Motherhood is a wild and wonderful journey that no amount of articles could have fully prepared me for. I feel like I have learned so much in a short amount of time. I'm not even sure how I kept up. I guess sometimes I didn't keep up. There were a few meltdowns. There were a few moments of not feeling adequate or good enough. As I look back on the first year of motherhood, I am thankful that I got through some tough parts. Each little milestone with baby is such a joy to watch. It's a new kind of love that I never felt until becoming a mother.
If I could go back in time one year and give myself advice, this is what I would say:
- Communication is key. If you and your partner lack strong communication, work on that before you bring a little one into your life. Communication is so so so important. Don't assume your partner knows how you are feeling. Don't assume your partner knows what tasks you want them to help with. Communicate. Even over-communicate! I became frustrated when my husband didn't know when I needed help. Turns out he had no idea. He was simply trying to keep up with all the life changes.
- Reset expectations. When new baby came, I had already decided I would take on all the "baby duties". Why? I have no idea. I was trying to be a super mom. I finally told my husband that wasn't realistic and I needed help so we reset all expectations and things were a lot more enjoyable after that.
- Ask for help. If people offer you help, take it! I have a hard time accepting help and gifts for some reason. But when I finally just started letting people help me and even asking for help, things became more manageable. At times, I felt so overwhelmed I didn't even know where to begin with my chore list. Asking for help was good for my mental health.
- Don't be scared of your pump. I was so intimidated by my breast pump. When I brought it home from the hospital, I put it in another room and didn't think about it for weeks. I wish I would have started using it sooner so I could work on getting a good milk supply for the freezer.
- Don't be scared to bottle feed. If you get the right bottle, you can easily alternate bottle feeding and breastfeeding with your baby. I was scared my baby would like his bottle so much that he wouldn't want to nurse anymore but that didn't happen. He nursed for almost a year and I introduced a bottle to him at 2 months.
- Plan your maternity leave. My maternity leave was great but I could have done a better job of getting baby on a schedule. I kind of just went with the flow and let baby do whatever. Next baby, I will try to get baby on a better food and sleep schedule. Also, I will plan better financially. A portion of my maternity leave was unpaid and I should have paid more attention to that.
- Plan your return back to work. My first week back to work was a big fat mess. Next time, I will consider going back part time at first. I was tired and emotional. I got locked out of the lactation room the first day and ended up pumping in the back of my vehicle because I was desperate. I should have figured out all the logistics before I left for leave.
- Baby needs routine. I didn't put baby on any certain sleep or food schedule. I just kind of randomly tried stuff when he started crying. One thing I have learned is if baby's are overtired and over-stimulated, they might not go to sleep and be super fussy. I also felt pretty dumb when I first dropped him off at daycare and they asked me how much he eats and sleeps and I had no idea.
- Take time for yourself. Taking a break, even if it's just a short break can be very healthy for your body and mind. Some days I felt like I was going insane because baby needed me constantly and then I had to try and keep up with all my house chores. I just felt like I couldn't even get a second to take a breath. Even going to the grocery store alone felt like I nice break.
- Don't compare. Comparing yourself to other moms is bad news. Don't compare your child's milestones. Don't compare your parenting style. Don't compare your body. It can take you down a road of disappointment. Be happy and thankful for exactly what you have.
- Don't be ashamed. I thought I could breastfeed for at least a year but my baby stopped nursing around 11 months due to a low supply. I was really devastated by that. I saw other moms who had exclusively fed their babies breast milk for over a year and I felt ashamed. Then I realized I was fortunate enough to be able to have a healthy baby. I was lucky enough to be able to feed him some breast milk while some women never produce. Be thankful for what you have because some women wish they could have it.
- Expect chaos. Routines are important for baby but your life will feel chaotic for a while. You might be running on little to no sleep. I thought that I could get so much done on maternity leave but newborns are demanding! I got frustrated by the fact that my house became cluttered and messy. I felt like I wasn't able to keep up with everything until I started to find worth in being a good mom and simply caring for my little one. Even if I didn't get to any chores that day, at least I had a full and happy baby.
- Document baby's schedule. When I took baby to daycare for the first time, I didn't know how much he ate or when. Same with this sleep schedule. I just randomly fed him or rocked him to sleep whenever he was fussy and didn't pay attention to the time. Now, he is on a really great schedule almost down to the minute. This makes it helpful for when his grandparents want to help watch him. I can just give them the schedule and they can help keep him on track.
I want to elaborate on the point of communicating with your partner because that was one of my biggest challenges and it really shook up my world for a while. My husband and I rarely fought before baby. Things just came easy for us and we got along well. Our lives felt easy and fun. We had a lot of hobbies that we shared such as going to antique shops and flea markets and hiking with our dog. I am sure we had small arguments here and there but they were so small and silly that I don't even remember what they were about.
When new baby came into our lives, things got turned upside down. My patience was tested. I did all the night shifts with baby in the beginning because it was just easier to feed him. I am very career driven and I was almost envious that my husband got to go to work and I had to stay home with baby and figure out what the heck I was doing. I felt like a bad mom. I was ashamed that I wasn't enjoying every minute like some women said they did. I was having all sorts of hormones and feelings that felt out of my control.
I was struggling with trying to figure out the whole mom thing and also maintain my chore list. For the first time, I felt unappreciated and like my husband wasn't paying attention to me. I became upset when he didn't sense my struggles. I became hurt when he didn't offer to help with my chores or baby duties. Finally, I just started snapping at him. From his perspective, this came out of nowhere.
He never knew when I was going to get upset or why. At the time, I didn't even know how to articulate what I was feeling. My own insecurities and weaknesses were blaming him which wasn't fair. It took months for me to realize that most of the problem was me. I still get tears in my eyes thinking back on those first few months. I wish I would have been more kind to him. He was just trying to figure out how to be a Daddy. It was a lot for him too.
Eventually, I realized what I needed and how to ask for it. These are the exact steps I took to get us to a better place. It wasn't easy and it took months.
- If I felt myself becoming upset, I would communicate that I needed a break and I would step away to process.
- I told my husband exactly how he could help me out (I stopped assuming that he should "just know")
- I asked if we could do some of the baby stuff together. That way, if my husband did the task on his own, he wouldn't have to ask me 20 questions about it. For example - giving baby a bath together.
- I lowered my expectations. I felt more overwhelmed than ever by all the stuff I wasn't getting done. I decided, if I could get one chore done a day, then that would be just fine.
- I communicated to my husband the encouragement I needed. One night, I was up at 3 am with baby. My husband simply put his hand on my shoulder and whispered, "good job, Mama." That meant more to me than he will ever know.
- I encouraged him too. I stopped thinking about myself and started thinking about all the changes my husband went through. He has high functioning autism and thrives on routines and clear direction. Babies don't come with routines or any sort of directions! This was a lot of change for him. How was he feeling? How was he doing with all this change? How can I encourage him and remind him that he is doing great?
This first year of motherhood has taught me so much about myself. I have grown. I have become less selfish. I have learned to put others' needs before my own and find joy in that. I am so thankful that I have such a sweet baby boy. He is so eager to learn and explore. I am so thankful that I have a helpful husband who stuck by me through those rough months.
What have you learned from becoming a parent? Did you have a similar experience?
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