By Cara Joyner
A nurse stood at the foot of my hospital bed and smiled. “Are you ready to go home today?” I looked at her, felt every ounce of the nine-pound baby sleeping in my arms, and fought back tears as I pushed out a short, “Yeah. Absolutely.”
Over the next hour, we received discharge instructions from a pediatrician, my midwife and the nurse - when to call, what to look for, what’s normal and what’s a problem, how much bleeding is too much bleeding, how often to feed and how to know if he’s getting enough, and a number to call when we eventually began to panic. We sat on the bed and held our son; and for an entire hour, I tried not to cry.
Everyone left, my husband went to drop bags off at the car, and as I rested in a chair cradling a squishy baby boy, I cried for the first time since his birth. Through quiet tears, I leaned down and whispered, “I’m sorry. I promise, we’ll be okay.”
Motherhood is unlike anything else I have known. It is beautiful, terrifying, empowering, humbling, and transformative. In that one little moment leaving the hospital, I felt love, fear, guilt and joy all at once. Everyone told me that grace abounds and that I needed to just give myself plenty of room to adjust, but showering ourselves with grace is difficult. What does it actually look like in a world of dirty diapers, leaky milk, postpartum bellies, unpredictable hormones, and maddening insomnia?
Could I walk back and sit across from myself in that hospital room, I’d want to paint a picture of what grace looks like as a new mother.
You might not feel the way you expected to feel. When that final push brought my son earth-side, I felt one thing in every part of my body – relief that it was over. The tender, passionate feelings of love and joy took time to grow. I can remember holding a colicky baby one month in and thinking, “I love him. I would lay down my life for him. But I don’t understand the magical, joyful experience others mothers describe.” If I could go back today, I would tell that sleep-deprived mama to not worry. I would tell her that all of that will come with time and that soon she will look at this sweet boy and her body will literally ache from how much she loves him. And I would tell her that this love she has for him will only grow exponentially over time.
You won’t give birth to the baby in your head. I felt shame for my surprise at how different my son was from what I imagined. It’s true that parents think their children are the most beautiful things in the entire world, but that too can take time. I imagined laying on my bed with a quiet, smiling baby that happily went to family members and drifted to sleep in my arms. I found myself pacing the house with a spirited, feisty little chunk who knew what he wanted as young as three weeks old. And by the way, sleep was not one of the things he wanted. I would prepare myself for that and give myself grace in letting go of the picture I had painted as I learned to welcome the perfect gift I had been handed.
Let people help you. There’s a reason they say it takes a village to raise a child. Because it does. Literally. When you’re rocking a crying baby in the hallway at church and a friend offers to hold him so you can take a break, let her. When someone asks if she can drop off lunch, simply say, “thank you.” You are not a burden. If they didn’t want to help, they wouldn’t have offered. Let them shower you with love.
You are the expert on your baby – but even experts don’t know everything. No one knows your child the way you do. After all, you spent 40 weeks growing that tiny person. God has wired into you an understanding of his or her needs that nobody else has…not even your husband. Rest confidently in the knowledge that you know your baby best. And then remember that you are limited and even though you are already a super-mom, you can’t know everything. Ask for help. Listen to advice. Let others tell you what worked for them, even if it doesn’t work for you. Opening yourself up to the insights of other parents will only add to your wealth of knowledge and give you new tools for working through the tricks that come along.
That said, don’t hesitate to say “no” to people. Not everyone needs to hold your child, offer advice or come visit; and you have every right to decline their invitations. You are the gate-keeper wise mama! You are the one who says yes, no, when and where. Don’t be afraid to stand your ground and use your voice. There’s a reason God picked you to watch over this tiny one. You’re the best one for the job!
As much help as they may be, dads will never be moms; and it’s okay if that’s hard to swallow. My husband and I spent the first two and half years of our marriage sharing everything. I made dinner. He washed the dishes. I did the laundry. He cleaned out the car. Then I got pregnant and began to see that the dynamics taking a natural and necessary shift. He couldn’t take on my morning sickness. I couldn’t transfer my hip pain over to him. He held my hand throughout labor, but as my doula so lovingly reminded me when I wanted to quit, only I could push out that baby. He gave baths and changed diapers, but my body was the only one producing milk every two hours around the clock. And no matter how much he learned and loved on our precious newborn, he did not have the same intuition that God had innately put in me as a mother. And sisters, let me tell you that this was difficult for me to swallow. Let yourself off the hook here. It’s hard and that’s okay. Learn to adapt in a way that works for your marriage and reflects the strengths you both bring to the table.
I remember my pediatrician telling me that the first 100 days are about survival. He was right. I wish I had understood that earlier and had not tried to do everything at 100%. Do what you can and let the rest go. Sleep as often as possible and refuse to feel guilty about it. Ever. You are keeping a tiny person alive and those sweet hands will change the world. So be proud of yourself! On the days you feel like a milk machine that smells like spit up and barely resembles the put together woman you’re used to seeing in the mirror, remember that God is using you to accomplish a mighty work, the results of which are yet to be seen!
Cara Joyner spends her days chasing a toddler, nursing an infant, starting cups of coffee she rarely has time to finish and thinking about how much she needs to clean her house. Years of working in ministry and a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology have led her to graduate school, where she is working towards a Master’s in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. While waiting to finish grad school, she is working as a professional birth doula and freelance writer. Cara writes about family, health, faith and intentional living at www.carajoyner.com. She can also be found on Twitter and Facebook.