Just for new moms

Confession: Nowadays, my biggest mothering challenge seems to be saying “What?” so many times.

“Hey Mom.”

“What?”

“Guess what?”

“What?”

“Do you know what happened today?”

“What?”

“Um… I forget what I was saying.”

WHAT??!?!

Okay, there might be a few bigger challenges, like sibling rivalries, preadolescent attitudes, and foster bye-byes. But my point is that it’s gotten smoother.

It’s easy to forget my earliest days of mothering, when being responsible for the health and happiness of a small person 24/7 was oh, so daunting. Probably every woman makes the transition to motherhood differently. For some, those first baby days are sweet and simple, everything they’d hoped for and more. For others, they bring a serious reality check.

The work never ends.

He won’t stop crying.

Will I ever have time to take care of myself again?

She’s such a good baby, but I just feel overwhelmed all the time.

If this is you, take heart. You’re not alone.

newborn feet

After my first child was born, and I was dealing with post-partum depression I didn’t recognize, I couldn’t hear of someone else’s pregnancy news without thinking “Oh honey, I’m sorry. You have no idea what you are getting into.” I worried all the time, listening for his crying, stressed out that I’d do something wrong. I felt like I had become a different person—my body and moods unfamiliar, my old routines shattered.

I remember the first time I left my son for half an hour with Grandma. Though I was desperate for a break, I felt a chain tied between my baby and I, tugging unbearably every moment I was gone, and I thought I’d never be free again.

Though my first child was by far my easiest baby in temperament, I fought months of exhaustion and discouragement. It wasn’t so much the work as the responsibility. This small person would be utterly dependent on me for an awfully long time. There was no mom to call on but me. At any hour of the day or night, he might need me and I would be on duty. Some women thrive on that sweet dependence and connection, but for me, the first time around spelled claustrophobia and fear.

I felt small and inexperienced. I thought all moms were selfless, and tireless, and above all knew what to do. I was just me, trying to wing it. Living in a new community without extended family, just beginning to form friendships, I felt so isolated and unprotected. Who would guide me? Who would take care of me?

If this is you, take heart. You’re not alone, and it gets better, I promise.

newborn crying

Though I now mother four children, and regularly conquer task lists that would once have looked superhuman to me, I’d personally take this stage any day over that first one. It was hard!—and new moms are brave!—and I never had to go through it again. My others babies didn’t come close to packing the overwhelming responsibility of the first. I’d deal with a couple weeks of emotional drama post-partum, and then things would level off. I can do this. I remember how. It’s going to be okay.

{If by any chance you are pregnant with your first baby, this is not the time for you to start freaking out. You will surely be one of the moms who finds those newborn days simply sweet! And there’s this…}

The thing about mothering is, you have to learn as you go.

You can read the best books, be loved by the best husband, line up the most support, and in the end, it’s still you who has to show up and make this thing happen. But you have Jesus. He won’t leave you. You’ve never done this before, and that’s okay. You won’t do it perfectly, and that’s okay. Babies are more resilient than you think, and although there’s a lot you can learn, there isn’t one right way to do it.

You are in a role that nothing but the role quite prepares you for. And you’ll get better at it.

You don’t have to love every minute. You don’t have to feel that all your dreams came true and your baby is a squishable shnookums you can’t stop holding. You just have to show up. Ask for help. Talk to your husband/ your doctor/ a few friends about what you’re feeling. And show up.

“When do you start liking it?” a young mother asked me lately. She wasn’t talking about mothering so much as housework, endless dishes and laundry in a lonely house when she’s a woman who loves people and getting out.

“You don’t have to like it,” I said firmly. (The “loving every minute” jazz puts way too much pressure on the rest of us.) “You don’t have to like it. You just have to do it.”

Whoa, I thought. What kind of advice is coming out of my mouth?!?

“And pretty soon, you’ll be good at it.

kissing a newborn

Pretty soon, you’ll find that the bewildering blur of diapers and nursing pads and sleep schedules has settled into quite a workable system, and you’ll be whirring in the hub of it, doing what you’re good at.

