Monday, January 21, 2013

Buckle up, buttercup. You're going for a ride.

The following is a letter I've been working on for a close friend about to become a mother for the first time.

Dear Mother-To-Be,

The first words of advice I have for you, dear friend, is that any advice anyone gives you is probably going to be crap.

No two babies are the same. What works wonderfully for Baby A might be a terrific fail for Baby B, and there just might not be a good solution on this planet for Baby C and its poor mother is just going to have to drink heavily and use earplugs for the first year of her new miracle's life. Every mother who accidentally stumbles upon a solution for surviving being the mother of a fussy newborn is going to think she is a genius and spread her wisdom, and probably "tsk-tsk-tsk" at you when it doesn't work for your precious bundle, because it would SO work if only you were as awesome as she is.

I hate those mothers. You will, too.

So why am I even bothering to write my words of less-than-wisdom down for you? After all, I am the mother of an only child--some people would say this doesn't even count as motherdom, for I have never had to change a toxic diaper while battling morning sickness, break up a sibling fight thisclose to becoming biblical, or had two kids puking their way through a stomach virus at the same time.

My advice, unlike some others', comes well after the haze. I have had ten years to reflect on this shit. Ten years also might make some of this out-of-date, though, since pediatricians change the rules of effective new-baby-handling every couple of years and make the more veteran among us wonder how in the world our older children survived past infancy. They're still saying the safest baby sleep position is stomach-down on a big pile of clean laundry perched on top of a running clothes dryer, right? No? I guess I'll have to edit that part out.

I will start with this: parts of this ride do get easier. Remember when we rode the Diamondback and I sincerely thought I was going to die on the first hill, and I screamed so loudly you laughed at me the whole rest of the ride? Yeah, the first year's kind of like that. It's the first hill of the scariest roller coaster you've ever been on. And when that hill is over, the worst is usually over.

Which is not to say that after that hill you just coast into the station unscathed.

You will eventually sleep through the night again, there will come a day when you change your last poopy diaper, and your child will become his own person largely able to take care of his most essential daily needs himself.

But as soon as wiping asses gets to be less of a burden, you start being a taxi service, activities manager, school volunteer, homework tutor, amateur sports coach, cheerleader, detective, cyber terrorist, and psychologist. Your life slowly becomes not your own, even if you swear it will never happen to you. I swore it would not happen to me, as did a million other modern American moms before me, and yet there we all are every Monday afternoon at Starbucks with dark circles under our eyes wondering where the hell the weekend went and whether or not we can make it through the coming week of sports practices, musical instrument rehearsals, or academic team matches. And for all the hard work and sacrifices you've put in, your child will someday tell you how unfair you are, how you just don't get it, how you're the worst mother in the world.

Ready to give up yet?

Don't, because there are so many parts of this whole thing that are awesome. Wait and see.

But things will be tough for a while. So here's my advice, for what little it's worth.

1. Postpartum depression is a thing, and there's no shame in it, and there's no shame in being on medication for it or seeking other help if you find yourself feeling "a little blue." And by "a little blue", I mean any range in post-labor emotion between "everything makes me cry, including TV sitcoms and kittens and daisies and other should-be-happy things" and "I suddenly don't feel like living through the night." It doesn't make you a freak, it makes you a woman with a chemical unbalance brought on by hormones and sleep deprivation. Get help, and know that at least a few others of us went through it and will help you when you need it.

2. Breastfeeding is a wonderful, natural thing and clearly the best way to feed your baby. Unless it's not, and then you should switch to formula despite what the Boob Nazis say. It's your baby and your breasts. My generation was mostly bottle-fed, and we all turned out fine, except for that time I got cancer. But that's probably more to do with my parents being chain-smokers than with being fed Isomil. As long as you don't pick up smoking, feed your baby the best way for you and your baby and tell the La Leche Fight Club to back the eff off. (And in case any of "those" people stumble upon this post and think I'm the worst mother in the world, I nursed. While unknowingly having cancer in the area around my breasts, a thought that chills me to this day, wondering what kinds of awfulness entered my daughter's body the first six months of her life. So breast isn't always best, people.)

3. Walk away. When you feel angry, when you feel frustrated, when you don't recognize the thoughts circulating in your own head, leave the room. Breathe. Every mother loves her child, but every mother has moments where she doesn't love being a mom. (And if anyone tells you this is not so, she is lying, either to you or herself.) We need breaks, even sometimes just for five minutes. Someone who loves you will give that to you. Just ask. And if no one's around, and your baby isn't hungry, isn't wet, isn't sick, and has still been crying for 4 hours with colic, he can cry for five more minutes while you have a mini-meltdown in the next room. You will be able to come back to him a semi-calm human being. And you will both be a little healthier for it.

4. Everything will change. Everything. Your friends, your work days, your weekend nights, your wardrobe, your opinions on everything from your favorite restaurant to the movies you can stomach to the kind of car you want to drive. Everything. Seriously. Embrace it, don't fight it. You're one of us now.

5. Try, as hard as it may be, to treasure it all. They are only babies once, which is both a blessing and curse of motherhood.

You will be fine. You will. One morning at 3am when your baby has been eating, burping, puking, pooping, and thrashing for over an hour and you are more tired than you have ever been in your life, you might not believe that. You will wonder why sane people ever choose to do this more than once. And you will wonder when things will ever feel "normal" again, and you will envy those with children who sleep from 9 to 7 and can make their own peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Envy away, but somewhere one of those moms just found a text message on her daughter's phone saying, "My mom is so lame!" (or something to that effect; these kids today don't even use real English). That mom envies you, with that little baby who looks at you with so much love (or constipation, hard to tell) and depends on you for everything. For a short time you, and only you, are that child's universe. It's you two against the big, bad world, and there is no love greater than what you feel for each other in that moment.

And that's why some sane people choose to do it more than once.

So hold on to that. Because that feeling will outlast the fatigue, the depression, and the frustration. I don't know if it lasts through the teenage years, though.

Ask me to write you another letter in a decade.

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