I’ve been a human mom for 11 weeks now. I texted Brian this morning: “I don’t think it’s sunk in yet that I’m a mom.”
People said it would sink in when we got the crib. Then when I had my baby shower. Again when we did the hospital tour. Others said it would sink in when my water broke, when we drove to the hospital, or when my baby was placed on my chest for the first time. Some people said the reality would hit me two days after we got home from the hospital.
But here I am. Here we are, all four of us. Eleven weeks as a family of four, and nope! It still has not sunk in that the cute little potato who sleeps next to me at night is, in fact, my daughter. I take care of her. I love her. I am obsessed with her. But I don’t think I can comprehend the fact that I’m her mother. It’s so weird. That I am to her what my mom is to me.
The past 11 weeks have been everything. Amazing. Exhausting. Wild. Crazy. Fun. Horrible. Wonderful. Stressful. Sleepless. Sleepy. Painful. Exciting. Magical. Hilarious. Messy. Hectic. Pajamas. Spit-up. Diapers. Boobs.
All those phrases people have said to me that never made any sense now make sense. That motherhood is so hard, but so worth it. That it’s exhausting, but so rewarding. That the sleep deprivation may kill you, but won’t.
If nothing else, for 11 weeks, we have all survived. It’s been really hard for me at times. It’s been helpful for me to share that.
As I near the end of the “fourth trimester,” I feel like I should have it all figured out. (Seasoned moms are laughing right now, I’m sure.) I know I’ll never have it all figured out. I’ve found myself consumed — obsessively consumed — by a few things over the past 11 weeks. It’s almost like postpartum nesting, but more intense.
First it was breastfeeding. Fail.
Then it was pumping. Stressful.
After that, it was sleep and schedules. I went all-in reading everything I could find and talking to everyone I know about sleep schedules, theories, bedtimes, and wake times. Eat, awake, nap, repeat times. You know what’s more exhausting than not sleeping? Thinking about not sleeping!
When you’re a new mom, I’ve found, people — from relatives and friends to strangers on the next treadmill at Orangetheory — ask two questions.
- Are you breastfeeding?
- Is your baby sleeping through the night?
The number of total strangers who have asked me if I am breastfeeding is crazy. I know people are well-intentioned, generally. That asking seemingly innocuous questions like these is the non-baby equivalent of asking about the weather.
But as a new mom whose answer to both questions is “no” and “not really,” it was so frustrating, so defeating.
My friend Michele (you know her!) helped me out of the trenches with one very simple statement: “Whether or not your baby sleeps at night is not an indication of whether or not you’re a good mom.” It was such a lightbulb for me. A really bright, wonderful, day-starting lightbulb. My baby is a baby! And the thing is, she’s not even a bad sleeper! But thoughts of sleep have consumed my past six weeks (the first five, I don’t remember, TBH). So when I was struggling to get through my day, bleary-eyed and delirious, and the cashier at Acme smiled at my super cute baby and then asked, “Is she sleeping through the night?” I felt like a total failure.
And when the nice woman — the one I saw nearly every day of my pregnancy but who never spoke to me — suddenly had an interest in whether or not I was breastfeeding, I again felt like a failure. As if the way I chose to feed my baby, and the way a stranger may or may not judge or question that, was suddenly a measure of my success as a mom.
I wanted to breastfeed. I always assumed I would. I didn’t expect it to be “easy,” but I also didn’t understand it or know what it entailed.
Want me to be super honest? Before I tried it myself, I didn’t really understand how milk even came out of the boob. Was there a little hole in the nipple I didn’t know about? Did it come out in one big stream, like a water fountain? I felt like that was something all women instinctually know, and I didn’t, and that made me feel stupid.
And then, when Annie and I tried to make breastfeeding happen as a team, it didn’t work. We kept trying. I spent hundreds of dollars on home visits from lactation consultants. I got Annie checked for tongue ties (nope) and lip ties (also nope). I cried. She cried. I bled. I ached. I finally took a break to pump milk for her, and that turned into me “exclusively pumping.”