There is a lot of joy there.

*****

All photos in this post were taken by my friend Shaunda Stoltzfus when my daughter Kelly was two weeks old. You’d never know it, but five of our older kids were tearing around and climbing all. over. us. during this photoshoot.

28 thoughts on “Just for new moms

  1. You don’t have to like it, you just have to do it. Oh so true. No options. No choices. No meditating on whether I like what I do or not. It’s gotta be done and so we do it. Some days more cheerfully than others and some days more enthusiasm and energy than other days. But. We. Do. It.

  2. Amen, and amen! Those weeks of emotional upheaval are no joke. Add into what you described frustrations of nursing and a baby that’s stomach is not getting filled and there is the perfect setup for a new mom feeling like she just. can’t. do. it. Especially when ALL the other moms have plenty for their baby and their child grows by leaps and bounds while hers stays scrawny. When she finally breaks out the bottles and formula cans, it’s the final stamp of defeat. Our first child was born 4 months after we moved away from family, into a new community where we knew no one closely. The memory of those mental clouds are still vivid seven years later. I just knew I’d NEVER do it again, we’d be a one child family. Well, we have three now, and yes, it gets easier, but I’d still rather go through delivery than the first three months of caring for a newborn. I cringe to say that because I really do love my babies and would not want to miss that first stage, but it is intense!! I can enjoy them much more when they’re a couple months old. Thanks, Shari. You’ve put into words so many of my thoughts and fears!

  3. This is good…really good!! But I must say, I LOVED the first 3 months…with all 7 of mine! It’s true tho, the first was the hardest.
    .So much to learn, so much to adjust to, so much to give up.

  4. Here’s my standard advice to any new mom: go with your instinct. God gave it to you. Unless you are obsessing. Then–listen to your husband! It was my 5th baby’s “fourth trimester” that taught me many lessons.

  5. “You don’t have to like it, you just have to do it.” Yes!! When I heard and read those statements of “I love every minute of it!” I wondered, “Are you lying to me or am I weird?” I have come to realize, we’re all different and there is a chance they just might love every minute of it, even if I don’t. With that came the realization that, “It’s ok if I don’t. My kids and I will live through it.” (hopefully)

  6. Thanks for the excellent read. I agree, that first baby was the bigger hurdle (that she didn’t sleep through the night till 18 months sure didn’t help; oh, and insert a move at 4 weeks just for fun). I thought baby #2 would be just like it all over again but what a relief: I’ve done this before! I know today isn’t my whole life!*

    The newborn stage is an odd mix for me. I love the newborn scent and the initial bond that I was afraid I’d have to invent. And then I look back and think, wow, how did I survive all that intensity?

    What great words about the role itself being the preparation and just having to show up and do it. I’ve learned I can survive more than I thought I could, that there’s more resilience in my nature than I knew before, and that those lessons are transmittable to other parts of my life.

    (*General optimism in this comment may be due in part to good sleep, good coffee, and warm weather.)

  7. I know this is not a “normal” scenario, but I waited 7 years for my little shnookums, who is now 2 1/2 months old. Trust me, I love every minute of it. The total miracle, the amazement, wonder, awe…I can’t get finished holding her and looking at her and kissing her.

    It now takes me all week to get done what used to be accomplished by lunchtime on Monday. 🙂 Who cares? not me. It is simply glorious to have something besides housework and career to attend to.

    Our church’s Mother Daughter Banquet is in two weeks, and I get to take my beautiful little daughter. Probably only a few people out there realize the magnitude of that statement.

    Sorry, I know I’m rhapsodizing here, but the totally amazingness of motherhood is what is overwhelming this new mom, with joy and deep deep gratitude. 🙂

    • 🙂

      I believe you. And I rejoice with you in God’s exquisite gift!

      You know, it’s really good for us ladies to hear from each other on this. My point is not that glowing feelings are unreal, but simply that they are not a requirement for being a “real mom” or a “good mom.” A woman who feels overwhelmed can easily feel guilty by comparison–Is something wrong with me if I’m not ecstatic?

