The Secret Every New Mom Should Remember

You will never stop worrying, or doubting yourself, but you will have more proof that you are doing it right. Each day that passes is another day that you get to take credit for.
08/04/2014 10:57 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

A newborn's cry is unmistakable.

The hearty, bleating squawk of a tiny human being announcing his or her arrival is a sound that etches itself into the cellular memory of a parent. ᅡᅠMy youngest has a cry that is 13 months older than his first heartbreaking shrills once were, and yet...

When you peeked around the corner of the breastfeeding center the other day, I already knew you were there. ᅡᅠYour daughter, barely on the cusp of her 1-week birthday, was sharing news of the dawn of your motherhood in the way that only babies can. ᅡᅠShe announced your arrival with a primal yell... the one that sends mothers everywhere right back to the fog of those first unpredictable weeks.

I stood there with my 1-year-old on my hip, his chubby legs wrapped around the curve of my waist, his outstretched hand patting my chest as my milk suddenly let down. ᅡᅠI took in your tired eyes, the slight glimmer of fear that danced across your face as you tried to figure out what would happen next. ᅡᅠCrying baby. ᅡᅠNew environment. ᅡᅠWhere do I sit? ᅡᅠHow do I feed her? ᅡᅠDoes she need a paci? ᅡᅠWho is staring at me? ᅡᅠDid I remember to bring a diaper in? ᅡᅠShit, I am STARVING. ᅡᅠWhere the hell is my husband??

I watched your husband shuffle quickly inside the room, flushed from having just found a parking spot outside, and balancing the overloaded diaper bag on one arm and the unwieldy bucket car seat on the other. ᅡᅠYour eyes filled with tears as you realized that he was a mirror of your own exhaustion. ᅡᅠYou handed him the baby, and turned away to take a breath. ᅡᅠAs the lactation consultant spoke to you in a gentle whisper, she called over her shoulder to your husband.

"Hold her out in front of you like this, and bend your knees as you bounce and sway."

A silence washed over the room packed with nursing bras and breast pump parts, lactation cookies and Hooter Hiders. ᅡᅠYour daughter took a sweet, contented breath, and settled into her daddy's arms. ᅡᅠ"Now keep doing that, Daddy," the lactation consultant laughed, as a look of horror flew between the two of you.

Right. ᅡᅠJust keep doing that. ᅡᅠThe squats and the swaying. ᅡᅠThe soothing and the shushing. ᅡᅠThe waking up and the carrying. ᅡᅠThe worrying and the agonizing. ᅡᅠJust keep doing that.

And I saw your eyes fill with tears again.

This is new motherhood. ᅡᅠYou, on one side of the room, having just realized that you've traded your fashionable pencil skirts and weekly blow-outs for the last clean pair of maternity yoga pants and, well, daily blow-outs. ᅡᅠYou, with the breasts that are heavy and tender, itchy and raw. ᅡᅠYou, shuffling carefully as you try to forget that you feel barely held together by the stitches that tell your story like an unwelcome tattoo. ᅡᅠYour eyes dart around the store, a quick, thorough assessment of the possibility of friendly fire. ᅡᅠWhat will the strangers think about your crying baby? ᅡᅠWill we shame you with our sighs? ᅡᅠWill we judge you for the laundry list of heavy choices that you've already made, during the longest week of your life? ᅡᅠFor a brief moment, you wonder what would happen if you ran right out the door. ᅡᅠBack into your old life. ᅡᅠWhere at least cranky bosses went home to their own houses, and deadlines were predictable. ᅡᅠWhere pregnancy felt beautiful, and special, and important. ᅡᅠWhere your husband could be counted on to fix things, and answer things, and help things.

And then you looked up, and your eyes met mine.

I had only stopped in to ask a quick question. ᅡᅠI shifted Bennie to the other hip, and motioned to you with my free hand to continue talking to the lactation consultant. ᅡᅠI gave you a shy smile, trying mightily to figure out how to give you 3,000 words of encouragement in one timid glance. ᅡᅠI needed you to know that a year ago, and five years ago, I was standing there too. ᅡᅠTrying to figure out how far and how fast I could run before my life would start to make sense again.

I wish I could tell you that it gets easier, but it doesn't. The secret is that you get better at it.

You get better at it.

