They say that change is inevitable. But let’s face it, change is hard. Change is uncomfortable because it often leaves us in unfamiliar territory and with a feeling of not knowing what we are doing. This is an understatement when it comes to having your first baby. The transition to motherhood, and I’ll argue fatherhood too, is something that (and I think most would agree) you can’t really understand until you have experienced it for yourself. Sure you can go to childbirth classes, you can take a class on newborn care and even one on breastfeeding. All of these things you think will prepare you for the task of becoming a parent but in reality, its mostly just trial and error or really trial by fire. You go from one minute being this glowing pregnant woman whom people shower attention over, to a mother who is often overlooked in favor of her small child. It’s a sharp contrast. Many women with whom I have spoken, myself included, say that even minutes after giving birth, you can no longer remember the feeling of having that small life inside of you. Aside from having an extra 30 or so pounds to lose, it’s as though it never happened. Except for the fact that you are now responsible for taking care of this new life.
This is great, right? This is what you wanted (assuming you became pregnant through planning and choice). Immediately following the birth of your baby, there is an unbelievable sense of euphoria. It’s all you can do to keep from staring at this person you have waited so long to meet. Even though you really should take this time when you are in the hospital with a fully staffed nursery to get some sleep, closing your eyes and shutting down your brain is nearly impossible. It really is hard to conceptualize that one minute this small person was inside you and now he or she is out and here to stay. I think this sense of disbelief continued for several months after the birth of my first child. My husband and I would look at her and then at each other and ask, “where did she come from?” Because even though you have been planning this for the last 9 months (or maybe longer if you have been dreaming of having a baby for quite some time), when it actually happens, its kind of hard to wrap your brain around.
It’s a HUGE adjustment. Every day things that we once took for granted such as sleeping, showering, going to the bathroom, making a meal, grocery shopping, the list goes on…now have to be prioritized. Let’s see..I have a couple of minutes until he wakes up and I will be spending the next hour or more feeding, changing, and soothing him. I now need to choose from one of those activities of daily living that I want to try to accomplish. Good luck. The simple task of leaving the house can seem overwhelming and sometimes impossible.
Some of the highly productive and professional moms who participated in one of my new moms groups said that they had all sorts of lists of things they figured they would be able to accomplish while on maternity leave. They all thought, “with three months off of work and only one small baby to take care of, think of how much I can get done.” Needless to say, they were all amazed at how little of that list was crossed off at the end of three months.
All of this is to say while the actual act of becoming a mother happens the minute you give birth, the process of becoming a mom, learning all there is to know about your baby, figuring out what kind of parent you want to be and how to achieve a balance between your role as a mother and your own identity, takes time. It also takes help. You do not have to navigate this transition alone. All too often, I find that new moms go “radio-silent” following the birth of a baby. Please ask for help. Whether it is from your own mother, a sister, a hired babysitter, a postpartum doula (which is an excellent support but that is a conversation for another time), or a friend. And once you have mastered the task of leaving the house with your newborn, finding other new moms who share your experience can ease this transition tremendously. These may be women you meet at the park, at a mom and baby fitness class, at an organized new moms group or even just moms you start chatting with walking down the street with their strollers. You’ll find these women will be one of the most valuable resources you posses as a mother.