A little bit of wisdom and a lot of unanswered questions from my first six weeks of motherhood.
When Eira reached 5 weeks, I promised myself to start documenting motherhood and her life. In a span of so little time, so much has changed for her – she’s gone from a life in her warm, dark cocoon in the womb to one in our tiny apartment filled with sunlight, plant leaves, schools of fish, smiling faces, puppy kisses, gravity, and unconditional love.
But what has truly happened in this short yet endless span of time? On the surface, it looks like very little. Napping, eating, cooing, and crying are the main activities that fill each day and night for both of us. This may seem like a simple life, but in two words, caring for a newborn baby is wondrous and exhausting.
After giving birth, I quickly realized that it’s a biological necessity that I am the one to respond to Eira’s cries throughout the night if I hope to breastfeed. Her stomach was only the size of a marble then, and now, it’s not much bigger than a chicken egg. It empties especially rapidly and needs to be filled constantly, no matter how tired I may be. At 5 weeks, Eira is only just beginning to sleep for more than 2 hours at a time, which, to me, feels like a quiet victory.
Breastfeeding this hungry creature quickly gave me a reality check of how necessary my role is as a mother. Splitting the childcare and bread-winning equally with Daniel was a fantasy that quickly slipped away after bringing our snowpea home. In fact, some days, I even feel ashamed to admit that I dream of working again.
My happiness has always been tied to my need for approval. Most of the time, I’m not even sure who I’m trying to impress. The collective opinion? The imaginary voice in my head? I find this to be the greatest challenge in the early stages of motherhood. Everyone and their mother seems to have an opinion on parenting. Even the best-intentioned advice can be unknowingly laced with culpability and shame.
I should be naturally self-sacrificing. I should never want to work again. I should be thankful that I’m privileged enough not to have to immediately return to work. I should pay no attention the many shifts in my body and identity. I should not ask for help. These are the lies we tell ourselves that breed and conceal postpartum depression.
And so, at nearly 6 weeks postpartum, when the world seemed to finally stop spinning in a blur of sleeplessness and smiles, I made myself a few promises:
To take care of myself, especially my emotional needs. The best way I can be a mother to this child is to make sure that I am also sustained. I've realized it’s okay for me to want to maintain a part of my identity that is distinct from being a mother. After all, I want to model to Eira that it is possible to chase after her own dreams, no matter how wild and numerous they may be.
To ask for help when I need it instead of pretending that I can do it all alone.
To stop listening to the voices of shame and guilt. The inner critic can be powerfully paralyzing, and letting it take charge is no life anyone should lead.
To give credit where credit is due. Despite the initial shock of how little I can get done with a baby, at the end of the day, none of that “doing” really matters anyway. Eira is growing stronger, becoming more alert, and becoming more curious about her world each day. Although there can be thousands of insecurities wrapped around the first few months of motherhood, by seeing her grow into the incredible human that she is, I know that I am doing enough. What's more, we are ALL doing enough. Words can’t express the respect and understanding I’ve gained for all parents who have ever completed the beautifully messy task of raising a child.
To document everything – all the milestones, the fears, the maddening struggles, the onesies the size of my hand, the coos, the priceless expressions, the baby bows, the sunsets and sunrises that we are inevitably awake to see, the 5 am poop-splosions… Okay, maybe I can let the poop-splosions slide from my memory. Everything passes so quickly. If I don't start writing this down now, then it seems I will simply blink my eyes and she will be moving out for college, marrying, winning her first Iron Man, making a speech for her first Academy Award, running for president, being awarded a Nobel Prize, or whatever she choses to do with her one wild and precious life.
To be continued.