Dear new mom,
The first day you knocked on my door you didn’t introduce yourself. Your hair was in a frazzled bun. You were wearing sweats and flip flops and your shirt was inside out. I instantly liked you. Who has time for introductions and brushed hair when there is a baby sleep crisis? Anyways names were unneeded because I knew who you were. I stalked your profile for months wondering if you were pregnant even though I had never talked to you. And you knew me too. I was the only other mother in our apartment complex.
That day you asked me how I got my baby to sleep without the boob. Since my baby didn’t like my boobs, I didn’t have any words of wisdom but you seemed desperate, so I shared some general sleep advice that helped in the newborn days. A couple weeks later you knocked with a written schedule in your hand. You hired a nanny and she said you were doing everything wrong. She wrote the new, right schedule on a piece of paper. “Am I doing everything wrong?” you asked and I tried to say something encouraging but here is what I should have said:
Listen to me if you want, but take it with a grain of salt. Listen to other mothers if you want, but take it with a grain of salt. Listen to books or podcasts or websites if you want, but take it with a grain of salt. But please, yes, you must, always, listen to yourself. You are an amazing mother and you know what’s best for your baby. You know more than me, who has been doing motherhood a little bit longer, you know more than that nanny, who has cared for countless children. You know more than that pediatrician who has a Ph.D beside her name.
Let your baby fall asleep on your breast or let you baby cry it out, but either way, you are an amazing mother. Put her on a rigid schedule or tear that schedule up, but either way, you are an amazing mother. Feed her every hour if you want or feed her every four, but either way, you are an amazing mother. There is no right way to do this job of motherhood, there are a million right ways and you’ll find your right way with time…and sleep.
Most of those feelings of inadequacy or guilt or panic spring from three things: sleep-deprivation, hormones and, unfortunately, an over-critical culture of mothers. Seek and listen to helpful advice of friends but never listen to the critiques of strangers, like that nanny. (You should probably most definitely fire her.)
Remember that same stranger who criticizes you about giving your baby a phone in the grocery store will criticize you if your baby is screaming in the grocery store. I know. So ignore them. It’s always easier to criticize than to praise.
So new mom, I want to offer you some praise and share some secrets I’ve learned. We’re all making it up as we go. I’m making it up as I go, as did my mother, as did her mother. Even that woman with the well-behaved twins and manicured nails at the park is making it up as she goes. Advice is not universal truth. We’re raising humans after all, not plants! This sleep-deprived newborn phase will pass and you’ll most likely miss it when it does. And last, but definitely not least, you are an amazing mother.
Your fellow mama,