At 5 pm on my daughter's fifth birthday, I popped a bottle of champagne and poured a single glass. I'd survived my first five years of motherhood, maybe even thrived at times, and since motherhood is something we so often do alone with our kids, it felt appropriate to toast to my kids and drink alone. Many of us humans of the female persuasion know from a young age that we want to be mommies. I don't remember a lot about early childhood, but I do remember being five myself and persuading my best friend's two year-old sister to be my child. "Hug my legs," I would tell her.
Fast forward 24 years and it seems everywhere I go I have a child clutching onto my legs. The baby loves to pull herself up onto me, one hand on the back of each leg. It's as sweet as I knew it would be, and harder than I never knew it could be.
For all the mommies struggling today, for all the women struggling to become mommies, for all the women wanting to become mommies, not today but someday, this is for you.
1. Women are strong (and hire a doula). Society teaches us to fear birth, both the pain and the risk of it. But the World Health Organization estimates that only 5% of c-sections are true emergencies. 95% of the time, we can birth our babies without complications. That being said, interventions lead to more interventions. Drugs are great, empowering in their own way, and hospitals are helpful because they take pressure off of the mother. Even if we choose these gracious safety nets woven by the 21st century, we can still have faith in our natural ability to birth. Your beliefs can go a long way in helping and hindering your birth. My best advice? Hire a doula. A professional labor coach will help you in ways you cannot foresee or understand now. Contact me for Seattle-area recommendations.
2. You must fill your own cup. Your kids are going to demand a lot out of you. Everything, in fact. It's only natural. Don't try to do everything by yourself, don't get bitter, don't be a martyr. Ask your partner, parents, friends for support. Ask them to take care of your kids so you can fill your cup. You know what it is you need to do, now do it. You will be a better mother and you will have more to give and your kids will benefit from spending time with other caregivers. You might feel guilty at first. But when you see how much better you run when you aren't on empty, you will understand. Also, no one else can fill your cup for you. Not your husband or your mom or your best friend or your partner. That part is up to you.
3. Do what works for you. Nobody but you and your partner knows what's best for your kids. Many people will be quick to judge your methods or suggest alternatives. Take their advice with a grain of salt, even if you asked for it. (And they'll give it to you, whether or not you asked.) Parent the way you feel comfortable parenting. Birth the way you want to birth (fearful or fearless!). Let your kid cry it out or don't. Bed share or don't. Discipline the way you want to discipline. Figure out what works, and go with it. You have something called mother's intuition for a reason: survival.
4. Enjoy yourself. This started as "don't take everything so seriously," but that didn't feel right. There is nothing more serious than the love we feel for these brand new humans for whom we are solely responsible. I read a blog post recently that connected our exhaustion to the hyper vigilance we must practice every single second of every single day to keep our babies alive. Sleep deprivation aside, taking care of small children 24/7 is the most exhausting job in the world. You deserve to have a little bit of fun while on the job. Go get an ice cream cone. Turn up the music and dance, or make videos of your children dancing. Pop some popcorn and pop in a Disney movie. Invite your mom friends over for coffee and let the kids make a huge mess. Drink the coffee, dammit. Don't worry so much about what they're eating or how much TV they're watching. If you ever feel guilty, just go outside and chase your kids, and I promise their giggles and your endorphins will help you remember that everything is actually okay.
5. This won't last forever. They are so cute. You just want to inhale them, don't you? When they giggle, you feel so much joy that it hurts. And it hurts because it's all temporary. Children grow up. You can give them every thing and tell them nothing about life, but they will still grow up and they will still leave you. Someday you will miss them. Someday you will ache for little voices and little feet and little bodies that wake you up all hours of the night. You will miss the laundry and the messes and the hands always reaching for you. These bittersweet truths have helped me through the dark hours when I am lonely, bored, isolated, tired, under appreciated, overwhelmed. It is a tragic relief: you will not always be a mommy, but you will always be a mother.