By Jennifer A. Rodgers
When you become a new mom that first year is filled with hard and fast lessons of how to care for your baby, how you respond in times of stress, and how incredible and amazing your little one is! Many of us are simply unaware of how different life is with a baby because it’s often not how we expected to be. Commercials and pictures with beautiful sleeping babies lead us to believe that it will be that peaceful and easy. The reality of our hungry, upset, or un-sleeping babies tell us differently!
Here are three things that I didn’t expect with my first baby, and that I wish I knew. Hopefully, these insights will help all of those new moms out there who are feeling a little shocked by this new and wonderful life change.
1) A new level of exhaustion – Many of us have experienced nights with a few hours sleep due to school or work or just having too much fun, and it was a bit painful, but we made it up and recovered. That is nothing compared to night after night of little sleep and constant exhaustion. You just do not feel like yourself when your body and your brain is lacking the necessary recovery time it needs from sleep; and not just one hour of sleep, I mean the uninterrupted time of continuous sleep when your brain actually goes through all sleep stages multiple times and you feel truly rested. These feelings caused by sleep deprivation can be excruciating and like nothing you experienced before. I was certainly not ready for this new reality and it was difficult to accept. There is not much that we can do to prepare for how much or how little our babies will sleep, but knowing that it is hard and temporary (your baby will sleep more as he grows) can be reassuring. We all get through this exhausting time of infancy.
2) That my marriage would change – Another aspect of motherhood that I did not want to face initially was that having babies will change a marriage. I liked my marriage and my spouse as they were; I did not want anything to change that. We were happy and we wanted to stay that way. But, the reality is that any big and permanent change in a relationship will affect it, at least in the beginning, until those ripples of change can settle and the people in the relationship adapt. (Change, good or bad, creates stress; and stress affects any relationship.) In this case, you and your partner created a life, literally, a living human being. Without the two of you, that new little human would not exist. You are both responsible for that, which is somewhat scary, but amazing too. After working out the kinks and discussing our ideas and values of parenting, our marriage got and continues to be stronger, but the first year was hard. Our beautiful baby caused a disruption in our lives and we had to work together to realize that we were in this together, for our baby and for us.
3) That I would need support – We’ve all heard the saying that it takes a village to raise a child, and as our kids grow we can see how true that is. Unfortunately, here in the U.S. we often are on own raising our babies unless we have legions of family members nearby, and many of us don’t. I discovered the hard way that doing it all on my own was hard on me, my baby, and my spouse. Accepting that I needed help and seeing those benefits was a hard and valuable lesson. A new moms’ support group was my biggest outlet. Initially, when I saw the flyer in the packet from the hospital I thought, “Well, that’s nice for some new moms, but I think I’ll be fine.” Boy, was I wrong! After battling exhaustion, postpartum hormones, depression and anxiety, as well as doubting myself and my abilities to be a mother, all the while wondering if our lives would ever be “normal” again, a weekly support group was a tremendous help to me. Connecting with others helps to relieve the overwhelming weight of these new responsibilities and why support is so important; however, it does not have to come solely from a support group. Local family or friends can be helpful; neighbors, coworkers, or people in your church (if you attend one) can also be a source of support. Don’t be afraid to ask. Most people want to help, but don’t want to be intrusive. And almost everyone loves holding a new baby, even if it’s for a half hour while you run to the store (baby-free!).
Being a new mom is a very hard job! However, it’s also so commonplace in our society that people don’t often recognize how difficult it truly is. Give yourself a break, let go of all of those expectations, re-connect with your partner, and ask someone for help; you’ll be surprised how these little things add up to making this transition with your baby easy and more enjoyable. It’s hard to believe that they will be walking, talking, little people with their own minds and opinions, but it happens faster than any of us expect. Give your baby a hug and yourself a rest, you both deserve it!
Jennifer Rodgers is a full-time mom and part-time writer who lives in the Sierra foothills with her husband, two children, and too many animals to count. In her spare time she can be found reading, knitting, or hiking with the dogs.