You have only known your new, sweet-cheeked little human for a week. ᅡᅠYou are tired, and tearful, and terrified. ᅡᅠYou are suddenly responsible for absolutely everything, and have control over absolutely nothing. ᅡᅠYou are in love, and second-guessing your love, and drowning in your love, and overwhelmed by your love. ᅡᅠYour motherhood is brand new. ᅡᅠYour confidence is emerging like a flower that has finally been watered, stretching toward the sunlight as unexpected gusts of wind test how it bends and folds. ᅡᅠ

Keep growing.

You will get better at it. The feeding and the night-waking. The dinners gulped down in 30-second intervals. The panicked calls to the pediatrician. You will get better at it.

You will never stop worrying, or doubting yourself, but you will have more proof that you are doing it right.

Each day that passes is another day that you get to take credit for. Every gummy smile that erupts from your daughter's soft features came from you. ᅡᅠEvery contented sigh as she feeds, every time she squeezes your finger with her tiny hand, every flutter of her eyelashes as she drifts into sleep, is a thank you to you.

You will never again be OK in the old way. ᅡᅠYou will never be as rested, or as energized, or as focused on the world around you. ᅡᅠInstead, you will be OK in a new way. ᅡᅠYou will measure your success in hours instead of weeks. ᅡᅠBut as you worry, your confidence will grow.

It will give way to courage. ᅡᅠIt has to.

Your worry was born from love. ᅡᅠIt came flooding out of your body with the rush of water that preceded her birth. ᅡᅠA birth of your own. ᅡᅠThe beginning of motherhood. ᅡᅠYour worry will change over time, and, slowly, it will be replaced by strength. ᅡᅠEvery time you propel yourself out of bed in the middle of the night to soothe her cries,ᅡᅠyour courage takes root. ᅡᅠEvery time you reach down in the darkness to latch her on, every time you hold your breath as the nurse weighs her, every time you buckle her into the carrier and walk outside to face the day... every single time, you are planting the seeds of your confidence. ᅡᅠYou are walking forward bravely, courageously, into this new life that looks nothing like your old one. ᅡᅠYou will see the shadows of the woman you were before motherhood, and you will watch those shadows dance with abandon. ᅡᅠYou will reach for them. ᅡᅠThis I promise you. ᅡᅠYou will chase those shadows when you zip up your "hot jeans" and head out for a date night. ᅡᅠYou will reach for them when you settle back into a dining chair and drink a glass of wine with your best friend. ᅡᅠYou will learn to welcome them when it's time to let the light in, and usher them out when it's time to stand on your own.

Your capacity for mothering will grow as your child grows. ᅡᅠYou won't have to figure it all out at once. ᅡᅠYou have time to learn. ᅡᅠYou'll learn to hang in there when she spits up a fountain of milk. ᅡᅠTo hang back as she toddles on wobbly legs out into the center of the circle in music class. ᅡᅠTo hang out in the fresh air of a sidewalk cafe as you swap war stories with another new mom on a playdate. ᅡᅠTo hang it up when you realize you need to tap out for a break, and to hang tight when you know that you are the only person who can make it better. ᅡᅠYou are the mom.ᅡᅠThe only way through it is to go forward.

You will grow and change together. You have to. And you can.

I promise you.ᅡᅠI promise you.ᅡᅠI promise you. ᅡᅠYou can do this, because you already know how. ᅡᅠYour instincts have already emerged in a birth of their own -- you just need to welcome them. ᅡᅠCreate space for them. ᅡᅠ Invite them in to dance with the shadows. ᅡᅠWe've all been there. ᅡᅠThe expectation that gives way to panic, the courage that welcomes a re-birth. The dance of motherhood is at once foreign and familiar. ᅡᅠUpsetting and uplifting.

It won't get better. You will get better at it.

Until one day, you are on the other side of the room when you hear that shrill, shocking, newborn screech. ᅡᅠYou will look over at the new mom with the panicked look in her eyes. You will recognize the fear that marks the beginning of her journey. You will remember how you learned to feed with love, how you learned to trust yourself, how you learned to anticipate your baby's needs. Your impossibly tiny baby grew into a laughing, walking, loving toddler. A toddler who is patting your chest and making the sign for "milkies." Your heart will lift, and your pride will escape for just a moment. You thought you'd never make it, mama. And then you did.

***

Photo Credit Traci Bianchi

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