The Hardest Part Of Being A New Mom Is Not Knowing What You’re Doing
When I was pregnant, I had a lot of thoughts on what would be challenging about having this baby I was growing. I was aware of that there would sleepless nights and possible boob damage and endless crying. What I wasn’t prepared for is how completely helpless I would feel in the midst of it all.
I’m a Vice President at the company that owns Mommyish and I’ve spent a lot of my life making decisions, managing people and having small wins (and losses) at work. When I don’t know something, I research and practice until I figure it out. But with a baby, that skill set is almost a weakness at the beginning. No matter how much research and reading and preparing you do, you are not going to have a rulebook on how to accommodate this new human you’ve created.
When my newly pregnant (or interested in being pregnant) friends ask for advice on dealing with a newborn, that’s usually the first thing I tell them. I now have an arsenal of tricks for swaddling and bouncing and feeding a newborn, but no advice that ANYONE gives you on having a child can get you through the complete helplessness that you feel at 4A when you have fed and changed and rocked a newborn that is still crying ferociously in your arms.
The extreme tiredness that accompanies the arrival of a newborn is intense, but it doesn’t compare to the ineptitude that you will repeatedly feel. I remember the first night that I left the hospital with my son Max (who is now a year old). I had pumped every nurse and doctor who walked past me in the hospital for information I could use once I got home. Everything they said made sense to me when I was spending short bursts of time with a baby that was also being cared for by a team of nurses, but at 2A when he was crying uncontrollably I couldn’t tell if he was hungry or dirty or in pain. Could his diaper be dirty again? Was he starving because I was out of colostrum and my milk hadn’t come in yet? Was I going to poison him if I fed him a half ounce of formula from a refrigerated bottle that he had drank from an hour prior? I burst into tears with the realization that I had NO idea how to make my son feel better.
It was a terrible feeling and one that I had over and over again in the first months of his life. Babies can’t talk to you. They can’t explain what is wrong. They can’t express their disappointment in your efforts. They can only cry.
As time goes on, you learn to interpret those cries and figure out what they are saying to you. But at the beginning as a new mom you are often lost at sea with no life-raft.
Like me, most of my friends are starting families well into their 30s. When you’ve made it this far in life, chances are you know your strengths and weaknesses. You’ve gotten to a point in your career where you’re being rewarded for the expertise you bring and you can even sometimes delegate your weaknesses to others. But with your own crying infant, there is no delegation. Husbands and partners are great! But they don’t have an owner’s manual for your baby either.
Even doctors can’t deliver a magic bullet to make your child happy all of the time. I remember when I went to my second month appointment for Max, armed with a list of ailments and solutions that I had researched for his various newborn issues and complaints. I listed them off and what I had sleuthed as the solution to these problems.
“He has acid reflux!” I exclaimed. He’d probably need gripe water for that. the doctor shook her head at me and let me know BabyCenter had let me down
“No. He’s crying because he’s a baby.”
But he hates lying flat on his back!
“Yes. He’s a baby.”
Maybe it was something in my diet?
“No. He’s a baby.”
But he was crying SO vehemently at certain points of the day. Surely there was a pattern to it?
Yes. There was:
“He’s a baby.”
She was right, of course. My son was perfectly healthy and just acclimating to the first weeks of life outside the womb. As he got older and past the six week mark and some of the sleep regressions (and surely, the regressions still in my future), I got more accustomed to the fact that I do not have all of the answers when it comes to this parenting thing.
It has also gotten easier. As babies mature they start to develop actual patterns. The nonsense schedule that I had created for him to make myself feel in more control of the hours and days developed into an actual schedule that made sense and helped him get through the hours and days.
But also, I’ve been humbled by the process of caring for this new human. I don’t expect to be fully in control of him anymore and I’ve adjusted to the fact that while we make plans and ideas for what we’ll do with him, those plans are dependent on how he’s feeling at any given moment.
When I meet up with friends who are pregnant now, the first thing that I want to tell them is this:
You’re not going to be very good at it.
I think that everyone understands parenting is hard. But the dificult thing to internalize (especially maybe for the type-A, hardworking women I know) is that parenting will make you feel inept. Parenting will break you and reveal your weaknesses and expect you to perform in situations where you would quit any other type of work.
Of course it’s rewarding and totally worth it and you will love that little baby with every ounce of emotion you have. But sometimes, when you’re at your breaking point and you’ve tried everything from feeding to changing to passing a credit card over the baby’s face and offering to max out your credit limit on whatever would please him (oh, just me on that one?), you just have to take a breath and realize that sometimes it doesn’t matter what you do. The baby’s going to cry and be upset and not listen to reason. For one simple reason:
It’s a baby.