I had no clue how to be a mom.
I had never done any real babysitting, never dreamed about my future kids, never wished for motherhood.
And I had no idea that the labor continues long after the delivery. Consequently the first year of Jackson’s life was about the most blurred and confusing one I (barely) remember.
He was a gorgeous baby. Everybody admired him. Deep blue eyes and blonde halo hair. He looked exactly like his dad.
And I wanted to look exactly like I thought a new mom was supposed to look.
But in the first 18 months of Jackson’s life I never met one other new mother who said that she was finding the transition hard, frustrating, exhausting or wretched.
So I played dress-up in my words, my role, my uncomfortably tight clothes and my Sunday mornings when I always answered, “fine” anytime anyone asked how me and the baby were doing.
Fine became my shield and my friend and the bars behind which it was impossible to connect with anyone who could actually relate to where I was at. Me and the moms who all had babies at the same time were all fine as far as I could tell. And I believed to break that spell was to fail at this first test that truly mattered – the grueling multiple choice of motherhood.
I know better now.
I know that dark rings must have lurked under their eye makeup and heart ache under their Sunday outfits. I know that they were likely running on just as little sleep as me and that they wished someone else would hold the baby from 3-5pm. I know that they probably got tired of lugging that car seat carrier everywhere and that they couldn’t remember the last time they’d slept in. I know that they may not have actually enjoyed having to show up on late nights or early mornings for school or church or whatever events.
I know now – now that I’m three kids in – that being a new mom and losing your mind have plenty in common.
But I never heard it back then when it would have helped me to breathe.
Last night I was lying in bed next to my baby girl, twirling her fingers through mine, and I thought of that brand new mom in South Africa. I thought of her alone and lonely under a thatched roof wondering how to make sense of her late nights and early mornings and the rip that had torn through the middle of her universe to let in more love and more chaos than she possibly could have planned when she packed her hospital bag.
I remember that mom and how she wouldn’t have thought lying in bed tired, rumpled, and still in work clothes with a baby girl tucked under one arm and all the dishes from dinner sitting dirty in the sink would have sounded even remotely appealing.
How she couldn’t imagine she’d adapt and that motherhood would start to feel as comfortable as her size 6 jeans used to.
I thought about her and I thought about you reading and how maybe no one has said out loud what you needed to hear either.
In your dark nights and desperate mornings, maybe you need someone to lean in and take you by the hands and say out loud all the crazy you think is yours and yours alone to carry.
Because that’s too heavy a weight, little sister.
We know those 3am feedings and the miles of carpet walked with a wailing infant. We recognize every throw up, blow up, and days when you don’t think you can possibly show up.
We sing the same song. This wailing, celebrating, achingly, beautiful warble of motherhood.
It goes something like this, doesn’t it?
It’s like being born again into a life and a skin that don’t fit quite right and need time to stretch out – this becoming someone’s mother.
You can be out of your mind with exhaustion and confusion and wonder if you’ll ever recognize yourself in the mirror again.
It can hurt to get dressed, it can hurt to discover what doesn’t fit, it can hurt to feel like you don’t fit in.
No one can describe what newborn tired feels like. And the surprise can shock and paralyze.
Hours will be spent preparing to leave the house until it becomes less effort to just stay home.
You can lose friends and parts of your mind that you need to do your work, run your business, manage your home, remember to pick up the toilet paper.
You are not crazy, you are simply shedding layers of your former life like so much old skin. It’s OK that it itches, it’s normal that it’s uncomfortable. It will grow on you.
Falling in love can take time – give it to yourself and your newborn in truck loads.
Leave the dishes, say yes to friends who bring meals, let go of getting all the laundry done and folded and put away all in the same day.
Find at least one person that you can tell how you’re really doing when they ask.
Ditch “fine.” Reach for real.
It gets better. It does get better. Until one day you’re lying in bed with your baby girl and dreading the day she’ll be done with bottles and slurred syllables.
And on that day, remember to tell a new mom how it started. Remember how you feel right now. Remember because you’re going to need it. You’re going to need to admit out loud how it started and how it ends to a little sister who is struggling under the illusion that she has to have it altogether.
You reading this at 3am or so late you have no idea when last you slept and are already dreading tomorrow. It’s going to be OK. Slowly. Mostly in unexpected ways. And with more mess than you probably would like. But it is going to be OK.
Especially if you will let someone in to help carry the load.