As you can probably guess, the answer to “What changes when I have a baby?” is… everything!
But seriously, just because everything changes doesn’t mean that it is all scary or all bad. Becoming a mother has been the destiny of a majority of women since time began. Many good things come from becoming a mother, including the enlargement of your heart. Where all your detail orientation and concern used to produce perfect hair, stylish decor, and a together attitude, now it will all be focused on this wrinkly little stranger whose destiny you have NO idea how to shape. If you can imagine shifting your time, body, activities, budget, and philosophy from your own life to someone else’s, 24/7, you can pretty much achieve what it is going to be like being a mom.
I am a firm believer that this cognitive and emotional adjustment is the number one change most new moms have to make. Nothing prepares you for this shift from Self to Other. I didn’t even know it was possible! Of course I still think about myself as a mother—and now that I have four children, I have had more practice “carving” out some self in the midst of life with little children—but the inner workings of my mind are completely different. So are my fears, my priorities, and my deep motivations.
The externals or physical aspects of mothers are not to be downplayed, of course. Starting from day one that you are pregnant, your body is no longer your own. It is taken over by a small, pink, tender, but hostile little planet. And you will be largely responsible for how that little life emerges. You don’t feel the way you want, you don’t look the way you want, and you probably can’t eat exactly the way you want. You also don’t sleep the way you want, make love the way you want, or do any other physical thing exactly the same way. This seems to be God’s way of initiating the pregnant mother into motherhood… the first test of shifting from Self to Other orientation.
Then the baby is born and you have all heard of the trials there, so I won’t belabor them. Suffice it to say the birth and delivery is a wonderful but physically demanding event, for which recovery must be taken seriously for your body to not rear its ugly head. Then there is the exhaust factor of the crying, feeding, staying up at night, and generally not being able to figure out what your baby wants. If you are breastfeeding for the first time, sometimes this is a difficult transition and you can be found with a boob hanging out in plain view for pretty much the first three months straight! The house still needs cleaning, the food still needs preparing, the errands still need to be done, the paperwork needs to be taken care of, and life still goes on… but you have to manage how to do it AND tote the baby!
But assuming you make it through the physical marathon of the first six weeks, you will probably start feeling the emotional adjustment more keenly. At some point, it will kick in that not only are you IN CHARGE of this precious little life, but YOU yourself must nurture this little life for the next 18+ years! A huge slice of what used to be independent decisions are no longer independent anymore because they affect the baby. And you must start confronting both the ups and the downs of parenting. Starting with the ever-present question: “What is my baby trying to tell me?” questions you feel like you are not prepared, equipped, or able to answer start flooding your brain every moment. It is hard to ignore those questions and voices, “Am I doing everything right?” “What if I cause a problem here?” “Is this fixable?” “Will anyone help me?” Going to sleep is sort of your only respite.
But the good news is that even these tormenting questions have an ultimately good purpose: they motivate you to engage your child, reach out to others, and make the best of it. If you can muster up enough confidence to just dive into life with baby and be ok with who you are, what you can do, and the resources you have… you will win!! Don’t give into the nagging insecurities, identity crises, or perceived losses. This is one game you must trust in yourself to get off Square One.
And don’t forget you are not alone. Not only do you have friends and neighbors who are all like you, engaged in this amazing drama, but you have a personal partner: your husband. Your husband is a hand-picked friend for you to confide in, consort with, and find comfort. If he wasn’t in the past, you better start making him now! You can’t do this alone, and your husband needs to be included in the parent game. In some sense, he is more able to handle the sometimes crushing emotions than you are because he is not as enmeshed in the toils of everyday life with baby. So don’t resent him for this or blame him… seek his help but make friends with his rationality. Sometimes it is the main life line being sent to you.
And for goodness’ sake, continue to be glass is half full! You have this little baby! It’s going to work out! You’re not going to mess up in any new ways that mothers haven’t already! You love it! It will love you! And there are SOO many blessings that will start rolling in as your child develops and becomes your own that you have to focus on those things. Don’t miss them.
Do find a time/place for yourself, to keep something going that you alone love, and that will help. Draw those boundaries, get a shower every time you need it (hah! I’m not kidding!), and lower your expectations of what you need to get done each day. There is a reason why “families” are an institution that you can recognize with playgrounds that clutter the yard, toys which clutter the basement, and laundry which is never done… because this is what raising a family entails! People sacrifice the same things for a reason, so don’t be ashamed if some of those “That will NEVER be me” things become you. You are not the old you. You are a new you. If you can embrace this, no matter what, you will be just fine =)