For a new mom, that moment you realize that this tiny human is your responsibility can be overwhelming and downright terrifying, but even harder than learning to care for your new baby is learning to care for yourself.
This is a lesson that I’ve been learning for the past six weeks. Our son – Darrol Henry (DH) – was born on March 9th, and it’s been an adventure ever since coming home from the hospital.
Because of some complications with my birth, we are bottle-feeding Darrol, and letting go of breastfeeding was very difficult for me emotionally. I’d read so much about the benefits of breastfeeding, and discovering that it wasn’t going to work for us was one of the first moments of motherhood where I had to come to terms with the difference between my ideal image of motherhood – and what folks say is best for my baby – and what I was able to actually do.
When you’re caring for a wiggling, cooing newborn, your instinct is to pour all of your energy into this tiny creature. You want to get everything right, and you are terrified that you’ll scar him for life if you screw something up. During late night feedings and pretty much all day long, I was reading articles about child development and what was best for DH. You find so many tips and so much advice, and often it conflicts. But it doesn’t end there. Our health insurance has a nurse hotline for new moms, and they call you periodically to check in and give advice. The pediatrician also has advice on things from feeding schedules to bedtimes to co-sleeping (or not). Strangers will approach you with advice on the street, and, of course well-meaning friends and family have ideas for you, too.
These people aren’t necessarily judging you. Often, they just want to share tips that have worked for them and help make your life easier. The key is to take those tips as just what they are: suggestions.
I was driving myself crazy trying to make every moment of Darrol’s life perfect, to the detriment of my own mental health. When he was awake during the day, I would put off everything – eating, drinking, even using the bathroom – so I’d be available for him. At night, my husband and I would spend hours comforting him in his bassinet, because our doctor told us that we don’t want him in the habit of sleeping in the bed. When we did break down and bring him into our bed – which would give us 3-4 hours of precious sleep in a row – I’d feel guilty.
The thing about being a new mom is that everyone has a lot of advice for you, and it is impossible to follow all of it without losing your mind. At 3am.
Finding Balance as a New Mom
What I’m slowly discovering is that as long as your baby is healthy and you’re giving him plenty of love, chances are trusting your gut is what’s best for everyone. Your baby is better off if you’re less sleep-deprived and not feeling stressed out. And that means finding some balance in new motherhood.
That might mean getting your partner or a friend to watch your child for a few hours so you can take a nap. It also means putting that babe down for a few minutes so you can eat, drink, and use the bathroom. And it means sometimes going against some of the well-intended advice that’s coming at you from all sides.
It’s called self care, and it’s something I was good about before we had a baby and something I’m having to re-learn with DH in my life. If you’re not familiar with self care, it’s the idea that you need to take some time each day for your own mental health. What works is different for everyone. For me, finding the time to cook, write, or go for a walk make a big difference in my happiness. For you it could be getting a mani-pedi or having a friend over for tea. It doesn’t have to be time-consuming, it just has to be something you enjoy.
This clip from Twin Peaks really epitomizes what self care is all about for me:
For a new mom, part of self care is not taking all of that advice you’re getting to heart. Nothing with babies is 100% effective all of the time, and you have to do what works for you. For every article about the problems with pacifiers, for example, there’s an article about how great they are. For every doctor telling you not to let the baby sleep in the bed with you, there are doctors saying it helps form strong attachments for later in their lives. None of those doctors, experts, or other moms are there at 3am when your child is screaming. At 3am, you have to do what keeps you sane, because if momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.
I’d love to hear from other moms out there! How do you balance your own happiness with caring for your child? Let’s talk self care in the comments!