There is the idea of having a baby and then there is the reality of having one. If you read my previous story, What They Don’t Tell You about Fertility Treatments: 5 Questions to Ask your Doctor, you are aware that my husband and I tried to conceive for five years before our dreams came true. I do not want to minimize the feelings one may have when creating a baby comes more easily, but you can imagine what it is like to hold and care for a child when for years it seemed impossible. I say this to provide context. Honestly, I assumed that once I had a baby, I would fall into a perfect sense of happiness and ease. After all, I tried for five years, right?
I started with, “I definitely want three children, at least” and moved to having conversations like, “We should consider how it would impact our lives, the life of our son, and this possible new child before we actually even consider having another one.” In short, just as every parent who came before me said again and again:
Parenting is not easy.
We live in the United States, which is one of the least family friendly countries in the world. Thank you, dear government, for the token 12 week FMLA (emphasis on the FML). As a mom who holds an intense full time job, I have had no choice but to assess parenting and determine how to make it work for me, my husband, our son and our lives.
These are the 5 things all moms should know.
1 | Practice acceptance.
I’ve lived a life filled with more drama than one should experience by this age: a highly unstable childhood, the deaths of my mother and mother-in-law, infertility, and others I’d rather not get into. It took me a lot of soul-searching to finally understand that the more I accept a situation, the less stressed I am. Let’s take pumping on the job as an example.
As a consultant, I tend to be on an airplane and thus not in a routine of being at home or in an office everyday. The result is pumping at the airport, on an airplane, or at a client site. During one trip, I was in a beautiful office building and had it in my head that I would find a nice, private bathroom in which to pump. Sadly, the receptionist was a young boy who probably did not even know what pumping meant, so the effort he put in to accommodating me was not the same as the female receptionist I dealt with during the following trip. This led to my entering the public bathroom’s handicap stall, where I laid down my suitcase, sat on it, plugged in my battery power pack and let the machine whir away for 20 minutes as ladies entered and exited the bathroom (most of whose breasts likely reacted when they heard that familiar sound). I was proud of myself that I thought this was hysterical.
There was nothing I could do; I am a consultant, I have to work and I have to travel.
Certainly, I considered the bigger picture of needing to improve the rights of families, but, in that moment, I had to make the best of it.
2 | Keep it simple.
There are the people, the well-meaning parents, grandparents, siblings, friends, strangers, pediatricians, doulas, and then there is the research via blogs, books, and internet searches. And let’s not forget the marketers who tell us we need a perfectly decorated baby room filled with cribs, toys, books, and cute outfits.
When I found out I was pregnant, I told my husband, “No research allowed and we are not buying all this stuff just because.”
People have been giving birth and raising kids for thousands of years and most of that was pre-Information Age. Back in the day, families were located very close to each other. Moms built strong communities where they would teach the next generation everything from breastfeeding to changing a diaper to soothing a baby. During my volunteering trip to India in 2009 there was a woman in our guest house who had a newborn and I don’t recall seeing a room loaded with toys. In fact, the only thing I remember seeing in her room (she had no baby room) was a hammock where the baby slept.
These ideas and experiences made me think, “What do we really need for our son? Are we reading this book or buying this thing because we need to?”
I suggest you ask these of yourself.
As an example, we have no crib and no high chair. Certainly, my son’s baby room would not be featured in a fancy magazine, but it is cute and functional. When the time is right, he will have a crib. As for feeding, for now, he sits in his Bumbo reaching for anything and everything in sight as we sneak the meal into his mouth. Eventually, I’d like to graduate to a seat that hangs on the table so he is situated at the table like the grown-ups. See, I skipped the $700 high chair!
I’m not saying that if you have a high chair or a crib, something is wrong, I am simply suggesting to do what is right for you and not because someone or something said so.
3 | Make a “to do” list for guests.
People love to come see the baby. However, these visits tend to create much more work for mom and dad. My doula made a suggestion that is truly brilliant: make a list of things your guests can help with and keep it on the fridge, nicely asking them to review when they come for a visit. Create a headline explaining how much you appreciate their visit but would also appreciate their help, making mom, dad, and baby happy.
Some of you may find this presumptive. However, an alternative view is that people want to help but they don’t want to invade your routine or your space. Thus, unless you say what you need, no one is going to read your mind. I think back to all the friends who had babies before me. Now that I am a mom, I realize I was a crappy guest because I did not have a child and had no idea what went on behind the scenes or how to be helpful.
Ladies, let’s not play into the “we can do it all” crap. Ask for help! Your guests want to be there for you. Well, most of them, at least.
4 | Create space but not the Container Store kind.
Admittedly, I grew up nervous to make female friends as I received strange messages from my mother about women not sharing the “secrets of success.” I am happy to report that my motherhood journey exploded my heart with love for all those who have come before me. Whether it was my doctors, doula, friends, family, or even strangers, I realized there is this secret code of “I get where you’re at and here’s the real deal.” Even those who don’t have children have been extremely supportive and helpful. Those words of wisdom and hugs meant even more since the family I do have lives far away, and then there is the family I no longer have: my mother and mother-in-law. The support of all these people has been amazing!
We may all have a vision for things like what our family, friends, job, or house should look like or hold a perception that the grass is greener on the other side; however, when I am my authentic self and let the world in, life becomes even greater than I could have expected. I have wonderful friends who remind me of all I have on the days where life becomes too overwhelming and I think all others are better off than I. Some days this is hard to put in practice, but I do find when I create a space for life to evolve as it should, I am more at ease.
5 | Trust the most important person: yourself.
Two weeks before my son was born at 3 AM I am wide awake needing to create my nest. My husband begs me to come to bed. He tries to stay up to help. I, in turn, beg him to go to bed. I say, “I can’t explain it, honey. I need to create the baby’s nest.” So for two hours, I sorted clothes, toys, and gifts and then made a list of things we still needed. This happened many, many nights. It was the strangest thing.
To this day, my husband often asks, “How do you know what to do? Why do you do it?”
I don’t have a good answer. I just know. It is the days when I am true to myself and trust what my instincts tell me to do, think, or feel, that I am at the top of my game. I am sure you have done things where, looking back, you say, “I remember my instinct telling me this.” You know exactly what I’m talking about.Trust yourself!
We are the mother, the wife, the friend, the sister, the aunt, the everything. We, as women, are so lucky to have the gift of instinct, the natural ability to be leaders and great communicators. Thank the world for the information it provides, but at the end of the day, we know in our gut what is right.