      I know moms like you. We need more like you to encourage us, and we all need to listen to stories unlike our own, loving gently where we do not identify personally. Thanks so much for sharing. I wish you joy and more joy!

      • Dorcas, I also waited years and years for my first baby. And though pregnancy had it’s difficulties and the first months were a sleepless blur and my baby didn’t sleep through the night for ages, I’m still lost in the wonder of this child. She is SO BUSY, constantly needs things to do, says “mommymommymommy” all day long, and I just didn’t know I’d feel such incredible love for her. Just watching her play makes me a blithering pile of grateful, teary mush. I didn’t know that after 18 months I’d still never get tired of holding her while she sleeps. That’s the part nobody told me–that it could be so good.

        Shari, you’re right–you get through the hard times by just doing it, day after day, feeding after feeding, diaper after diaper. Because generally you do have the know-how and the physical ability and the mental strength to do just this next thing.

        And I’m beginning to think maybe most moms feel like they’re winging it, even the ones with lots of experience.

  8. I don’t know I have 5 and feel like I still have no idea what I am doing some…many days. 😉 Granted now it’s not so much not knowing how to do it, as much as how to do it all. Feel alone in that sometimes. Those first few weeks are incredibly special and incredibly hard altogether. I’m thinking much of motherhood is that way. Best thing to do is to embrace both, and realize you will never get it perfectly right. But than neither did my parents and yet I still think they are the best parents ever!

    • Well said!

      About the time I feel like I know the newborn stage, what I have to work with is potty training… or lying… or preadolescence… Or I get a newborn who responds totally different than my first ones. Right?? Maybe it’s one way God keeps us humble, on our toes, and teachable. Hugs!

  9. Well, I am one of those women that LOVES being a mommy and homemaker; no one is more surprised that I am:) I simply wasn’t the ‘type’. this excellent article helps me understand how some of my friends feel!

  10. “Just show up”. I like that advice a whole lot. Today, my showing up meant walking 1/4 mile into a small village on our second day in the DR, with three spanish words on my tongue (pan, leche, and huevo) in order to buy food for our family. It was exhilarating and exhausting – both. Your article makes me feel like Piglet – working very, very hard to be brave 🙂 Thank you, Shari! Your words to young moms are right on the money.

  11. You don’t have to like it–all the housey stuff?

    Because I don’t. I don’t like it. I don’t. I don’t. I like lots of other things. Most “other” things, but not that.

    How do ladies who don’t like housework survive when they have several children in a culture where they spend most of their time in the home? Just have a messy house so they can stay sane and read a book or go on a hike every once in a while?

    • Wow. Did you really admit that out loud??

      Just kidding. Kudos for the courage! You’re not alone either.

      I don’t know how other ladies do it. But I’m guessing there’s a whole pack of them waiting to buy your book once you get it figured out…

      I have three suggestions for you, for whatever they’re worth. 1) Train your kids to help–they’ll take over household chores before you know it. 2) Don’t stress–keep your home livable, hospitable, and low-maintenance, but don’t force yourself to be a cookie cutter person with a Better Homes and Gardens showroom. There is space for you in this culture, and you can help shake up the rest of us. 3) Distract yourself–listen to audio books while cleaning, play happy music during supper prep, promise yourself an outdoor ramble after the laundry is folded.

      I don’t know. Does that help?

  12. This post is so full of truth! My first one was definitely the hardest for me, it doesn’t help when they have their days and nights mixed up, but there are definitely days that you “feeling the love” is hard 🙂 Love your honesty!

  13. Thanks for these words of encouragement.

    As a new mom-to-be I sometimes already feel overwhelmed trying to prepare for this child. How many clothes do I need? Diapers? What about carseats and strollers and swingsandbreastpumpsandbottlesandcribsandsheetsandblankets HELP. Are we going to be terrible parents who don’t have enough ________ for our baby? Thankfully Jesus has provided my wise mom in law who loves shopping at garage sales with me and graciously advises me on what to buy. She is a gift.

