An honest take on life and parenthood

Advice to mothers-to-be

on May 8, 2012

A colleague of mine told me today that she is pregnant.

I am thrilled for her! When she asked me if I had any advice, I told her no. I didn’t want to overwhelm her, since first time parents tend to get inundated with advice from well-meaning friends.

Still, I must confess that in spite of my best intentions, I began to give her well meaning advice about five minutes after I swore I wouldn’t. I couldn’t help myself.

You see, my colleague (and let’s just call her my friend too, because she is pretty cool and I like her even though I haven’t spent a ton of time with her) has a very demanding job at a high profile company. She is an executive, and she is doing really well. That said, she is also a newlywed and young enough to want a family, so she got busy (sorry, couldn’t resist) and is now in the family way.

When I got married, I left the workforce for three years. I cannot tell you what a big mistake that was. Perhaps in retrospect, it was not such a terrible thing, since I learned tremendous things about myself. I also am very happy that I could spend the first twenty months of my daughter’s life with her. However, as a white collar professional who was used to a paycheck, intellectual stimulation, and the challenge of an interesting job, leaving the workforce wasn’t such a hot idea. It seemed cool at the time. I was bored with my work and didn’t see anywhere it would lead, and many of the colleagues I liked and respected were leaving the company.

So I got married to a successful guy and became a housewife, and then I became barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen. Then I became a stay at home mom.

And then I wanted to shoot myself.

So when my friend told me today that she was pregnant, my heart filled up for her. Motherhood is such an amazing and challenging experience, and whenever someone is embarking on this journey, you want them (and the little one) to have the best experience possible. My mind filled up with all kinds of sage advice, and typed a few lines into an email to her. I restrained myself from writing the tome I really wanted to write, since I didn’t want to scare the bejeezus out of her. She’s pretty far along now and you can’t exactly send the kid back. No refunds, no return, you know?

Much to my surprise, my friend seemed really grateful for what I wrote. She laughed, and even suggested that I write a mommy blog! If she only knew.

So here are some tidbits of advice:

1) Do not forget that you are an individual, with thoughts and dreams and a personality of your own.

Yes, you are a mother, but it is so easy to get consumed by motherhood and its demands that you can easily get lost. It is absolutely critical to have non-mommy time, to do things that nourish your soul and make you feel like yourself again. It could be anything. It could mean going through the drive through and ordering a Wendy’s Single with cheese, fries, and a frosty, and snarfing it down alone. Just like the good old days. It could mean reading a juicy book. It could mean getting your nails done. It could mean reading an article in the Economist or People or Vogue. Anything, really. Just make sure that it is enjoyable to you, and in no way connected to your identity as a mother.

2) Find ways to get breaks.

This is related to my first point. It is really important to have time alone and get a breather. Babies and children are bottomless pits of need, and that is the way Nature created them. They are so little and need you so much, but the truth is, it often feels like a one way street of giving, no matter how nice they smell or how cute they sound when they gurgle and coo. If you do not find ways to get time alone and take care of yourself, you will be depleted, and feel angry. You don’t want to resent your child – it’s just bad for everyone. Tap your husband or partner and get them to step up to the plate and help. Call Grandma. Call your sister. Take your friend up on her offer to watch the baby for an hour, even if it means you go and look mindlessly at shoes at the mall or nail polish colors at CVS. Get out and get away. You will come back a bit refreshed, and you will be happier for it. And your little one will be happier too, because you are happy.

3) Find community.

Remember, you are not alone. The common refrain I hear among all mothers is that the first year as a new mother is incredibly lonely.You don’t know what the hell you are doing, you’re not sleeping, and you don’t know what to do next if the baby won’t stop crying. Especially if you have always been a good student or professionally successful or just one of those together kinds of people, it can be very hard to confess loneliness and vulnerability. But believe me – all new mothers go through this. So I recommend that you find other new mothers to connect with through mom’s groups, or the Y, or church, or other venues. For me, Facebook saved my sanity, but I could have used some other outlets as well, to be honest. Also, I’m not saying you will connect with someone just because she is also a mother. No way. But I am saying that it just is comforting to know that you can talk to other women who are going through a similar experience, so that you know you are not crazy or stupid or deranged. And that it’s ok to go out with food or liquids smeared on your clothes and no one will bat an eyelash.

4) Find time to connect with your husband, both with – and this is really important – without the baby.

The baby is an opportunity for you to see the best and the worst in each other. I won’t lie. A baby is really stressful for your marriage. There’s no couple time unless you make it. There’s no sex, generally speaking, because you are tired and fried and you don’t feel good about your post-baby body. If you’re breastfeeding, your hubby may be really turned off. You may feel like he’s not doing enough, which makes him even more unattractive. It’s just kind of bad all around. So you really need to think of ways to preserve the intimacy and friendship of your marriage. You will both love the child to pieces, and you can definitely bond over the monkey. But don’t forget that you are in it together for the long haul, and you do need time alone as a couple. Talk about this with your partner and try to come up with ways to ensure that investment in your marriage. It will only pay off, believe me.

I must run, but I definitely have more advice, which I will post on another occasion. Time to go wake my tiny dragon from her pastel lair.

Peace out.

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