Motherhood at Age 33: Lessons I'm Learning (the HARD Way)
My darling husband is out for a walk with our newborn, and for the first time in two months, I have the luxury of some "down" time to myself. As soon as hubby and baby boy stepped out the door, I ran in circles trying to decide what to do with the limited time available to me before they return. Don't get me wrong--I LOVE my precious baby and becoming a mama is surreal. I'm his world, as my husband reminded me the other day. I'm baby's everything. What a privilege.
But, as any new mom will tell you (perhaps whisper in secrecy out of guilt or fear of being shamed?), a moment to catch her breath, take a hot shower, and just sit in quiet is rare. So, after doing all of the above, I've decided to use these precious remaining minutes to capture a few of my early thoughts on motherhood while they're fresh on my mind.
Many of my readers are mothers themselves, so motherhood for them is no new feat. If you are one of them, you probably look back on your experience of becoming a new mom and praise Allah that you don't have to do it all over again. As one of my sisters told me after visiting "New Mama," she was overjoyed to be able to go home with her 6- and 3-year-old boys knowing she'll sleep soundly through the night.
Ah, yes. The sleepless nights. The breastfeeding hurdles. And, let's not forget the endless (sometimes piercing) cries that seem to serve no purpose other than to reinforce your incompetence as a mother. Peace, you probably remember, was exhausted you falling asleep in a dark room with baby at the boob.
I'm being only half-serious. :)
Truthfully, though, as a decade-long educator, Montessorian, and older sister to two, I have to admit: NOTHING PREPARES YOU FOR MOTHERHOOD BUT MOTHERHOOD ITSELF.
If there is any comparison between teaching and motherhood, it is the reality that your best teacher will be hands-on experience, not what you read in books or what you watch on YouTube. I've seen educators with Ph.Ds and Ed.Ds flounder in the classroom. Dr. Harvard Grad who spent years studying child development and psychology, but who never actually taught in the classroom, struggles like an octopus unfamiliar with her own tentacles, as she desperately tries to meet the needs of all her 25 unruly children simultaneously. Meanwhile, next door, Ms. Seasoned Teacher with a standard teaching certificate and countless hours of classroom experience reads Cat in the Hat on the reading rug to five smiling children while the other 20 work purposefully and politely in different areas of the classroom.
Similarly, many new moms with little-to-no experience caring for infants and children (but who often have "read all the parenting books") are like deers in headlights. For the record, I'm not bashing these new mamas. I'm one of them! Despite years of experience around children, I am currently panting heavily as I climb the steep learning curve of motherhood. This is Everest, y'all.
In my delirium (sleep deprivation, anyone?), I find myself imagining what life must have been like for women "back in the day." You know, when there were actual villages raising children. I imagine that a new mother wasn't ever really a new mother, because she probably helped raise her siblings, cousins, and her neighbors' children from the time she was 8 years old. By the time she gave birth to her own child, the dos and don'ts of childcare were probably second nature to her. She probably didn't have to think twice about how to lull her baby to sleep, or what he needed when his wailing reached a high pitch. Actually, scratch that. She probably never heard her baby wail, because she knew precisely what to do before his cries ever reached that point.
Maybe I'm giving this imaginary mom too much credit. Maybe.
Still, I know from watching many moms from "back home" that becoming a new mother is not as shocking or anxiety-inducing as it is for those of us who do not grow up caring for little ones alongside mom, aunty, and grandma. There is something to be said about ancient wisdom and the way things used to be. There is something to be said about watching and doing, about being a "student teacher" in the company of mothers and their children. While society has spent the last century discrediting old-fashioned childcare methods, it seems we've steered too far away from what actually works. After all, how did the human race manage to live and thrive generation after generation? How is it that women used to give birth to and raise a half-dozen to a dozen children without losing their minds?
Perhaps I'm too tired to think straight! With that, there are a few lessons I am quickly learning. (Admittedly, some with forceful resistance.)
1) Having children later on in life DOES have its challenges. I gave birth to my first born at 33 years old. I would have preferred to have him when I was in my 20s, but for several reasons, that did not happen. Apart from having been married once before and getting divorced, I was not mentally ready for what I believed motherhood entails. While I am somewhat regretful that I waited this long to have a baby for the first time, I also know I was not in a healthy place in my life to bear and care for a child. Alhamdulilah for everything.
2) Theory vs. practice: what you read about childcare won't necessarily prepare you for childcare. You will learn when you DO it. If you can learn by helping other moms before you become a mom, go for it!
3) Everyone (and I mean EVERYONE) has an opinion about how to best care for babies. So far, I've received unsolicited advice from a middle-aged woman I passed on the street, an elderly woman standing behind me at a restaurant, a man crossing the road next to me who did not speak English, and a cashier at Staples. Yes, this doesn't include family and friends. But, everyone means well, so smile back and ask Allah for guidance.
4) Surround yourself around moms who love being moms. I can't begin to tell you how draining it has been to hear the whining and complaining of mothers with mindset issues about motherhood. Your kids aren't the issue. Your mind is.
5) Learn from moms who struggled, but who figured it out. Those who persevered through the challenges of first-time-motherhood don't have the same wisdom to offer as those who persevered and learned something. Suffering through it is not the same as learning from it.
6) Your husband means well. Hopefully. :)
7) Every bit of help counts. Thank you, Mama, for caring for baby Ali in the mornings so I could catch some extra zzzz!
8) Breastfeeding = bonding. Nothing else like it. I struggled so much with getting my baby boy to latch. After soliciting the help of three lactation consultants and two pediatricians, I was told to give up, that he is tongue-tied and needs a frenectomy, and that as long as he is eating, that's all that really matters. I nearly did give up. But, watching my baby root at my chest was agonizing and heartbreaking. He instinctively went for my breasts every time he was hungry. Milk was spilling out of me and I couldn't give it to him. It took nearly 2 months, but with a lot of patience, du'a, and commitment, we finally did it. ALHAMDULILAH! (P.S. he was never tongue-tied. He was born 3 weeks early and needed time to develop. Be wary of doctors who push for frenectomies. It's a money-making business if you ask me.)
9) Wear your baby. The idea that I shouldn't get him used to being held does not sit well with me. Cultures all around the world carry their babies for most of the day. Sure, out of necessity in many cases, but even so, attachment parenting is the old order that led to respectful, appreciative, empathetic children who grew up to be respectful, appreciative, empathetic adults. I'm not suggesting that you carry your baby all day, but spend as much time as you can doing some skin-to-skin. The benefits are numerous. My husband and I definitely see and feel a difference.
10) Don't let perfection get in the way of good. The amount of time a task takes is equal to the amount of time you have to complete it. You can spend an hour on a task and still find a reason to spend longer working on it. Becoming a mother is teaching me to let go of perfection and to just... do it.
Aha, there go hubby and baby at the door. Perfect timing!