Congratulations: It’s a baby! Now what, Mom?
Wherever the new mother goes, she has a new world in which to travel. The steps up to the house may be the same, but now she is carrying a baby. The furniture is the same, but it may not be the safest for a growing child to explore. Her routine looks like there was an explosion inside her clock. What about dinner? Where are those diapers? Did I shower today? When is the next check-up?
Material concerns aside, the internal changes within her are some of the most dramatic for a new mother to experience. Unfortunately, some people outside of the mother-child pair will unwittingly undermine what the mother has to offer her child. Too many times a new mother is assumed to know absolutely nothing about her situation. And especially during those first nervous days and weeks, the mother may agree on that point. After all, many voices in her world claim to be from experts, and yet somehow she is blocked from ever having any claim to that term herself. I hope that after reading this article a new mother can sense the reserves she has available within herself.
The first thing to do while juggling baby and life is to take an inventory of your personal insights. Do you recognize the depth of your love for your baby? Do you have experience with children? Do you have an experienced family member or other mentor you can turn to for support? What is your education like? The answers to these kinds of questions can vary widely. Perhaps other questions will come to your notice. For instance: Do you have experience with other kinds of care taking (yes, pets do count!)? Are you able to make personal sacrifices for someone else? How do you seek healthy answers to questions in your life? If you have a weakness in important areas, be kind to yourself. Accept the weakness and improve it. It may even become a strength one day! Take time to explore a few of those issues in your life. Hopefully this is not the first time, but some things really don’t occur to us until our outward situation changes. Start with where you are at, and go forward.
You are not alone. If you believe in a Creator, you have the opportunity to call upon that person for help and guidance. If you do not believe in a deity, you can trust in the generations that created you. You have mothering hormones and a well formed brain available to you as a human being. Those hormones help you respond to your baby. That brain helps you to learn and to adjust. If your arms ache, that means your muscles are strengthening to bear the weight of a growing child. A new mother is a regular force of nature; this Earth was designed with just such creatures in mind. After all, every pride of lions has its mother lionesses.
Each new mother needs to look around her life and observe who is there to support her. This should not be the first time such a thought occurs to her, but a fresh look can enlighten a person. The father of the baby is an immediate source of support. He may need to hear specific requests so he can learn how to be there for mom because he is a new parent, too. Please do not play nice and let him off the hook for every aspect of parenting- you and the baby need him! You might have other mothers available; rely on them if you can. You will never agree on all parenting issues, but you can support one another. If we were meant to go it alone in this life, we would not be born as weak and dependent as human babies are. We need each other. If someone is not there for you, recognize this and seek other relief. Don’t try to be there for every other person in your social circle if that is something you do; your baby is the most dependent on you, the most vulnerable, and the most in need of you at this time. If you have a great support network of people who love you, then celebrate that! You will need other arms, other hearts, and other memories to help you.
Listen to yourself
Start creating a quiet place in your life where you can focus on the baby and learn to listen to him or her. This may mean a physically quiet room in the house, where there is no TV, phone, or other distraction. Ignore some of the advice coming your way. It may be family expectations, or expert’s how-to articles in your favorite magazine. They may not help you do what you need to do, which is to listen to your baby. It takes time to recognize the body language and cries of a baby. Watch how he or she reacts to the things of the moment. Listen to yourself, as well. What feelings do you have? What thoughts? It can be helpful in the beginning to have a check list of questions to answer: is the baby hungry? Does the diaper need changed? Is the baby tired? Within a few days you will begin to recognize the sharper cry of a hungry baby as opposed to the whiny cry of a tired baby. Once again, be kind to yourself as you learn. Remember that you need care as well. How tired are you? Are you happy, or sad? You can speak up. If care is slow to come, you may need to meet your basic needs as well as those of the baby.
Mother as an authority on her baby is a touchy subject. Many mothers agree with one another about this, yet many ‘real’ authorities will downplay such an idea and even try to silence it. The fact is, a mother needs to hear her inner voice to care for herself and her baby. At the same time, mothers tend to be the parent who works with pediatricians, teachers, and other authority figures. It will go more smoothly if you are civil and respectful; you will be able to ask for the same in return only if you demonstrate it yourself. Remind yourself that an authority figure may know more about many kinds of babies, but you know more about this one.
What are some things that interfere with listening to your own heart and mind? Can you do something about some of them? Inexperience, self-doubt, fatigue, poor care, lack of education, or lack of awareness can all build a wall that blocks a mother from doing what she needs to do, or just doing it in the best way she can. Don’t try and change your entire world; just sweep out some of the dusty emotional corners.
What kinds of things help a mother in hearing what her own sense is telling her? Some good sleep will help even if she doesn’t get all the sleep she needs. She needs a quiet time and place where she can think without interruption, or a person who will listen so she can sort through some issues out loud. One of the things any parent can do to improve their parenting is to live in the moment, at least during certain times of day. Multitasking is great; so is moving from one basic task to the next, with focus and mindfulness. You might have to answer that important phone call even if your baby is crying; but you might find that ignoring the phone will help you hear why your baby is crying to begin with. Your judgement can serve you well.
One of the situations that arises is being away from home and baby. The whole argument of ‘quality time’ vs. ‘quantity time’ is, in my opinion, unhelpful. No one person can provide both in sufficient amounts. Give the best you can with the time you have; actively create good times with your child. It might be a zoo trip or other scheduled event, but it also might mean just sitting together reading the same book over and over. The goal is to meet the needs of your baby as well as you can. Listening to your baby will help you make important decisions in your life. Do your best. No matter what your situation, you can be a loving mother to your baby. Your tone and the way you touch the baby communicate deeply. Are you distracted by social obligations? How about unnecessary guilt? Be a mother who is patiently working through the lingering issues that she has picked up along the way in her life.
Take a second look at the first paragraph of this article. Does the haphazard list of demands sound confusing or tiring? Much of life is like that. You can make some of it wait, and acknowledge that you are part of the picture, too. Many people insist that chaos must be a part of their day (and yours). You may have disorder in your day with a baby, but you don’t have to have chaos inside you.
Listen to yourself. Listen to those deepest thinking and feeling places within yourself. It will take time to tune an inner ear to a place within you that may often go neglected. As you try to become more mindful, you will hear yourself better, and you will hear your child better. You can learn the skills that will help you move on to the next phase of life. Trust yourself, forgive your mistakes, and build on your triumphs.