one big mistake i made as a new mama
I was only 18 when I gave birth to my first baby, and I had him in a birthing center!
My son arrived on the last day before I would be required to transfer to hospital care, because according to their records, this baby was two weeks “late”, and their license would be in danger if they didn’t refer me to the local hospital.
The midwives broke my waters that afternoon to give me a chance at “being allowed” to have an otherwise low-intervention birth - and I was holding my son just 3 hours later—!
Incidentally, he wasn’t “late” at all - but I digress.
The only people present for my labor and birth aside from the midwife, were my mother and my partner at the time.
I do not remember much of my labor, except for being alone in the bathtub for several hours, and that part was wonderful.
Once it was time to push, I got out of the tub - and things went very fast.
Birth centers have open visitor policies, so in the few hours after my son was born, probably almost a dozen visitors came to see us - mostly extended family and a few too many friends.
I didn’t like that part, but didn’t really know how to assert myself or ask for help.
My father went out and got a cake from the grocery store, so we all had “birth-day cake” - it was a pretty festive atmosphere for a little while!
Except - I wanted to rest, and to figure out nursing in private, and to get properly acquainted with my new little one … and did I mention rest?
Gosh, I was extremely tired - and now, I had a baby to take care of!
At birth centers, you’re typically sent home after only about 8 hours. I think I stayed there for almost 13, simply because I was sleeping so deeply they didn’t have the heart to wake me.
I remember coming home (to my parent’s house) in the early morning, next day, placing Ian’s carseat in the middle of the kitchen table, and watching him sleep.
I remember wearing a hideous navy-blue nightgown, and feeling alarmed that the pre-pregnancy jeans I’d brought to the birthing center as my “going-home outfit” did not remotely fit me.
I remember feeling so many things, but lacking the words to describe any of it.
That first day back home, I was too wired to rest or sleep, and didn’t know how to insist upon the privacy a postpartum mama/baby needs.
You’re not gonna believe this … but somehow, the day after I gave birth, I let myself get talked into leaving the house with my newborn to run an errand with my father.
At maybe 15 hours postpartum? Breasts leaking milk. Bleeding. Raw. Tender.
Clumsy in my newness to motherhood. (probably while my ex partner took a nap)
I’d had such an easy birth, after all, my parents reasoned.
It’s just one errand. I could sit in the food court and wait. I was just gonna sit around here at home, right? It’s basically the same thing. What’s the difference? Just go.
That’s how I found myself sitting in the food court at the PX, making small talk with my dad, hoping he would hurry up and take us home before the baby woke, so I wouldn’t have to figure out breastfeeding in the middle of a public place…
So many strangers stopped to coo over us, since I was holding an obviously “new” newborn - and I had a vague sense that they felt pity for me…
“Oh my! You should really be resting! They let you leave the hospital that soon?”
But I was so glad I wasn’t in the hospital…!
I could definitely rest, tho…I thought.
… why on Earth was I here, doing what my father felt like doing this day, as if the day after giving birth wasn’t that important.
…as if I hadn’t just been thru a sacred initiation, created a portal of light, and brought back my child, body and soul, from the cosmos—?
Why were my precious new baby and I not the priority?
Why did my so-called loved ones not advocate for our rest, our bonding time, our peace, our sacred space?
I didn’t have the words to form any of those questions that day, but I did have a vague sense of anger and desperation that I just couldn’t place.
I remember the manic vigilance of putting on a poker face and acting like everything was fine, that day.
But there were plenty of other days, countless other days, where I was “fine” (but not really).
I don't think anyone can truly anticipate the monumental change that marks our passage from woman to mother.
The first three months after Ian was born, I felt incredibly overwhelmed - and I read books, and tried my best, and just kept swimming - even when it felt like I might slip underwater.
Ian’s dad worked overnight, so I did all the nighttime parenting for the first two months. I quit breastfeeding after about a week, due to a bunch of challenges that were pretty minor, looking back.
(My parents thought breastfeeding was weird and embarrassing, and “didn’t want to see that”)
I used to think I had a rough time transitioning into motherhood just because I was young and poor.
