So, you’re a mom now
Becoming a new mom is a courageous and vulnerable act. Whether you’re a new mom for the first time, or you’re adding to your family, you have some unique and often unacknowledged challenges and successes ahead of you. If you didn’t grow up with supportive parents or maybe you don’t have a supportive partner, you may be facing these challenges and successes in seeming isolation. You’re adding a new relationship into your life, and a new role on top of that! No one teaches you these things.
While there are plenty of “how to” books on motherhood, parenting, and raising children, there’s no “exact” recipe for becoming a good mom (or a “good enough” mom, which is a whole other story). So, what do you do? This is not an exhaustive list of “to do’s” or “checks” off the list, the following lessons of motherhood can be a great place to start on what will become a journey unique to you and your baby.
You are already enough, and you are already doing enough.
One of the most rampant fears of new mom’s seems to be this question of “enoughness.” Am I feeding my baby enough? Is my baby sleeping enough? Am I being nurturing enough? Is my baby healthy enough? Am I a good mom? What if I am not enough?
“A busy mother’s day produces millions of transformations. Dirty children become clean, hungry children fed, tired children rested. Almost every task a mother performs in the course of a normal day can be considered a transformation… Every day we fight against disorder, filth, starvation, and lawlessness, and some days we almost succeed.”― Tony Reinke, Mom Enough: The Fearless Mother's Heart and Hope
Being a mom takes everything you have, because you can’t help but love your children with all your heart and soul (but not always in the way you expect, more on that later). It’s no wonder that in the vulnerability of giving as mom’s, we innately question our worth and ability to succeed at our task. We are raising little humans, after all, what happens if we mess up?
This common line of questioning and doubting ourselves is seemingly well intentioned, we just want to make sure we’re doing our best. At the same time, sometimes doing our best—and the fear that we aren’t doing good enough—can become a counterproductive pressure of perfect performance. In raising little humans, we must ensure we show them what it’s really like to be human, and that means being messy, making mistakes, owning our flaws, and letting things go.
If you’re a new mom, take a long, deep breath. You are enough, and you are already doing enough, just by loving your kids, your family, and yourself.
If you don’t know what to do, just hold them.
While there’s no “catch all” drawer for motherhood, you can rest assured that there’s one act of motherhood that shows up again and again as an essential element of loving your baby well: skin to skin contact. You know those things called hormones? Yeah, the ones that made you feel like a crazy person during (and let’s be honest, after) your pregnancy? Well, those devilish hormones have a sweet side as well, one that helps you and your baby connect, feel safe, and develop a healthy sense of trust and bondedness.
These are all ingredients to developing what’s called Secure Attachment, and ultimately helping your baby develop a healthy sense of self-esteem, trust in relationships, and ability to regulate emotions and face hardship. The special sauce of this recipe is a little hormone called Oxytocin, fondly called by some the “cuddle hormone.”
Oxytocin is released anytime you have skin on skin contact with another human being in a secure and safe embrace. You can give your child skin to skin contact during breastfeeding (or bottle feeding), nap time, and general downtime in between tasks of the day. So, if you don’t know what to do for your baby, just hold them.
Of course there are times even that will not quite have the results you hope for and it may be an even better idea to put the child down and let him/her cry than to lose one's patience. Or to enlist someone else to hold the baby for a while if possible. Sometimes it’s better for the whole family if mama just has a moment to herself to take a shower, eat something or whatever it takes to get reset for those difficult times with baby!
The tears will come, and they may or may not mean something.
High on the list of things people might not tell you about being a new mom: there will be tears, and not just from the baby. It’s expected that newborns will cry. That’s one of the familiar channels of communication they rely on, and that cry alone is enough to make any new mom cry. It’s compelling not only because you love and want to care for your baby, but also a newborn’s cry has a profound effect on new mom’s brains. It’s a remarkable result of biological forces at play, but it can feel gut-wrenching and exhausting for new mom’s, and it’s important to prepare for the sheer amount of tears you yourself may be shedding the first few months of birth.
“Why, would I be crying?” you may be wondering, “ Won’t I be happy?” Actually, this may be part of the reason the tears flow so freely: it’s incredibly joyous and overwhelming just to hold your baby.
“The first time I looked into my son's eyes, I burst into tears. The first time I felt my son's skin on mine, I wanted to burst into tears. The first time I saw my son’s dad hold him, I burst into tears. Once, I cried because I realized that my precious son would one day experience pain and heartbreak, because that's life. Then I cried because I felt so lucky I got to experience motherhood. Get ready to ride the emotional roller express.”-Betsy Aimee Cardenas.
That “emotional roller express” shows up in other ways, too. The highs and joys are met with challenges and lows as well. Remember those hormones that impacted you during pregnancy? Well, they can continue to play a part in your postpartum journey and mood as well. After all, your hormones don’t just “snap back” into place, they take awhile to recalibrate and find that balance. As you experience these changes in hormones, it’s important to monitor yourself and your moods (or have a close friend or partner help track your moods).
If you are feeling weighed down or feel like you’re losing your joy and don’t know how to get it back, your “baby blues” may be a sign of postpartum depression, it’s ok to ask for the support you need. A professional counselor can help you walk through this season and provide some much needed support, as well as the tools to help you in dealing with postpartum depression and the “baby blues.”
New mom’s cry for a lot of different reasons. Maybe the tears come because of sheer joy, or lack thereof, or feeling physically exhausted, or feelings of loneliness, or feeling overwhelmed, or feeling frustrated by the tasks of motherhood.
More than that, new mom’s cry for no reason at all. Sometimes, just becoming a new parent awakens so many new emotions, that new mom’s may end up crying for “no reason” at all, or with no identifiable cause. It can be maddening to try and analyze “why” or “where” your tears are coming from, especially when you’re crying almost constantly. Sometimes, you don’t have to have a reason, and it’s ok to give yourself a break as you adapt to life as a new mom. After all, this is a momentous life change and new role your taking on.
Allow yourself to take it at your own pace and in your own style. Don’t be afraid to ask for the help and support you need from family, friends, partners, and yourself, and don’t be afraid to ask for a tissue. You’re already a great mom, and you’re allowed to give yourself a break and just go with it.
Are you feeling overwhelmed with being a new mom? Does the fear of failing as a mom keep you up at night? Feel like you’re not doing enough, or feeling exhausted at the task of motherhood? Women’s therapist, Diana, is here to help! To schedule your first appointment, click here.
Continue reading more in “New Mom, New Struggle Part Two:”
- There is such a thing called “mom guilt” and it is toxic to your confidence.
- Motherhood can be incredibly mundane, and you won’t necessarily “fall in love” with your baby in every moment.
- Self Care when your new role seems to demand self sacrifice.