Life Lessons of a New Mother

I had no idea what to expect from motherhood, and it has surprised me on many levels.  Being a mother has brought me to my knees and humbled me every day in the last 6 weeks; it has shown me parts of myself that I didn't know exist and it has taught me lessons I didn't know I needed to learn.  Leo and I just had our 6 week check-up, so in honor of that small milestone, here are a few of those lessons I've learned about life and myself:

- There is no shame in asking for or accepting help.  We can't do life on our own and for some reason, I don't like to lower my pride to admit that.  Sometimes we cling to individuality rather than embrace community.  But whether it was a friendly stranger in the airport, or my family helping me at home, I don't think I would have kept my sanity without the help of others, and I've learned that it blesses them to help me.  We are connected and dependent on one another - and that's a very beautiful thing.

- I must redefine success and productivity.  I'm a product of a Midwestern farming family, where work ethic ranks high on our list of moral values, so on the days when I only eat, sleep, and nurse, I can feel like a useless human for not producing anything the world views as meaningful.  But with every day that passes, caring for my son seems more and more like the most important job in the world and I never thought I would be the kind of woman to say that.  I now see success from a completely different viewpoint.

- Accept and lean in to discomfort.  Resisting makes it worse.  I've learned that I can either complain about waking up in the middle of the night to nurse or I can lean into what is and simply accept this as a phase of life.  Sometimes I watch movies in the middle of the night while I feed my son instead of watching the clock and wandering when I can climb back into bed.  Even as I write these notes, Leo started fussing.  Instead being annoyed at the disruption, I decided to dance with him, which is way more fun!

- We don't need a lot of stuff.  I think we've over-complicated child rearing.  The Baby Gear World is out of control.  Since when did raising a child require so many things? I've tried to take some cues from African mothers who use much less and I ask myself if each purchase is really necessary.  Often, the answer is no.


- Persistence pays.  I knew I wanted to breastfeed, but I didn't know that it would be so hard at first.  It was painful and frustrating, emotional and difficult.  My midwife's assistant told me it gets better at 2 weeks, but right when I clocked 2 weeks, I came down with mastitis...twice.  I was nervous to nurse in public and Leo is still learning to latch on his own, but we have come so far.  It's beginning to feel like second nature.  When I reflect on my favorite moments with Leo, I realize that many have happened while nursing.  I'm proud of myself for not giving up and for overcoming those difficult days.

- Confidence and boldness are a must.  It's amazing how many people want to tell me how to raise my baby.  Relatives, medical professionals, and even complete strangers all have strong opinions on everything from the use of pacifiers to how I should hold my baby.  Without confidence in myself and trusting my own intuition, it would be easy to feel undermined every step of the way.  And without the boldness it requires to say, "Thanks, but no thanks" and "Actually, I know what I'm doing," I would get steamrolled by others every single day. 

- Maturity requires the ability to hold space for more than one emotion.  Some friends didn't want to "bother" me with hardships they were facing in life, afraid they would "bring me down" during the expectant last weeks of pregnancy and the joyful first weeks of motherhood.  But my emotional state is not a singular measure.  I can walk with others in their pain while still feeling gratitude for this new joy in my life.  And when I am hurting, I know I can rejoice with others in their victories.

- Pleasing others is not a virtue.  It's a journey I've been walking for quite some time - learning to stop pushing myself so hard just to please others.  Saying no to others is a possibility and is often the best thing to do.  I turned down quite a few anxious friends who wanted to visit or have catch-up phone conversations in the first weeks after Leo was born.  Every single time, it was hard to tell them no, but it has been a great lesson in the beauty of self-care and putting myself first in my life.