A newborn's cry is unmistakable.
The hearty, bleating squawk of a tiny human being announcing his or her arrival is a sound that etches itself into the cellular memory of a parent. ￂﾠMy youngest has a cry that is 13 months older than his first heartbreaking shrills once were, and yet...
When you peeked around the corner of the breastfeeding center the other day, I already knew you were there. ￂﾠYour daughter, barely on the cusp of her 1-week birthday, was sharing news of the dawn of your motherhood in the way that only babies can. ￂﾠShe announced your arrival with a primal yell... the one that sends mothers everywhere right back to the fog of those first unpredictable weeks.
I stood there with my 1-year-old on my hip, his chubby legs wrapped around the curve of my waist, his outstretched hand patting my chest as my milk suddenly let down. ￂﾠI took in your tired eyes, the slight glimmer of fear that danced across your face as you tried to figure out what would happen next. ￂﾠCrying baby. ￂﾠNew environment. ￂﾠWhere do I sit? ￂﾠHow do I feed her? ￂﾠDoes she need a paci? ￂﾠWho is staring at me? ￂﾠDid I remember to bring a diaper in? ￂﾠShit, I am STARVING. ￂﾠWhere the hell is my husband??
I watched your husband shuffle quickly inside the room, flushed from having just found a parking spot outside, and balancing the overloaded diaper bag on one arm and the unwieldy bucket car seat on the other. ￂﾠYour eyes filled with tears as you realized that he was a mirror of your own exhaustion. ￂﾠYou handed him the baby, and turned away to take a breath. ￂﾠAs the lactation consultant spoke to you in a gentle whisper, she called over her shoulder to your husband.
"Hold her out in front of you like this, and bend your knees as you bounce and sway."
A silence washed over the room packed with nursing bras and breast pump parts, lactation cookies and Hooter Hiders. ￂﾠYour daughter took a sweet, contented breath, and settled into her daddy's arms. ￂﾠ"Now keep doing that, Daddy," the lactation consultant laughed, as a look of horror flew between the two of you.
Right. ￂﾠJust keep doing that. ￂﾠThe squats and the swaying. ￂﾠThe soothing and the shushing. ￂﾠThe waking up and the carrying. ￂﾠThe worrying and the agonizing. ￂﾠJust keep doing that.
And I saw your eyes fill with tears again.
This is new motherhood. ￂﾠYou, on one side of the room, having just realized that you've traded your fashionable pencil skirts and weekly blow-outs for the last clean pair of maternity yoga pants and, well, daily blow-outs. ￂﾠYou, with the breasts that are heavy and tender, itchy and raw. ￂﾠYou, shuffling carefully as you try to forget that you feel barely held together by the stitches that tell your story like an unwelcome tattoo. ￂﾠYour eyes dart around the store, a quick, thorough assessment of the possibility of friendly fire. ￂﾠWhat will the strangers think about your crying baby? ￂﾠWill we shame you with our sighs? ￂﾠWill we judge you for the laundry list of heavy choices that you've already made, during the longest week of your life? ￂﾠFor a brief moment, you wonder what would happen if you ran right out the door. ￂﾠBack into your old life. ￂﾠWhere at least cranky bosses went home to their own houses, and deadlines were predictable. ￂﾠWhere pregnancy felt beautiful, and special, and important. ￂﾠWhere your husband could be counted on to fix things, and answer things, and help things.
And then you looked up, and your eyes met mine.
I had only stopped in to ask a quick question. ￂﾠI shifted Bennie to the other hip, and motioned to you with my free hand to continue talking to the lactation consultant. ￂﾠI gave you a shy smile, trying mightily to figure out how to give you 3,000 words of encouragement in one timid glance. ￂﾠI needed you to know that a year ago, and five years ago, I was standing there too. ￂﾠTrying to figure out how far and how fast I could run before my life would start to make sense again.
I wish I could tell you that it gets easier, but it doesn't. The secret is that you get better at it.
You get better at it.