I didn’t realize I was mired in a bunch of highly dysfunctional relationships that left me so socially drained, I didn’t even know how to begin cultivating genuninely supportive friendships with other mothers.
Leaving the house felt like a monumental task - I was so forgetful, and there were so many essentials to pack up. Grocery shopping was done at 10pm sometimes, because I’d been trying to go out for hours, and that’s just how long everything took.
There was a local support group for new moms thru the birthing center, but when I went, I felt wildly out of place.
For some reason, things just seemed so much easier for these “real adults” who were just a few years older than me - but more financially stable, and not living with their overbearing, narcissistic parents.
Back then, I thought that the “support” I got from my family and partner was fine; as good as it gets, really … I shouldn’t complain … others have it worse …
My own mother gave birth to me, her only baby, at age 40 - but regardless of our difference in age and experience, regardless of our differing circumstances - we both made the same mistake as new mamas:
Neither of us sought proper support!
Sure - we had people around us who claimed to “be there” - but their “help” typically came with strings attached, or massive helpings of shame and blame; and it was never enough, and usually not even what we asked for (if we had the courage and audacity to ask at all).
I’ve been working on my people-pleasing and my tendency to deny my own needs for about 15 years now - and that’s going well.
However, I’m still healing my tendency to operate alone, instead of reaching out, relying on healthy community, and asking for help!
Mothering isn’t meant to be a solo gig.
We are not supposed to instantly know how to parent and breastfeed, to soothe crying babies, to know when and how and why to show up for our children fully and deeply.
We need to be shown; we need to see other mothers in the act of mothering - we need the support of sovereign sisterhood!
No matter what your circumstances are, the journey into motherhood is the single biggest life change you're ever likely to consciously experience.
Becoming a mother is a hugely universal experience, both physically and emotionally.
It's what connects us to every other member of the human race, across countries and timelines, throughout eternity.
We are all daughters, mothers, ancestors...
So, it's strange that somehow, despite this universally common and sacred experience of birth and motherhood, so many first-time mamas feel incredibly disconnected, confused, and utterly alone.
When I was struggling to learn to breastfeed my tiny, days-old babe, I didn't know it was normal and common to struggle like that.
When I was desperate for sleep, waking up in the wee morning hours with my son again and again, I felt that desperation in silence.
When I was afraid of whether my body would ever feel like mine again I kept that fear to myself.
When I was feeling depression after giving birth, I had a great deal of shame about my feelings, and certainly no one who felt like a safe person to talk to.
I didn't feel any innate connection to other moms - and so I didn't seek out their company.
I just figured that something must be wrong with me, because other people clearly didn't seem to have the difficulties I was having.
I felt ashamed and freakish for my struggles, sure that nobody would understand the half of what I was going through.
Looking back, the biggest mistake I made as a new mama was not seeking out support from other moms.
My early experiences of motherhood could have been a lot more ease-filled, if I had some genuine support and connection with other mamas:
Mamas who had been there before, in that delicate space after birth, before you have a toddler...
Mamas who would have listened to my worries, reassured my fears, and empathized with my struggles.
Mamas who may have helped me realize that I was normalizing some pretty not-normal things in my relationships!
Even before we meet our precious child for the first time, we are in the liminal space of Becoming a Mother.
Throughout pregnancy, we experience a multitude of tiny shifts, and a few not-so-tiny ones as well!
Our ancestors knew about fertility cycles and didn't fret about due dates.
They knew how to labor, and how to give birth…because their mothers, grandmothers, aunties, and friends did, too.
They had a village of trusted ones to turn to for support, from the first flutters of wondrous movement within their bellies, onward into motherhood, from their babies' first cries.
New mothers were supported, celebrated, honored, and cared for.
In the modern world, support for new mothers is scant, brief, and often actively unhelpful!
Becoming a mother is such a massive transition on so many levels, that it's actually very normal to have a massively wide range of feelings, reactions, and fears about it.
Through connecting with other women, we can help heal each other's wounds, soothe each other's fears, and start to experience true support, nurturance, and sisterhood.
Mothering isn’t meant to be a solo gig.
It’s a conscious, connected journey!
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