So yes, Annie drinks breastmilk. Cool. I don’t really care what she drinks as long as she is happy and healthy! She will get breastmilk for a while. Turns out, I have an oversupply. A full freezer. And a second freezer. Annie will get to drink breast milk for the first six months of her life, and maybe more after that. I don’t have a goal. I’m not insistent on making her get my breastmilk up to a certain date. I had to leave the “Exclusive Pumping” group on Facebook because while it was initially helpful, it was making me insane. So was the “Badass Breastfeeders of New Jersey” group. Power to all those women and what they do, but it all felt so intense to me.
It’s so easy to overthink everything as a (kinda crazy, IDK) new parent. Everything has felt urgent to me. Annie’s cries make me sad, even when I know she’s OK and that’s just how babies communicate. I just want to do right by her. I want her to love her life.
On the sleep front: Oh I lost so much more sleep just thinking about sleep!
Annie has never been a bad sleeper. She isn’t colicky, she doesn’t have reflux, and she seems to appreciate a good snooze, just like her dad.
For the first six weeks, I think I was running on adrenaline. I had no problem with the broken sleep, the middle-of-the-night feedings. It was exciting. We were learning about each other! All the time! At 3 AM, and sometimes again at 4 AM! It was totally fine.
Then the adrenaline wore off. And the holidays came. And I got so many clogged ducts in my boobs that may have been more painful than childbirth. I was exhausted. So I consumed myself with research about sleep. It was all I could think about. I wanted to solve this “problem.”
But Annie isn’t a problem. (OMG it makes me so sad to even write that!) She’s a baby. So I unfollowed the Instagram accounts where people talk about how much their baby slept the night before. I get it! Be excited! That’s awesome…for you! But when babies younger than Annie are sleeping more, are on locked-down schedules, or are getting 12 hours a night already — that doesn’t make me feel good. So. Unfollow. At least for now. I can’t do my thing if I’m constantly looking at everyone else’s.
I’m learning to manage my expectations. To throw away this idea of my old life, and to create a new normal. To let that look however it looks. To let it change constantly. To give into it all and focus on all the good, because there is so much good.
In hindsight, yes, I should’ve given myself more grace. I should’ve given myself some kind of maternity leave so I wasn’t trying to “do it all” from day one. I can’t change the past 11 weeks, and I wouldn’t want to.
A week or two ago, I called my mom crying. I was in the midst of some breakdown or another, and I called her and just lost it. (I am the worst.) We talked the next day, and she mentioned that she hadn’t slept well the night before. I asked why, and she admitted that she had been up all night worrying — about me.
I felt bad, of course, but also realized that, as a mom, I will never stop worrying about my baby. I’m 33 and my mom still worries about me! So the worrying isn’t going to stop. The striving to be “the best” or whatever isn’t going to stop. I’ll always wonder if I’m good enough. If Annie is happy enough. If we’re all healthy enough.
My mothering instincts may not be super strong, but my love for Annie is. I’ve questioned myself so much in the past 11 weeks, and I know that’s not stopping anytime soon. But the most helpful thing I can do is just look at Annie.
I look at her and I see the brightest light. People said she wouldn’t smile right away. That it was “just gas.” But I knew they were wrong. Annie smiled the day I met her. They said she wouldn’t laugh “for a while,” but she laughed. She communicates with me. She smiles at me. And I know that even though that pile of laundry (it’s clean, I swear!) has been in the bedroom corner and not put away for 11 weeks now, or that my thank you notes are still unwritten and unsent, and that my work life is kinda not great at the moment, that Annie is so happy.
She does love her life. And I will live the rest of my life doing whatever I can, however messy that may look sometimes, to keep that smile on her face.
OK I FEEL LIKE A MOM NOW. THANK YOU.
(No but really, thank you. The support I have received from my internet family over the past 11 weeks has been unwavering and life saving. I am so deeply grateful, and I hope that someday I’m able to give back in some way. Not with a thank you note, because I suck at those. But somehow.)
Oh and Mom. I know you’re reading this. Please stop worrying about me. I’m fine. Annie’s fine. Ellie’s fine. We’re all fine. Because of you.