“I will look after you and I will look after anybody you say needs to be looked after, any way you say. I am here. I brought my whole self to you. I am your mother.”
―Maya Angelou, Mom & Me & Mom
If I could give one gift to myself, it would be to go back in time and give myself this letter when I was a brand new mom. When the ruthless cramping wouldn’t quit, when nursing was searing pain and hopeless tears, and exhaustion felt like a wet blanket over my whole body. I loved my baby but I felt pain, frustration, and overwhelm at not “getting it” right off the bat. My biggest regret is being so hard on myself and not asking for help. I hope this letter helps other new moms treat themselves gently.
Dear New Mom,
I really don’t know what to say.
First, Congratulations! I’m so happy for you. Your baby (or babies) are beautiful!
How are you doing? No, how are you really doing?
You may be feeling blissful, beautiful, and whole. Or you may feel like an evil swamp monster nursing tender nether regions and dashed expectations with no end in sight. Or maybe you’re flip-flopping between the two. Wherever or however you find yourself in this brave new world of caring for yourself and a newborn, know that other moms see you.
We see you. We know you. Everything you feel right now has been felt before, even by millions of women since the beginning of time. Birth is a hum that never ceases.
If there was ever advice that an experienced mom could share universally, it would be to treat yourself gently.
Pull a bubble around this new family you’ve created and allow yourself to move slowly, quietly, and gratefully. Let your rawness and vulnerability be and surrender to the support, love, and help of the people you trust. Let others help you.
If you’re blissfully happy, show it. If you’re tired, mad, uncomfortable, annoyed, show that too. Allow yourself to feel your feelings, whatever they are. Birth and a new baby has a way of unearthing buried feelings. If you can, jot them down or voice record them on your phone. But don’t push yourself. Just acknowledge them, and let them be. Now is not the time for solving problems.
It’s annoying to hear but just as everyone says, try to sleep when the baby’s sleeping. Sleep is the antidote to…a lot when you’ve just had a baby.
Unless you don’t want to. Unless you want to stare at her perfect eyebrows, touch her round cheeks, and hold her hand. Do whatever you want to savor every little second with your newborn baby. It goes so fast.
If feelings of loneliness or hopelessness creep up, or you realize you haven’t felt anything for days (or weeks or months), say something. And keep saying something until somebody listens. Talk through it with someone you love, ask someone to care for the baby so you can sleep, go for a walk by yourself, take a long hot shower. Request they make a call to a therapist or psychiatrist for you. Explore medication possibilities. Becoming a mom is challenging. But anxiety and/or depression–whether it manifests as anger, listlessness, hollowness, fear, disturbing thoughts–is not a rite of passage. It’s a sickness and every woman deserves help and hope.
Hold your baby. Smell that delicious newborn smell. Your body did something incredible. Or if you’re adopting or have a surrogate, a woman’s body performed this incredible feat to bring new life into the world. It is a gift. It is a miracle. Don’t forget you are an integral part of that and you always will be.
You and your baby are learning. You’re a team, slowly coming to understand each other’s rhythms and likes and dislikes. Don’t ever feel stupid for asking a question to someone more experienced or a professional. Don’t ever feel silly for trusting your gut. You’re this baby’s mom and they’re counting on you to stand up for them and ask the “silly” question.
You’re doing a great job. You’ve totally got this. And if you feel like you don’t, reach out. Because a million other women have been there and have felt those feelings of total overwhelm and confusion and exhaustion and are happy to commiserate. And then offer loving tips and helpful resources.
And, congratulations, again. What a beautiful baby.