself as a new mom and felt the weight of all the things that would have gone through my head back then. Why isn’t she hungry? How long has it been since she last nursed? If she doesn’t complete a full feeding on one side, she won’t get the hindmilk. And I might get engorged. Should I try again, force her to make it to the arbitrary 12 minutes I’ve decided is an adequate feed? And, if not, which side should I offer next time? And will next time be sooner than 2.5-3 hours?
For just an instant I marveled at the vast distance between that new mom that I was and the one I am now. Five years ago I would have been seated on the couch in proper breastfeeding posture, a nursing pillow on my lap and the TV remote by my side, watching the clock as if it held the answers to all my feeding questions; this morning I sat at the kitchen table surrounded by chaos, drinking coffee and eating cereal while nursing this third and final babe without a clue (or a care) about the clock.
And in that instant I was thankful for both of those versions of me (for one allowed the other to become, of course). And I thought of you.
Because it wasn’t really about nursing at the breakfast table at all, was it? It was about the beautiful way that mothering gets more automatic with every baby and each passing year. And that’s the part I wish I could send to you in a package — that feeling of knowing what you’re doing, of autopilot, of security, of believing in your heart of hearts that you have what your baby needs.
Do I feel that feeling all the time? Oh my goodness, no. I’m in uncharted waters with my oldest and even with her brother, who is a different kid altogether (go figure) than his predecessor. But in this familiar stage of babyhood, I’m in my element. I get all the deliciousness of giggles and snuggles without the worrying, the wondering, the figuring out. I get the rewards without trying so hard to remember all the rules.
If I could bottle that feeling up for you, I would. But I cannot. Your own new motherhood experience awaits, and I can’t make yours easier or better any more than I can change the one I went through. All the wise words in all the books in the world won’t clear from your path its own disturbances, or prepare you for how you will handle them (and you will handle them — better and more capably than you can even imagine).
And so I hold back when we talk on the phone, sometimes. I ask questions, I listen, and I make silent wishes for you. I wish for simple things, like an easy delivery and a healthy baby. I also wish for things that will happen on their own in due time, whether I wish them or not (but I do it anyway): like a good night’s sleep, and new friendships with other moms, and a pair of jeans that fit again.
Unless you ask, I don’t give advice. And when you ask, I find myself saying things like,“Well, there are lots of different ways to think about it” or “I think everyone is different, so it depends on what you believe,” which I realize is completely frustrating when all you want to know is The Answer. And then I make another silent wish that you discover as soon as possible that there is no one right answer.
I wish that as you read the books and listen to the nurses and your mom and your mother-in-law — all of whom have wisdom but none of whom have the answer — you will also read your baby and listen to your heart. That combination of looking outward for information and inward for intuition is magical, I have found.
I wish that when you find yourself clinging to The Rules — of feeding, or sleep schedules, or developmental milestones, or anything else we’re supposed to Learn All The Things About — you understand that those rules are meant to give you structure, to educate you, to guide you, and the world will not fall apart if you choose to throw them out the window.
I wish for you to know that it’s OK to pick your battles. It’s easy to get sucked into believing we have to care passionately about everything from diapers to discipline, that every choice somehow makes a statement about who we are as a parent. But sometimes, I think, finding your way is more of a series of happy accidents than a carefully thought-out process.
My biggest wish, though, the one before I blow out all the candles while holding a lucky penny and a four-leaf clover at 11:11, is that you find satisfaction and worthiness in this work of mothering. I don’t mean that you find it enjoyable all the time, or that it’s the best thing that’s ever happened to you. I mean that in the middle of the really ugly parts when doubt rages and fear snarls and the tears spill out over the edges of everywhere, that you feel like what you’re doing matters, and that you are the right one to do it, here, now, for this baby.
I know that’s not really a sentiment that fits well on a greeting card, but it’s what I’ve got. And while part of me wants to wave a magic wand and whisk you right to this sweet place I’m in, five years later, where three kids feels do-able and life makes a bit of sense, I won’t. I’d rather walk this path beside you as a friend who is just enough further along to know that none of us has all the answers, and be here when you call to say “I hate this!” and also when you call to say “I love him!”
I’d rather be a real-life lifeline than a fairy godsister. Because, you know what?You’ve got this. I know you do.
This post appeared first at The Happiest Home.