Inspired by Shotgun Korea, now Shotgun Adventures (as they are on the West Coast of the U.S. these days), I thought I'd post 10 bits of mom wisdom I've acquired in the 8 weeks (really, 8 as of tomorrow!) I've been a mom. Don't expect profound secrets here. Just stuff I've figured out.
1. My emotional repertoire has stretched to new limits. The highs are higher, the lows lower. My heart feels like it just woke up in technicolor Oz after living in black and white Kansas my whole life. It's not that having a kid makes me happier or sadder or anything like that--it's that I had no idea there were emotions left I still had not experienced in my life. And there is no greater feeling in the world than uncovering a limitation that you didn't even know you had and pushing through it. I loved being a teacher because I could put kids in touch with that feeling, but I really wasn't sure I'd ever experience it again the way I had as a student in high school and college. What intellectual discovery was like as a young adult student is what the emotional discovery of being a parent is like. Amazing.
2. Being a mom makes you ridiculously proud of completely mundane things your baby does. Like poop. And eat. And smile. And sleep. Because to you, none of these things are mundane or boring. They are endlessly, endlessly fascinating. And you talk about them. Sometimes too much.
3. The sleep deprivation you've heard about? It's bad. Really bad. But you'll be amazed how fast you adapt. Before having the baby, I was one of those people who was practically nonfunctional without my eight hours. Even in high school and college, when all of us were seriously sleep deprived but it was ok because we were young and our bodies recovered fast, I wouldn't pull all-nighters. I would crash for a couple hours first because my brain does not function well without sleep. And especially since getting ulcerative colitis, I've found that lack of sleep sometimes sends me into a flare, so of course I was terrified about the newborn sleep deprivation winding me up in the hospital. But I've adapted--my body has adapted. There are still moments at 3 or 4 a.m. when the baby is crying for his 4th or 5th feeding of the night that I'm so exhausted I worry I might drop him and we end up co-sleeping the rest of the night, but I recover from it.
4. Don't talk about anything important with your husband when one or both of you are overtired. It leads to fights. Sometimes nasty ones. Just go to sleep. Talk about it tomorrow. It's not as urgent as you think it is.
5. Go out, with and without the baby, as soon as you can. It is overwhelming, exhausting, and scary at first, but it helps you feel more like you. Being you is good. Being a mom is grand. But at first it's really hard to reconcile your image of yourself with motherhood. Getting out of the house helps this process immensely for some reason. And most babies like going out--mine certainly does.
6. Use a pocket diaper overnight for cloth. The pocket diapers wick moisture away from the baby's bum so he doesn't fuss about his wet diaper and goes back to sleep without you having to change it for a wee. You still have to change it for a larger mess, and boy does he stink in the morning, but it is worth it for the glorious, glorious sleep it gives you.
7. Breastfeeding is hard. I have dealt with bruised nipples, plugged ducts, painful engorgement, crazy hormones, a let-down so powerful that it sometimes gags my poor little guy, and a tear-filled night in the hospital where I forced the poor little newborn (2 days old) to feed for three hours straight so the doctor wouldn't make me give him formula and she made me do it anyways. And I'm actually one of the "lucky" ones who have had very few problems overall. In the mommy groups I've joined, there are brilliant, accomplished, lovely women--lawyers and scientists and therapists and teachers--reduced to tears because their kid never can quite learn to latch or they are in so much pain when they feed that they can't sleep or their doctor is "concerned" about the weight gain of the baby, even if everything else is going well.
8. Even when breastfeeding is "easy", it's tempting to give it up. Why? Dude, after 3 HOURS of feeding him and then he sucked down 2 oz of formula in about five minutes with no problems and then slept four hours straight, I got it. I finally got why even well-intentioned women who CAN breastfeed might choose to give it up. Furthermore, in some ways, especially in the early weeks, breastfeeding ties you down. Feeding every 2-3 hours doesn't sound so bad until you realize that it's start time to start time and when the baby is learning to feed (about the first 2-4 weeks), it can regularly take 40 min to an hour to complete. Then you burp him, change him, nap for like 20 min, and start the whole damn thing over again! It's exhausting. Breastfeeding babies take longer to sleep through the night--mine still has yet to do a stretch longer than five hours. Our culture doesn't support it (I get dirty looks at restaurants all the time--and I use a nice modesty shield!). Formula is convenient (and also free if a mom does WIC). Until the personal electric pumps became widely available, working women had few options but to wean at least partially. Even with the pump, you have to learn all this stuff about freezing and storing and thawing which is complicated (and some babies won't take defrosted milk, so those women can't build up a back-up supply). And still few workplaces are supportive of nursing moms (see my point about cultural non-support). I breastfeed, but I completely understand women who have chosen not to in order to preserve their own sanity.
9. Breastfeeding makes you feel powerful. Really powerful. Almost like a superhero. Beyond the bonding with the infant skin-to-skin stuff, I've never been prouder of my body than when it produced milk successfully for my baby. Even my healthy pregnancy didn't feel so... powerful. Boobs are awesome. And I mean like I am in awe of them. But...
10. Breastfeeding makes you feel less sexy. Not un-sexy, just that two of your main body parts that used to be just about exclusively sexual have this whole other function. And they are constantly being touched in a way that feels good, but not sexual. It throws your whole pre-baby sense of who you were as a sexual being off. There's a really great post I read recently that touches on this and goes into other details of postpartum sex. I recommend it.