I have to say, the first six weeks of motherhood are the maternal equivalent of becoming Cinderella, but in reverse: spending nine months as the belle of the ball and then, overnight, becoming an exhausted hormonal chambermaid. And, to add insult to injury, there’s the realization that all that effort you put into preparing for labor and delivery has nothing to do with having an actual baby. What else doesn’t help? Having every well-intentioned older (forgetful?) relative and (former?) friend ask you, “Isn’t this the happiest time of your life?”
Here are a few things that will help.
1. See the humor.
When the poop is flying, literally, the one thing you can count on to save you is laughter. There will be moments you share with your partner and your baby that only the three of you will know. There will be dark days and the only hope of light will be having the ability to laugh, often at yourself. Know that you’re not above it.
2. Accept that your body is not the same.
Have compassion for that sweet self of yours that just birthed a person. Take a look at those late pregnancy pictures: you should be thanking your lucky stars you don’t have to gather up your stomach in both arms to keep it from dragging on the ground. Yes friend, one day, you will (may?) get back in some sort of shape. In the meanwhile, please, be gentle with yourself.
3.When a trusted friend offers to come over so you can shower or sleep, let them. You do not need to entertain anyone. For now, say yes to help and no to small talk and non-stretchy pants.
4. Realize that your baby will be this tiny for about five minutes.
You cannot take too many pictures of his tiny toes, her perfect fingers. Get close up because one day those adorable appendages will be big and connected to ginormous teenager hands and feet and no matter how hard you try, you will not be able to remember how small and delicate they once were.
5. Be present. Even if the present is painful, sleepless and poop-filled.
It’s the little things you miss in the shadow of the big thing that’s happening. When the baby is screaming for the third hour straight and you’re at your wit’s end, notice how kindly your partner is rocking her. Take mental snapshots. And breathe. Don’t forget to breathe.
6. Lots of baby things that are overrated. This does not include a baby swing or a baby carrier/wrap/thingie.
You need both of these things – they don’t need to be fancy. They will save your sanity when nothing else will.
7. It’s OK if you don’t get to the laundry (dishes, thank you notes, vacuuming) today.
It will all still be there tomorrow. If instead, you feel like watching your baby sleep with both fists tucked under his chin and his little diapered butt in the air, do it.
8. Whatever the baby’s schedule is today, likely it won’t be that tomorrow.
She doesn’t know what time it is and she doesn’t care. As much as you want normalcy and a schedule (and a latte), right now resign yourself to the fact that you’re on newborn time. It’s just sleep, poop, eat, repeat. And that goes for you too.
9. Read everything you can get your hands on but trust your gut.
There are a million experts but no one knows what your baby needs better than you. You know best, even if you don’t know it yet.
10. Accept that during maternity leave you are not going to clean your closets, learn to play golf or get your holiday shopping done.
You do not need to be productive. You have already produced enough lately, right? Surrender to this short time.
11. Know that you are in training. No one expects you to be perfect.
You have never done this before. You are practicing and getting better at it everyday, even if it doesn’t seem that way. One moment you will be triumphing over colic, the next minute that baby wrap thingie will have you slumped over the changing table in defeat. You will make mistakes, you will have successes. This is excellent preparation for parenthood.
You don’t have to go far; it’s not the distance, it’s the motion. It’s good for you and the baby.
13. Meet your neighbors.
You may not have known, up until now, that the woman who is destined to be your new best friend – the one who will one day pick up your child from school because you get stuck at work, who will discuss potty training with you for an hour straight, who will make your family dinner every night for a week when you throw your back out – is right this moment living three houses down from you. Go do #12 and go meet her. Parenthood takes a village – or at the very least, a neighborhood.
14. Love your baby. Everything else will (eventually) be fine.
There are things your will fail at as a mother. There will be times when you nothing you say or do is right, days when you let your child down, when you let yourself down. But if you love your child with all of your heart and show it – the most important part of your mama job has been done and done well.
PS: Don’t forget to write it all down, here.