A Letter to Myself before the Baby
It’s 2018 and I find myself reflecting on 2017. I have to be honest: I feel a lot of guilt. The first months of my baby’s life have been hard. Sometimes I feel like I’m missing out on something that other people are experiencing as new parents. Like I’m looking through a window at the experience I “should” be having when the reality isn’t what I anticipated.
Some of this stems from having a high needs baby. If you haven’t had one, you may think the things I say my child will or won’t do are just “typical baby things.” If you have had one, you know it’s an entirely separate experience from those your friends or siblings may have had with their child. You know the frustration when someone says, “Why can’t she just sleep in the car/take a bottle at the restaurant/sit in the swing/nap in her crib/play by herself, or do anything else a “normal” baby does?”
On top of the exhaustion of holding a baby for every waking and sleeping hour, you find yourself feeling bad for not having a “normal” child. It’s exhausting and it hurts, especially when you already feel guilty for secretly asking those questions yourself. This is on top of the already impossibly challenging role of being a mother. Even if you don’t have a high needs baby, you struggle. You are exhausted. You doubt yourself. You question whether you’re doing right by your baby every single day. I wish I could have prepared myself for some of these feelings, so I’m writing this letter to myself - and to you.
You’re having a baby! I know you feel huge right now and it hurts to sleep and you miss sushi, but what you are doing is so cool and will feel even more magical once you see that an actual human really grew inside of you from the size of a tiny poppy seed. Also, I know sleeping is uncomfortable but sleep. Sleep often. You will not sleep for a long time after the baby comes so you should enjoy it now!
I know you have a lot of expectations of motherhood. That you will love every moment, existing in a bubble of love with eyes for your baby only, and that you will sacrifice everything for her. The reality of this martyrdom doesn’t always feel beautiful or healthy. Some days you will look in the mirror and not recognize yourself amid sunken eyes and sallow skin. Your baby will take everything from you and you will give it willingly - but that doesn’t mean it won’t be hard or push you to the bounds of what you thought you could handle. There will be moments where you are so tired it hurts. Where your baby will cry for no reason, for hours, and you will feel defeated. These moments will pass but they will be hard as hell. But you can do it. You will do it. Your baby will learn that you can and will do it and she will trust and love you beyond the bounds of what you ever anticipated. She will curl her little body into you gripping you for dear life when she’s tired or scared because you have proven to her that you are her safe space. You will teach her that you will always be there, and that will feel better than you ever imagined.
Stop registering for stuff. Most of the stuff that you need you won’t actually realize you need until you are in the thick of motherhood. That’s not to say you won’t also use and love those things on your registry, but you’ll find that extra pump parts, the weird bottles from Europe, the ugly pacis, pumping bags, toys you said you’d never allow in your home, boring but zip-up sleepers and the jumper you heard was bad for baby hips but she loves will end up being your saving grace. You’ll envision things to be all Montessori and organic but you’ll end up with plastic that lights up and you’ll never look back. Oh, and it’s OK to get the epidural. Motherhood is about survival, OK?
But, register for all the carriers. You don’t know this yet, but your baby isn’t going to be one of those sleepy babies. She will stare at you with wide eyes at all hours and you will ask yourself whether you got a weird one that doesn’t need sleep. You won’t get those sleepy days watching movies with your husband while the baby sleeps on your chest and you stare lovingly while holding hands. No, that won’t be your experience. Don’t resist it so much. It won’t change it. Wear that baby everywhere. That’s how she sleeps.
She will not adapt to you, you must adapt to her. But don’t feel bad if you find that to be much easier said than done. Try not to wish her newborn days away but forgive yourself when you do. Yes, she’ll only be that tiny once but the cluster feeding, constant baby-wearing, sleepless nights and colic evenings are hard. So give yourself grace. Give your husband grace. Give yourselves more grace than you ever knew you needed. Accept that some people will disappoint you with how little they visit or support you. Give them grace, too. Then go find some mom friends who get it.
You are the best mother for your baby. You can do this. Yet there will be days when you truly don’t think you can. That’s OK - you will do it anyway. There is no alternative. Just keep going. If you lose yourself in motherhood for this first year, that’s OK. If people don’t get it, that’s OK too. If you feel like every other aspect of your life, including but not limited to grooming yourself, has to take a backseat, that’s also OK. You don’t have to fit into the mould of the ideal mother that you have envisioned since you were a little girl. You also thought you were going to live in Maine and write children’s books. So, you know, sometimes these idealized visions just don’t really make sense in your actual life. Just keep going. Eventually it gets a little easier.
You’ll get smiles. You’ll get five minutes in the swing. You’ll go to lunch with a friend and make it halfway through before the baby cries. Everything will change but so will you. Your love and devotion to your baby girl will feel second nature. You’ll live for her and you’ll know that being her person is a privilege. So keep going. It’s worth it.