Monday, November 19, 2007

One Day At a Time, Baby Steps, and Other Cliches

I have said it before, and I'll say it again: I don't believe there are many experiences, at least in Western culture, more hellish than the first year of parenting the first baby. Yeah, yeah, the baby is precious and cute, and of course you love the baby and would not change your decision to become a parent for anything in the world. Whatever. Most of it still sucks.

Wait, let me narrow that down. What I'm really talking about is the decision to become a mother. I don't know what it's like for the average Dad that first year, but you'd be hard pressed to convince me that it's as hard for them to adjust as it is for mothers. Let me not pretend this is about all parents. It's about mothers, and motherhood, and the impossibility of the whole entire deal.

I know someone who is really struggling with this whole adjustment issue right now. She's struggling with sleep deprivation and information overload and guilt and self-questioning and unsolicited advice and feelings of inadequacy and feelings, I would imagine, of "holy shit, what have I done to my life?" I believe that she feels anxious and possibly depressed and it is impossible for her not to believe, right now, that this is all her fault. That it's not supposed to be this hard. That other women do this every day, and better than she can ever hope to. And she's had a string of bad luck and other circumstances that have just intensified all of those feelings. And we don't know each other that well, so I don't claim to understand everything she's feeling or dealing with, but I think I have an inkling. And like all the other well-meaning, misguided Mothers On The Internet, I want to be able to help, and make her feel better, and offer her some magical solution to all the problems she's facing. But I know I can't do that.

Believing that there is one right way, or that there is a magical solution that will make everything work the way it's "supposed to" is the fastest way to insanity. Every baby is different. Every parent is different. The combinations are infinite, and even within each parent/child combo, time brings variation in the needs of each party. If I had to put my finger on the thing that makes that first hellish year of parenting so hellish indeed, I would tend to put it on the belief that we should not "give in" or surrender to the fact that we are parents now, our lives are never going to be the same, we are never going to be the same, and we have to fight parenthood and the changes it brings tooth and nail. Because parents are boring, aren't they? And maybe we need to believe that our regularly scheduled lives will be back after these messages from the very pissed-off baby. But they won't. They just won't. And for me, at least, accepting that and moving forward with my new life, my life as a mother, was the only thing I could do if I wanted to survive. I can't help but suspect that this is true for everyone. Because that's how that works, right? A little experience goes straight to our heads.

If I were going to speak directly to this struggling friend, here is what I would say: The things you are dealing with are every bit as shitty as they seem to you. They are real. But they are not unique to you. You are not the worst mother ever, nor are you the only mother you know right at this very moment who feels that she does not know what she's doing. We all feel like that. It may be delayed for some of us, that feeling, but it comes to us all sometime in the first year or two. I would say that I understand the temptation to seek out information and hope that the magical answer is out there if only you read one more book or article or website or forum, but you have to stop. Seriously. You can't keep doing that to yourself, and it's not going to help. It's just not. There is no answer that anyone else can give you. I could tell you that sleeping with my baby and sleeping right through feedings worked great for me. Our other friend could tell you that Ferberizing and religiously sticking to the crib worked great for her. It doesn't matter. I'm not you. She's not you. Our babies are not your baby.

Listen to me. You are a good mother. You love your baby and you have done everything that could possibly be expected of you. You would not expect yourself or anyone you know to walk into any other new situation and instinctively know exactly what to do at every given moment in order to achieve the most desirable result. Would you? This thing that you've signed up for? It's really, really hard. It's the hardest thing you've ever done. That's not going to change, probably. The difficulties will take on new shapes as time passes, but they won't really get easier. In fact, they will make you look back at this time, later, and laugh at yourself. What can change, and what has to, is the way you deal with the hard parts. You have to stop beating yourself up. You have to stop believing that everyone else is more qualified to mother your child than you are. You have to find a way to step back a little bit, center yourself as much as you can manage, and just accept that you are doing the best that you can. There is no reason at all for you to believe that if you were doing things differently, things would be different. That logic applies in other situations, but not this one. Love your baby. Love yourself. Get both of you up and dressed and fed every day. Get both of you in bed every night, one way or another, and eke out whatever precious sleep you can manage, and in the morning know that you are one night closer to this part of it being over. Trust me on this one thing: that is all you can do. Really. Accept that this will suck, and then one day, when you've forgotten to think about how much it sucks, you'll realize that it has stopped.


Stacey Greenberg said...

no wonder i spent the first three months of jiro's life hanging out with you on the mothersville sofa :)

Memphisotan said...


Melissa said...

I think I would tell your friend to make friends with wise mamas like you.

(and the other ladies that have commented here)

Thank you for that.

Melissa said...

well said, scout. the self-doubt that first year of mothering is pretty consuming. thankfully, it passes and then you get to beat yourself up about a whole new slew of things. ;-)

Anonymous said...

Well said! I wish someone would have told me not to waste my time/money looking for answers in books. I ended up with a library on parenting and even more confused than where I started!