I wish that I could go back in time to just before my first child was born and tell myself some really important things. It would have been nice to know just a teeny bit about the reality of what it is to be a parent.
Instead, what I knew was what I saw in books, magazines, commercials, and movies: Happiness. Doting. Sweet-faced sleeping babies. Adorably and effortlessly breastfeeding. Cooing during diaper changes. Smiling at the sound of a mother’s song. Pretty, Stylish Mommy. Cherishing every second. In a clean house. Where the dishes were always done. With a smile. After folding one load of laundry. And making baby’s food from organically, home-grown vegetables. Pureed with love and care. That baby happily ate and enjoyed. Neatly.
Smoke and mirrors.
As motherhood began for me, I was pretty sure I was doing it all wrong. Nothing was easy. I had no idea what to do. I didn’t know how to hold my son without looking like a newborn giraffe on roller skates. Trying to get him into the right position to nurse was weird. And there were So Many Things to remember–belly to belly, big open mouth, entire nipple in, if it’s not right unlatch, stick your finger in the side of his mouth to break the seal (so he didn’t rip the nipple off … um, kay, definitely remembered that one better after a few notsogood efforts), keep the boob out of the way to make sure he can breathe, prop your arm with a pillow, relax. Wait! What?? Relax, yes, that’s right …. friggin’ A.
I didn’t know how to change a diaper. I had never done that before. I had watched people do it, but it’s like riding in a car versus driving. You don’t pay as much attention because you don’t have to. Not your responsibility. So it was very embarrassing to have to ask a nurse how to do that. She looked at me with that “You gotta be kidding me!” expression. You know, the one that confirmed my feelings that I had no business having a baby. A kitten, maybe, but a baby, no way.
When we were all home and I was trying to figure out this parenting thing it became nerve-rackingly obvious that I still didn’t know what I was doing and I surely didn’t look like any of those commercials or movies.
My house was a mess–diapers, wipes, burp cloths, dishes, laundry (how in the world does such a little person create So Much Laundry?!) … everything was everywhere. I felt accomplished to shower every couple days–no make up to cover the dark circles growing under my sleepless eyes; no hair-do except the fun bird’s nest bed-head spot in the back from falling asleep in the chair; no cute, fashionable clothes except for the adorable milk-stained nursing bra. I was a vision.
I never saw a Pampers commercial show me how to do the ‘splosion diaper change. What is the protocol for clean up when the poop goes up to his neck? Gentle, natural wipes? Do they sell those in bath towel sizes? Do I take him straight to the tub? Use scrubbing Bubbles? 409? Where do you even begin? Come on, Pampers Commercial Mom. Am I still supposed to sing and coo when I change this mess? How do you sing while you try not to gag?
There’s never a mention of the crazy stink of it all … and that you have to keep track of pees and poops … and pay attention to the poo for color and quantity and consistency. (There’s a difference between paste and glue?? Ah, Shit! Shat! Shut the Front Door! I dunno which it was like. Is rubber cement one of the options? I’m clearly going ruin my kid.) The Lovely Mom in the commercial didn’t write that in her notebook when she was singing to her smiling baby when she changed him. Why wasn’t her baby screaming and crying with a bright red, sore butt from diaper rash? Where’s the Butt Cream?
I loved my baby more than life itself, but I was sure I sucked as a mom. I felt guilty because I didn’t love every single second of the experience. That perfection from the books and movies wasn’t even close to what I was doing. I felt more inept than I could ever put into words. I felt like I was failing at motherhood … and I didn’t think I could talk about it because people would think I was a terrible person for feeling like I did.
When we were out in the world, it seemed that the smiling old ladies would always come around when I was feeling most haggard, most exhausted, most frustrated. They would make their appearance when my baby was inconsolable and screaming or when he was throwing a toddler tantrum. They came with their “cherish every second because it flies by.” Their “enjoy this because it won’t be long and you’ll wish you had this all back.”
I wanted to turn and say “are you EFFING kidding me? Trust me, ladies, I will wish for many things in my years, but I will never snap my fingers and wish for this exasperation, this frustration, this fatigue. I may want for much, but these moments of complete ineptitude? No, I will not wish for these.”
While their efforts might have been intended to seem helpful and consoling, they were not. As a matter of fact, I felt the opposite effect. It insinuated that these were supposed to be good times–like the marketed mother’s mirage–and I was screwing it all up. What were supposed to be sweet and tender moments marked with smiles and coos and kisses were instead punctuated with tears (baby’s and mine), tantrums (baby’s and mine), and tired eyes (baby’s and mine).
Those women with their romanticized longing for the days gone by made me think about what I needed to hear, what I wished someone would tell me, what I would say to a frazzled mom in the middle of the store.
So, here it is. What I wish I could go back in time and say to my New Parent Self:
You’re doing fine.
Some days are better than others.
It’s ok to not love every minute of parenting.
That doesn’t mean you don’t love your child, just that you don’t always love the job.
Sometimes parenting really sucks.
It can be absolutely exhausting to not know if you’re getting anything right.
Being sleep deprived doesn’t help.
You’re not a bad parent for feeling like you do.
You’re not a bad parent.
It will get better.
Many other people have survived this; you will too.
You’re doing fine. You’re all doing fine.