Nothing can prepare you for how miraculous and wonderful (and sometimes confusing and exhausting) being a parent really is. Everyone gets to find their way as they get to know their own child, their partner and themselves. My daughter turned one this week, and I definitely do not have all the answers and am not an expert. Every time I think I figure something out, it changes. What I do have is one year of experience, many stained clothes, a heart full of more love than I thought possible and a collection of wisdom from various seasoned mothers in my life. These pearls have helped me over and over again the past twelve months, and I hope they can now help another mama-to-be.
1) Take a shower every day
This was passed down to me, along with “brush your teeth every day”. If you have yet to give birth, you are judging me right now and wondering how anyone goes a day without basic hygiene. It’s ok. I did the same thing when my friend told me this, and I know you will soon understand. Don’t ask me how or why, just do it. You will feel ten times better, I promise.
2) Write down your birth story
Sometime in the first month after you give birth, type or write out the details of your birth story. You might think you will never forget, but it’s amazing how many details start to get foggy. Ask for help from your spouse or anyone who was in the room with you for their side as well. You will be happy you took the time to do it.
3) Be patient
This was my mantra the first six months – “Be patient. Be patient. Be patient.” With yourself. With your body. With your recovery. With your child. With nursing. With your spouse. With decision making. With returning to previous activities. With going to the store. With changing clothes five times a day. With caretakers. With nighttime feedings and crying and spitting up. BE. PATIENT. Being impatient doesn’t help anything. If you need to cry, walk away and do it. Then come back and be patient again.
4) Labor is a mental and physical marathon – train for it
Thank you to whatever sweet soul gave me this advice. I took it to heart, and there is NO WAY I would have made it through 43 hours of labor without staying strong while I was pregnant (and if you are thinking “Oh, my labor won’t be like that”…I thought that too). Yours might be a sprint or a full on IronMan, but it is WORK. You will be put in very strange positions that require some flexibility and you will then be asked to crunch and to push at the same time. Stay physically strong while you are pregnant in whatever way works for you. I send all of you prayers that your labor is 2 hours and easy, but for the rest of us, train your heart out.
5) Your baby is your job for the first month
That baby needs you full time, 24 hours a day. Your only job is to bond and be a mama to that baby. Believe me, it’s enough! You do NOT need to clean or cook or entertain or write thank you cards or work out. You definitely do not need to make excuses for not doing those things. If anyone actually expects you to do those things the first month, tell them to go away.
Sing, hum, whistle, whatever. Your baby loves it, and it’s also really difficult for you to stay frustrated when you are singing! If you find yourself on the verge of losing it, just start singing. It’s silly, but it helps, I swear. No one else will hear you, so just let it out. Your baby doesn’t care what it is and will love hearing your voice. I sing everything from Taylor Swift to Billy Joel to Jack Johnson to Coldplay. Hint: listening to kids songs in the car does not work the same and may serve to frustrate you more. I’m just saying.
7) You will not feel human for 8 weeks after birth
You will sweat. You will bleed. Your boobs will leak. (Please refer back to the importance of number one on this list). Your abs may have separated. You are physically recovering from either pushing a human being out of a hole the size of a dime OR having your abdomen cut open to take said baby out. You are also detoxing major amounts of hormones that have built up over 9 months. Take it in stride and know you will feel like yourself again someday.
8) Just when you think things won’t change, they do
Babies schedules and habits change constantly. If you are in a really hard place, just stick with it and know it will change. If you are in a great schedule with your baby, enjoy it, because it too will change. The only consistent thing about babies is that things always change.
9) Take 10 minutes every day to do something that does not involve being a mom
Take a walk without your phone and without the stroller. Drive to the store to get a coffee by yourself. Talk to your girlfriend about her recent date. Read a gossip magazine. Get a workout in. Don’t fill every spare second you have with reading baby books and folding laundry. You need to recharge, and those ten minutes of not making any mommy decisions are essential to your mental health.
10) You are not alone
Once you lock eyes with your little one, your life will never be the same. You are now a part of the most phenomenal and special community on the planet. You will feel all those amazing things people told you you would, plus more. It is ok to be scared and overwhelmed. It is ok to not know how to express the amount of love you feel. It is ok to not have the answers. Just know you are not alone. You are a mom, you are strong, and we are all here with you.