You have only known your new, sweet-cheeked little human for a week. ￂﾠYou are tired, and tearful, and terrified. ￂﾠYou are suddenly responsible for absolutely everything, and have control over absolutely nothing. ￂﾠYou are in love, and second-guessing your love, and drowning in your love, and overwhelmed by your love. ￂﾠYour motherhood is brand new. ￂﾠYour confidence is emerging like a flower that has finally been watered, stretching toward the sunlight as unexpected gusts of wind test how it bends and folds. ￂﾠ
You will get better at it. The feeding and the night-waking. The dinners gulped down in 30-second intervals. The panicked calls to the pediatrician. You will get better at it.
You will never stop worrying, or doubting yourself, but you will have more proof that you are doing it right.
Each day that passes is another day that you get to take credit for. Every gummy smile that erupts from your daughter's soft features came from you. ￂﾠEvery contented sigh as she feeds, every time she squeezes your finger with her tiny hand, every flutter of her eyelashes as she drifts into sleep, is a thank you to you.
You will never again be OK in the old way. ￂﾠYou will never be as rested, or as energized, or as focused on the world around you. ￂﾠInstead, you will be OK in a new way. ￂﾠYou will measure your success in hours instead of weeks. ￂﾠBut as you worry, your confidence will grow.
It will give way to courage. ￂﾠIt has to.
Your worry was born from love. ￂﾠIt came flooding out of your body with the rush of water that preceded her birth. ￂﾠA birth of your own. ￂﾠThe beginning of motherhood. ￂﾠYour worry will change over time, and, slowly, it will be replaced by strength. ￂﾠEvery time you propel yourself out of bed in the middle of the night to soothe her cries,ￂﾠyour courage takes root. ￂﾠEvery time you reach down in the darkness to latch her on, every time you hold your breath as the nurse weighs her, every time you buckle her into the carrier and walk outside to face the day... every single time, you are planting the seeds of your confidence. ￂﾠYou are walking forward bravely, courageously, into this new life that looks nothing like your old one. ￂﾠYou will see the shadows of the woman you were before motherhood, and you will watch those shadows dance with abandon. ￂﾠYou will reach for them. ￂﾠThis I promise you. ￂﾠYou will chase those shadows when you zip up your "hot jeans" and head out for a date night. ￂﾠYou will reach for them when you settle back into a dining chair and drink a glass of wine with your best friend. ￂﾠYou will learn to welcome them when it's time to let the light in, and usher them out when it's time to stand on your own.
Your capacity for mothering will grow as your child grows. ￂﾠYou won't have to figure it all out at once. ￂﾠYou have time to learn. ￂﾠYou'll learn to hang in there when she spits up a fountain of milk. ￂﾠTo hang back as she toddles on wobbly legs out into the center of the circle in music class. ￂﾠTo hang out in the fresh air of a sidewalk cafe as you swap war stories with another new mom on a playdate. ￂﾠTo hang it up when you realize you need to tap out for a break, and to hang tight when you know that you are the only person who can make it better. ￂﾠYou are the mom.ￂﾠThe only way through it is to go forward.
You will grow and change together. You have to. And you can.
I promise you.ￂﾠI promise you.ￂﾠI promise you. ￂﾠYou can do this, because you already know how. ￂﾠYour instincts have already emerged in a birth of their own -- you just need to welcome them. ￂﾠCreate space for them. ￂﾠ Invite them in to dance with the shadows. ￂﾠWe've all been there. ￂﾠThe expectation that gives way to panic, the courage that welcomes a re-birth. The dance of motherhood is at once foreign and familiar. ￂﾠUpsetting and uplifting.
It won't get better. You will get better at it.
Until one day, you are on the other side of the room when you hear that shrill, shocking, newborn screech. ￂﾠYou will look over at the new mom with the panicked look in her eyes. You will recognize the fear that marks the beginning of her journey. You will remember how you learned to feed with love, how you learned to trust yourself, how you learned to anticipate your baby's needs. Your impossibly tiny baby grew into a laughing, walking, loving toddler. A toddler who is patting your chest and making the sign for "milkies." Your heart will lift, and your pride will escape for just a moment. You thought you'd never make it, mama. And then you did.
Photo Credit Traci Bianchi