Sometimes I think we (by "we," I mean experienced moms) all do very new moms a disservice by assuming that our experiences as new moms are universal to all women who become mothers.
This realization of mine is new, coming out of a recent experience with a close friend who birthed her first child last month. In the months before her son's arrival, I would, in each of our meetings, "grill" her on the specifics of how she was preparing for something that I often, in the same breath, would say "couldn't really be prepared for."
If new motherhood is a roller coaster, then, with my friend, I was like that annoying person who has gone on the ride twice before and knows each turn and how terrifying each dip is before it actually happens. "Oh, here we go! This is the scariest part. Hang on to your purse because mine fell 100 feet when I did this my first time. And, oh yeah. This turn? This is the turn that I, and everyone else I know, puked, so get your hair ready! Are you ready for this? Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah."
Or something like that.
I saw my friend this past weekend. Her son was born a bit earlier than expected. She hadn't prepared for a natural childbirth, but it happened in less than four hours. When she got home from the hospital in two days, she didn't have as much help as I thought she should have as a new mom. Her husband was home for a week and then it was just her, alone with the baby. I assumed, in anticipation of our meeting, that this was a recipe for a disaster. I imagined her coming to the door in a robe and with tears and dark undereye circles and a crying baby. "Help me!" is what I imagined she'd say then. And, to this, I would step in as the "experienced" mom with all my wisdom and guidance on how to find sanity in new motherhood.
But the woman I met at the door was nothing like the woman I thought I'd be meeting. She was dressed, first of all. Not in a robe, but real clothes. She had showered and her hair looked better than mine. And, dare I say she had a glow? Yes, I think that's what I saw that morning of our meeting. She was happy and seemed like she had things under control. But these, of course, were just perceptions, I was sure that once she started talking, I would get the "real" scoop on her real sufferings as a new mom.
But... when we started talking, she confirmed that she was actually really doing fine. No. She wasn't just doing fine. She was doing an amazing job. In my first visit to her house, she talked about how, even with her 1-month old, and because she doesn't even any help, she cooks her own meals. She talked about taking naps and how, even though she hadn't planned for it, breastfeeding is something she's come to love.
I was happy for her. Really. But I couldn't help but think about why her experiences in new motherhood seemed so different from mine. I was a... How do I say this politely? Ummm. I was a hot mess as a new mom. Even with help, I always felt overwhelmed by motherhood and the idea that I felt I had to shower in less than five minutes. I remember calling my mom one day in tears because I couldn't eat and hold my baby at the same time. "Mom! I'm so hungry!" I SOBBED. To this, I think she laughed, and told me to put my baby in a swing and eat. "Really, mom. Is it really that easy?!?"
I think how hard new motherhood is depends a lot on how hard you believe new motherhood will be. As a new mom, I thought new motherhood would be incredibly hard because that's what I learned from moms I knew and because of this attitude I found it hard to think I could ever really do it right or that it could ever be as easy as some made it out to be.
You know the saying, "You are what you think." Well, I think that applies here. If you think you'll suck at new motherhood and believe everyone around you who says they sucked at motherhood, guess what? You, too, will suck at motherhood, or at least that's what you'll feel in the moment.
Perhaps instead of telling new moms that motherhood is impossibly hard and expecting them to fail, perhaps we, as more experienced moms, should just do our best to encourage them that they can be their best in motherhood. Maybe we should go easy on the stories from our new motherhood battlefields and allow them to just be mothers... on their own terms.
Perhaps instead of expecting them to fail like we think we did as new moms, perhaps we should expect that they will succeed and provide them with the support and tools that we know, from experience, that they'll need in order to succeed. Perhaps.