    I am excited to meet this little person God placed in our family, but I know it will bring changes, and it’s encouraging to know so many have survived and/or thrived before me.

    • I totally know what you mean about the preparations!

      If you’re anything like me, you’ll think you need more than you really do. And your kiddo won’t be scarred for life if you miss something—he’ll just become resourceful. 🙂 You’ll be a wonderful mom, Beka. I know it!

  14. Good stuff here, Shari.

    I totally agree about the responsibility being more overwhelming than the actual work of caring for a child.

    I’ve been all over the spectrum and around the circle 100 times in the love/hate relationship with being a mom. I feel it settling deeper into my soul with each passing year and I am glad.

  15. I feel sad to think of your rough adjustments into motherhood and that I lived next door and didn’t know how to be a good friend to you during that time.

    I guess I’m still making up for that…. 🙂 🙂 It will take another 60 years, eh? 🙂

    This post is encouraging me to think of ways to reach out to the new moms around me today.

    • I feel sad about that too, but not because you or anyone else should have been a better friend. There were far more resources available to me than I knew. This chick had No. Clue. how to ask for help or admit deep fears. If looking back helps you reach out to others, awesome… But thanks for hanging in there with me, always.

      If I were going through this NOW I’d be calling you every other HOUR and sobbing on your shoulder. 🙂

  16. This post rings so true–the joys & adjustments of motherhood. Oh, that first time was rough…intense, 24/7 duty, responsibiity, etc. Yes, we will all “do” motherhood & homemaking differently and that’s okay & good. I found freedom when I realized this. We can learn from each other. Thanks for such a realistic, all-around view of our different experiences.

  17. I have to concur a bit with Dorcas M. My second daughter is almost 8 weeks old; our first daughter is with Jesus. I have definitely been treasuring being a mom. My biggest guilt feelings probably lie in the fact that I do get frustrated and upset at times and then my husband takes over and I feel like a rotten mom because I am not just google-eyed over this amazing child and all her crying and not wanting to sleep when I want her to. She is a good baby and I feel incredibly blessed. Two things that have probably made this transition easier for me than I anticipated is: being on “house arrest” for a few months with this pregnancy, so now I can feel like I get tons done in a day when really it probably is still pittance in comparison to before baby 🙂 and still holding a very part-time job that gets me out of the house and with people.

  18. Well said and very true. When my first was born, I thought there was something wrong with me because I didn’t love every minute. I mistakenly believed becoming a Mom would mean an automatic love of of dishes, laundry, cleaning, and organizational skills I had never before possessed would be mine.
    *un-lady like snort*
    Fast forward four years and I STILL don’t like any of that and I am no better organized, but I DO love my daughter and I show up everyday to take care of her. My meals may not be gourmet and my house sure doesn’t look like a Better Homes and Gardens; however, my daughter is healthy, happy, and learning to know, love and serve our Lord and Savior Jesus.

  19. As a brand new mom, with twins, I NEEDED this! Thanks for listening to the prompting of The Spirit in your writing, because I’m just sure this post was divinely inspired. 🙂 And I hope I can recall these words during those late night/ early morning hours when it takes all my willpower to crawl out of bed… again.

  20. YES!

    I loved this.

    Now, if ladies could actually just TALK about this… in Sunday School, at church, in ladies group, in REAL life.

    Then we’d really hit it.

    Sigh.

    Becoming a mom was my dream-come-true and my worst nightmare. And the part that FREAKED me out the most was that I was the one who cried for a baby and wrestled with God about my infertility….and then four years and He gives us the good gift of Leo and I thought I was going to die.

    And I had no idea on this earth, under this heaven, how to talk about it.

    So now…now that I am almost 2 years into being a mom and I am learning more and more how to embrace the beauty-FULL-ness of my life…I want to TALK to every mom of a newborn and say, “How are you REALLY doing?”

    I don’t blame other people for my lack of asking for help/encouragement/sanity (ha ha), but I do look back and think: “Why are we so silent about this normal struggle?” or “Why are we so cliché about motherhood?” (At least we talk that way.)

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