By Ann Mehl, Executive and Business Coach
In November 2014, I gave birth to a new venture: a baby boy named James. He's pretty cute if I say so myself, and has so drastically altered my universe that it's hard to even remember what life was like before he was born.
New motherhood is awash with different emotions. Of course, there is the love that you feel (bursting and unconditional), coupled with the fear that this engenders (what if something happens to him?). And then there is the fatigue (chronic and unending), that can make you look and act like a crazy person at times.
As a first time parent, I knew it wouldn't be easy, but nor did I imagine it would be this hard. Going to work is a doddle compared to the challenge of raising a child.
Now that I've managed to survive the first three months, however, I thought I would share some of the lessons I've learned from new motherhood that apply to life as a whole. Here they are.
You think you're in charge. That's so cute!
My husband was an absolute trooper as we prepared for our son. Together, we read all the books, did the classes, hospital tours, endless rounds of doctor visits. We learned how to hold, swaddle and soothe a crying infant (much easier when they're made of plastic!). We even took a class on "hypnobirthing," that through the magic of mind control, promised us a calm, pain-free and "natural" birthing experience.
But once we arrived at the hospital, that magical Unicorn quickly disappeared, replaced by modern medicine: induction, 26 hours of labor, followed by emergency C-section. In the end, I was grateful just to make it out of there alive. A healthy baby was an added bonus.
You think you're in control, until you're not. In other words, in life and in motherhood, planning is a good idea, but so is detachment from the outcome.
Don't listen to the odds.
Being of "advanced maternal age," I was told that the odds of having a completely healthy baby may be stacked heavily against me. At 41, it seemed foolhardy, dangerous even. Had I listened to the "March of Dimes" guidelines, I would never have even tried. But deep down in my soul I knew that I wanted to be a mother, and all the scaremongering statistics would not deter me from that. I didn't know if I could, I just knew that I had to try.
We all have our deep desire, our impossible dream. If it's in you, don't deny it. And for heaven's sake, do not listen to "the odds." They are an abstraction. Trust your intuition. Then trust it some more.
Go skin to skin.
When we first took our little boy home, he was totally inconsolable. That first night was the absolute worst. He wailed like Janis Joplin, and would not stop. Then my husband remembered something they did in the hospital -- skin to skin. The baby was plopped, naked and howling, onto my chest and it calmed him right down. He even slept for an hour or two. Overwhelmed by this unfamiliar world, he just needed to know we were close, and would protect him.
Just as there is no substitute for skin to skin contact in baby world, there is no substitute face to face connection in the real world. It says, "I'm here. I see you. I'm listening." There is no electronic device that can do that for you. Create face to face connection in business and in life, and you'll reassure those around you that you care.
Wait and see.
Like a lot of first-time parents, we tried to be as "ready" as possible, buying ahead of time all the things we thought we would need. The trouble is, you don't know what you're going to need or if any of it will even work. We of course bought the wrong formula, and within two weeks, he had outgrown all of the newborn clothes and diapers. Far better to wait and see what you're going to need, before actually buying anything.
This applies to other purchases as well. You may think you really need it, but chances are you probably don't. Even waiting 24 hours before making a major purchase or investment can be the difference between buying something you need, and something you don't.
Sometimes the thing you think you don't want is exactly what you need.
Parenting in the early stages can feel a lot like being a shift worker in a factory: endless repetition of mundane tasks, until you don't know who you are anymore. Feed, burp, sway, swaddle, wash. Now rinse and repeat. Infants are the drill sergeants of parenting boot camp, and if you let them, they will break you. Sometimes, I'd be so spent that the thought of even going outside would exhaust me. "No thanks, I'm good!" I couldn't see that I needed saving -- from myself.
At the challenging moments of life, it's important to welcome the friend or partner who says to you, "C'mon, you're coming with me." If someone says to you, "You look like you could use a break. Let's go grab a coffee," take the offer and for heaven's sake, go! Sometimes a simple change of scenery may be just what you need to regain your composure.
And we all need support -- in new motherhood and in life. Accept it when it's offered.
There is never a good time -- and that's ok.
There is never a good time to have kids, make a big decision or begin something new. The conditions will always be less than ideal. One thing this realization has done is increase my understanding of and empathy for my own parents, and indeed all parents who somehow manage to cobble together a life that includes time for work, rest and play. It is the ultimate pay-it-forward endeavor -- a lifetime of compromise and sacrifice for which you may or may not get thanks.
In the words of Dorothy Lessing: "Whatever you are meant to do, do it now. The conditions are always impossible." Go after what you want. The rewards on offer for this kind of challenge are immeasurable -- just like mothering a beautiful baby boy.
Executive and Business Coach Ann Mehl helps entrepreneurs work on things that are holding them back from being the best leaders they can be. Through one-on-one counseling, Ann guides clients to listen to their authentic selves and focus on their personal growth.
Prior to becoming a coach in 2005, Ann spent years in executive search, recruiting C-level prospects and building management teams for VC funded high-growth companies. As a runner who has completed over fifty marathons worldwide, she lives what she preaches. She is disciplined in her approach, and yet flexible enough to respond to individual needs.
A Boston College graduate, Ann works in New York City and is a sought-after guest speaker, blogger, coaching and wellness expert. Her articles have appeared in Women's Running, Body+Soul, Woman's World, and Women's Adventure Magazine and she is a frequent radio contributor, appearing on Martha Stewart's Whole Living Program. To learn more about her, go to www.annmehl.com.