Can we just say it: After you become a parent, the first few months are brutal, yes?
Well, they were for me, with Ethan (our first son, in 2002):
- NICU for a week
- I had mastitis for a solid, bloody-cracked-painful month
- Trying to figure out every single thing, and feeling like it mattered so very much– pacifier– no? yes? Feed whenever? or on a schedule? or….?
- Nerve-rattling “weight checks” with pediatricians who use a formula-fed weight chart to evaluate breastfed infants with a mom just getting her milk in for the first time after a week-long NICU stay
- A laundry pile that goes from 1-or-2 loads a week to a mountain you’ll never see the bottom of again
- Never feeling “normal”… my chest hurt like the dickens, my nether regions felt like they’d never return to any semblance of normality, and my home looked like a tornado had gone through it
- Extreme mental fog that lasted until he was about 6 months old
- And on and on…
- I was happy with my new baby, but I felt like life had chewed me up one side and down the other.
But you know what the first few months of Luke’s life looked like (our 7th child, in 2015)?
- Me mostly in bed, with Luke, or on the couch, with Luke, for a solid week
- A few-weeks-long break from homeschooling, cause we’d started our “school year” in July when we found out the baby was coming in February, so we had time for a gentle return to school
- Convenience foods and easy crock pot meals for a good while after
- a contended crawl toward finding a “new normal” (I’ve stopped trying to “return to normal”)
It was a whole different ballgame.
There were plenty of differences, of course, but I think the main difference is that, at some point, motherhood stopped being about survival.
I’ve spent the last 13+ years learning how to “play the instrument” of who our family IS, through great changes and upheaval, and each time we face change– like moving, or the change of having a new baby– I am able to handle it better than I did the last time.
So do you wanna know the truth about how it happened?
Motherhood is not something you master the first time around. The first time around I was stressed and figuring out the essentials. Mere survival was the goal.
When I look around, it seems like that’s the way it is for all of us.
A beginning violinist doesn’t walk up to the instrument she’s never studied and expect beautiful music the first time around.
So why do we think we can ace motherhood straight out of the gate?
Is it because we feel like we have to?
Because our society puts all this pressure on us to be amazing? Because Pinterest tells us we should throw celebrity-style parties with perfectly-coifed children? Is this the you-can-do-anything-and-everything message of our childhood echoing into adulthood?
Or, perhaps, is it because we’re degreed and intelligent and, thus, we feel like one eensy-weensy baby shouldn’t reduce us to tears and an inability to procure something as simple as a shower in a 48-hour period? Is it because we’re over-confident about our intelligence and abilities but often lacking in character and practical know-how when it comes to the ongoing need for persevering motherhood?
- Where in modern American mothering is there room for learning and practice?
- Where in modern American mothering is there room for growth over time?
- Where in modern American mothering is there room for grace– while striving for excellence in the things that matter?
Have we crafted our collective mothering in such a way that we only get one or two “cracks” at it and, thus, are constantly guinea-pigging our way through the 20-year journey?
AND– to add a little more neuroticism to ourselves– have we made it so that it all has to look ah-MAZ-ING and Pottery Barn photo-worthy?
Because the truth is, for me, 13 years into mothering, things like:
- how to go through labor WELL (even if it still is the crazy hardest thing you can do that you don’t really want to do — because yes, it is still crazy painful even the 7th time around)
- how to get a good latch while breastfeeding
- how to keep the toddler/preschooler going with discipline while resting with an infant
- how to teach an infant to sleep well, so the rest of us can too (ASAP)
- what to do about pacifiers, vaccines, circumcisions, spankings, formula, tantrums,
- how to feed a hungry crowd, multiple times a day, while mom is recovering from childbirth
don’t make me frantic. Of course, I still *think* about these things. I have to work at them. And yes, I plan for them… but they do not stress me out.
Mere survival is no longer my sole aim for the postpartum time.
- thriving as a family…
- making our “instrument” sing….
- discovering what our new normal looks like as a family in this new stage…
- and enjoying rare days of absolute wonder as we meet a new little person…
THAT’s what consumes our early postpartum days.
But… are you hearing me?
The only way to get to that place of competence as a mother in that postpartum season is TIME and PRACTICE.
(And make no mistake– though I no longer feel like a fish out of water in the postpartum period, it’s still tiring. And though breastfeeding is no longer baffling, I’m now in my own place of putting in TIME and PRACTICE in the preteen and teen years. THAT’s the place where I’m learning and growing and getting kicked around and thinking and praying and in a place of persevering and survival.)
This isn’t probably popular in this have-a-kid-or-two-and-get-back-to-your-life world. But I’m not shooting for popular… I’m shooting for honest.
This is basic stuff, but it could change the way we see motherhood if we embrace it:
The way to get past survival is to keep going and doing something long enough to get to a place where the basic essentials are no longer stressful for you.
Just like the path for proficiency as a violinist, the way to get good at being a mom is lots of practice over time. The way to get good at it is to not give up.
The answer to our stress as a mom is not a mani-pedi, “me time,” a few margaritas, or a bunko night. The way to get good at it is to dive deeper into it when we feel like running away from it.
The answer to your stress is to turn toward the thing that is causing you stress… and get better at it. (And I’m preaching that to myself here in the thick of the new-to-me early teen/pre-teen years!)