Last week, my daughter turned six months old. It has been a roller coaster for me. Lots of joys. Lots of low moments. I maintain that I am not actually an expert on my daughter. I feel like every time I think she’s getting into a pattern or routine, she changes it up on me. I spend my time trying to figure out why she’s crying and sometimes I’m successful on my first try and sometimes it’s a longer guessing game.
I want to talk about lessons learned. This half a year has certainly been filled with new experiences, for me and for my girl. I’ve been thinking of all the things I’ve been through and what I got out of those experiences.
1. I feel like I’m a completely different person now, in every way.
I knew before I gave birth that things would never be the same. However, I was unprepared for the sheer scope of the change I was about to go through. Everyone talks about your hormones being out of whack for a while. Everyone talks about the physical recovery needed. What I was stunned by was the fact that I seemed to have changed mentally, on a fundamental level. I’ll give you an example. There’s a road I use often that is underneath a freeway. It has many red lights that used to drive me insane. When you hit every single one of them, it can be super frustrating. However, once I had my child in my backseat, my thoughts were more along the lines of making plans in case the freeway fell on us. I’m speaking completely literally here. Freeways don’t usually fall but I vividly remember wondering what I’d do if such a catastrophe happened and how I’d keep us from harm. (I still don’t have a good plan for this!) I can laugh about this irrational line of thought now, but it was a very real fear I had in the moment. And I’m not just crazy about freeways. I see dangers everywhere I go. It’s more than that though. My body feels foreign to me sometimes and mentally I just feel different. I have a hard time describing this but when I’ve mentioned it to a couple of other moms, they’ve understood immediately. I don’t know if I am explaining it well enough here though. I don’t think all new moms feel this way and maybe this won’t last forever for me. I think my husband has his job cut out for him though, now that he’s married to a different version of me. A me who can’t really describe what’s different or what I need from him because I’m just as new to this as he is. I’m often running the gamut of emotions in a single day. Poor Sir.
2. Babysitters can be trusted. And it’s OK to trust them slowly.
I’m very lucky to be able to stay home with my daughter. But I also used to be a fully functioning adult with hobbies and interests outside of child rearing. In the weeks that turned into months of being by myself with only an infant and a cat for company, I started to wonder if I had lost something of myself when I gained a daughter. It is part of the hormones doing crazy things to you, but it is easy to get inside your own head and stay there. I needed time away, and I only mean an afternoon here and there. So. One day I asked my sister in law to babysit my baby so I could do an event sponsored by a wives group I’m in. I love my sister in law so much and she is a great mom to a toddler and I trust her more than I trust many others. But I was super nervous as I drove away–I even had butterflies in my stomach! I was leaving my daughter. I wasn’t by her side if she cried. Was that OK? Yes. Was anyone judging me? Nope. Did we both survive the separation? You betcha. Did my girl have fun with her aunt and cousin? Definitely. Was it good for all parties involved? Yes. Win win. Now, I still feel like I know my baby best and no one will make her as happy as I do. But it is important for a baby to learn about the world around them, and that includes other people. And it’s important for mamas to learn to trust. I have used a teenage babysitter with our girl a couple of times now. I’ve even left the house with her in charge. I’m making big steps.
3. Your baby is learning the world. And so are you.
It is fascinating to me to watch my baby girl learn how to interact with the world around her. She can pick up a toy with one hand and then put it in her other hand. That’s easy for an adult to the point that we don’t even think about it, but for a baby, it’s huge. She’s growing everyday but I’m growing too. I’m growing as a mother. It’s an entirely new world to me and contrary to the joke many parents like to tell, there actually isn’t a parenting manual. There are plenty of books on parenting advice but what I mean is that every mom has her own style and will do things her own way. I take my girl to the beach and she’s experiencing sand and surf for the first time but for me, I’m unable to relax because I have to think of sunscreen and shade and keeping too much sand out of her mouth and is the water too cold and should I get her sand toys at this age and what if a shark comes too close and is the water bothering her eyes and did I forget to put sunscreen on myself and if that little kid kicks sand on my baby one more time, and you get the picture. The beach used to be my peaceful relaxing happy place. And I still find joy there, as my daughter turns into a water-loving baby! But I have a feeling that I’ll be unable to just head out to the beach with a towel and book for a lonnnnng time.
4. Sleep and chores? What are those?
They say, especially to moms of newborns, to “sleep when the baby sleeps,” and that nothing is more important than taking care of baby. And that’s good advice until you realize how impractical it can be. My experience is that I couldn’t do that because I had to check that she was still breathing. She was in a bassinet right next to my bed and I can’t tell you how uncomfortable it is to sleep with your head propped up on the sides of one of those things. But in those early months, more often than not, that’s how I fell asleep with my hand on my daughter’s chest. And not doing chores in favor of sleeping or doing other things to care for baby sounds like good advice. And then you realize that you have no clean clothes because you haven’t done laundry. Or you haven’t cleaned your bathroom and that’s just no good. Chores need to be done and if you’re not lucky enough to be surrounded by a support system of family and friends to help you, you have to learn to take care of baby and take care of yourself at the same time. You may as well learn it early. My mother came to stay with me after my daughter was born because my Sir departed on his submarine when she was 3 days old. It was nice to have help but I knew she wasn’t staying forever so I used that time to learn to do things with my kid by myself, while I still had her help as a safety net. That way, I was able to function once she left. And now, six months in, I run all sorts of errands and get lots of things done, baby in tow. Of course, my home is a bit of a wreck. I still find it difficult to clean all the things during the day and by nighttime, I’m so exhausted that I’m unwilling to do more than a basic whip around to tidy. Just don’t go upstairs when you visit me. I usually clean the downstairs first. I rarely make it upstairs to vacuum. I know. Get it together mom!
And 5. Perfection is not possible.
I’m not the perfect mom. But my daughter seems happy. Most of the time. I’m not the perfect housekeeper. But my house is clean enough. I’m still striving to learn all I can about what I should do for my daughter. But I’ll be honest. I’m publishing this at almost 3 in the morning because I can’t fall back asleep. My baby girl woke up, I helped her back asleep, but now I’m up. Perfection is impossible to achieve, but striving for it isn’t a terrible thing, as long as you’re not obsessing over it.
I look forward to what the rest of our first year will bring and teach us! Cheers!