The transition from me to we to three is often an unexpected one — as the saying goes, you never are truly prepared for becoming a parent no matter how much you try. You simply don’t know what you don’t know.
No one could have prepared me for how difficult and sometimes painful the first weeks of breastfeeding could be. Take note lactation consultants: “tender” doesn’t describe it. I imagined maternity leave a cuddly vacation. On most days it was — snuggles, googley-eyed kisses, and bonding left me on cloud nine. But other moments I strangely felt alone and isolated. And I thought I’d remember all the details that would eventually make up the story of the baby book. Too many pages are still blank…four years later. (Oops!)
When a recent chat with a newly pregnant co-worker reminded me of these initial revelations with a baby, I thought about what I would say as a second-time mom to my first-time self. What advice would’ve eased the transition and helped me relish the most mundane moments, explosive diapers included?
1. Don’t listen to the “experts.” No parenting guide, Web site, or person knows your baby best. There isn’t a right, one-size-fits-all approach to diapering, feeding, sleeping, crying, playing, bonding. You are the expert on your family. Even when you have doubts, listen to your gut and your child’s cues. I promise, you’ll find your way together and meet everyone’s needs.
2. Set aside expectations and cut yourself some slack. Four months at home? You want to tackle that mile-long to do list like making all the recipes you’ve pinned, landscaping the backyard, and organizing your closets according to Martha Stewart’s standards. All you need is a baby carrier, right? If you really can check these things off during maternity leave, major props to you. But if you can’t, don’t sweat it. I learned that it’s wasted energy to measure my daily contributions based on productivity. Just because I stayed home all day wearing yoga pants and allowing the dishes to pile up in the sink didn’t mean I didn’t do something. As my husband wisely put it, “You are doing a lot. You are raising a human being.”
3. Speaking of yoga pants, you’re forgiven if you wear them. They’re comfortable, meld with your changing body shape, and are easy to launder if they get splattered with spit up. The fashion police will give you a pass.
4. But make sure to pamper yourself. Leave your partner with a bottle and revive the highlights that you’ve ignored during the past nine months. Treat yourself to a pedicure. Get a massage. You aren’t neglecting your baby if you’re indulging in self-care. Those brief moments away will fuel you to be the best mom possible.
5. It’s okay to get food delivery. Every. Day. Or make a meal out of goldfish crackers. Don’t feel guilty for taking advantage of services that make your life easier. Your only job is to be with baby and rest.
6. Put your smartphone in the drawer. With Facebook, Twitter, and other social channels one swipe away, it’s very tempting to check in with friends or watch life transpiring when you’re nursing or baby’s enjoying tummy time. Accept that it’s inevitable that you’ll suffer from FOMO at some point and be okay with that. Obsessively refreshing your e-mail, doesn’t bring you closer to baby. And taking photos even distracts you from seeing all the unexpected details. Enjoy the one-on-one time with baby because it goes by sooo fast.
7. You’re baby will love you no matter what. Mistakes happen (blame sleep deprivation). Forgive and be kind to yourself.
What advice would you share with new parents?
~ The Other Sarah
I love therapy. I think everyone could benefit from therapy.
I tell everyone I know they should go to therapy. For my closest friends, the people I know and love and see struggling with everything from small issues to major traumas, I beat the drum of therapy until they usually relent and try it out.
Often, people will tell me a family member or spouse doesn’t “believe” in therapy. This particular phrasing amuses me because therapy isn’t the tooth fairy or Big Foot. I assure you it is real and it exists and there is a mountain of scientific evidence that proves it is beneficial.
Of course, I think when people hear therapy they picture a neurotic New Yorker in weekly sessions for their entire lives. I assure you this is not what I’m talking about.
The first time I went to therapy was when I was first married and lived in North Carolina. I went for several sessions during which the therapist praised my emotional intelligence and resilience. Mostly, her praise was based on my less-than-genuine approach to our sessions and my desire to keep my most vulnerable moments to myself.
In other words, the first time I tried therapy didn’t really take. Often, I think people give up at this point. They weren’t ready to reveal or the therapist was a good fit so they give up. Don’t give up! Try another therapist. Or try another time but don’t decide therapy isn’t for you because it didn’t work the first time.
The second time I went to therapy was when I lived in Washington, D.C., while I was pregnant with Griffin. I have shared before that I was having intrusive thoughts about those I loved dying in tragic ways so I went to therapy to deal with those thought patterns before I started inflicting them on a teeny tiny newborn.
I was ready to be vulnerable. I was honest with my counselor. As a result, the approximately three months I went to therapy were incredibly fruitful. I was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. I was able to examine with my counselor’s help why I thought the way I did and why it was damaging pattern I needed to address.
There came a natural end to the therapy when I felt like I had gotten real and productive help and was ready to move on.
All of this is on my mind because I’ve recently begun therapy again. After the tragic loss of my friend and the upcoming addition of a new member of our family, I thought it was time for what I like to call a “tune up.”
I recently went for my first session, cried pretty much the entire time, and felt better immediately.
I wish I could describe what it’s like to sit and share your trials and tribulations with a perfect stranger but I can’t. I wish I could adequately explain how something that seems so intimidating can (in the hands of the right therapist) be so comforting but I can’t.
All I can say is no matter how close you are to family or friends or your spouse therapy is different. The person who is listening to you isn’t invested in the outcome. They don’t want to “fix” you or talk you out of your stress because it’s painful for them to see you suffering. They are a professional - just like a doctor or a mechanic - they can notice the patterns and help you find a solution. So often the solution is just diagnosing the problem to begin with.
So, if you’re struggling with something or on the fence about talking to a professional, let me be the one to say - therapy helped me and it can help you, too.
Have you ever attended therapy? Did you find it helpful?