So I went to the library the other day to pick up a copy of my book club’s next selection (which I had already gotten a free version of for my Kindle, but being new to the whole Kindle experience and suspicious of a free anything I wanted to see a copy of the actual book and compare it with the Kindle version I “bought” to make sure I hadn’t been the victim of some elaborate literary ruse). Turns out the library didn’t have a copy of the book I was looking for in supply, so I found myself wandering through the parenting section. Having a little time to kill (i.e., not having the baby with me), I selected a few of those “Your Baby’s First Year” type books that I lived and breathed in the first weeks of Annie’s life and took a seat to peruse what they had to say about 7 month olds.
|Photo courtesy of Alison Salyer|
As I was skimming the pages of the chapters pertinent to this apparently “mobile” stage of development (Heaven help us), I realized something. It’s kind of a long, involved something, so bear with me if this takes a minute to get out. Back in the early weeks of Annie’s life, I spent countless hours (when I should have been sleeping) reading library books, books I had been given, books I had purchased, and any piece of information I found online, trying to figure out how to be a good parent. I read about sleep training and feeding schedules and newborn development like it was my job. And each chapter I read, each blog I reviewed, each development chart I looked at filled me with just the tiniest bit more anxiety.
Okay, I’m going to confess something here. It’s a confession that shouldn’t really have to be a confession because I suspect lots (perhaps even most) new moms feel this in those early weeks, but I don’t remember hearing anyone actually say it until after I had Annie. The confession? Being a new mom is hard. At least for me, it was. Parenting a newborn is overwhelming. Yes, there is the overwhelming love and emotion I felt for Annie from the very moment I saw her sweet, round face for the first time. Yes, there is the overwhelming desire to protect her from this crazy world around her and make sure only good things happen to her ever.
But, at least for me, there was also this overwhelming magnitude of the task of raising a baby. Of figuring out what to do when she cried. How best to get her to sleep. How to make sure she ate enough and played enough and did all the things she is “supposed” to do as a brand new member of society. And I was overwhelmed by trying to figure out how to do things the right way. Overwhelmed and scared that I was doing it wrong. That I was messing her up. Overwhelmed in a way that sometimes made me feel like I couldn’t breathe. Overwhelmed and afraid that I was the only one on the planet who had ever felt this way and that I must be doing something wrong, must be a bad mom, must not be maternal enough. And I read those books like crazy, looking for answers, looking for validation, looking for the key to being Annie’s mama, looking for something that would tell me when it was going to get easier already.
And as I sat in the library the other day, scanning these same books I looked to like they were some sort of parenting Bible in July and August, I realized something. I realized that I was breathing again. I realized that it had been months since I had picked up a parenting book. I realized that the best thing I had ever done as a parent was return those library books, put the parenting books I owned back on the shelf, and delete the Word document I had created of my most frequently viewed parenting websites. I realized that the answer to how to best be Annie’s mom didn’t lie in any of those places. Instead, it was right inside me the whole time. When I stopped looking to other places for answers on what my child needed and how I could fulfill that need and instead paid attention to her cues and signals and focused on getting to know her, things actually got easier.
I don’t mean to suggest that David and I have it all figured out…because we certainly don’t. And I don’t intend to leave you with the impression that parenting isn’t hard anymore…because it is. Some days more than others. And I am not completely poo-pooing the benefits of parenting books and helpful online resources. I do still google random things all the time. I’m just saying that in the early days I didn’t know how to use that information in a way that was actually beneficial to me. I’m saying that the good moments, when it's easy to see the rewards of being a parent to this beautiful baby girl we have, far overshadow the hard parts now. I’m saying that I don’t worry so much anymore about whether or not I’m screwing this parenting thing up. Because I see this face, and I know we must be doing something right.
|Photo courtesy of Alison Salyer|
So if you are reading this right now as a new mom, please know if you feel overwhelmed you are not alone. And if you are not in this parenting place yet but think some day you might be, please store this information in your memory bank so that some day when you are standing at 2:00 a.m. in your stained yoga pants, rocking a crying infant back and forth, holding a pacifier in one hand and a burp cloth in the other and trying to remember all of the words to “Rockabye Baby,” you can know that you aren’t the only one who has struggled. And if you are reading this and you are years beyond these days of early child-rearing, feel free to shake your head and smile at my words, because you knew the secret before I did. You knew what my realization was going to be before I even said it. You already knew how good it feels to just breathe again. Because when you catch your breath, and look around, this is the kind of reward you receive.