No matter how many parenting books you've read, how many nieces or nephews you've watched grow up or how many years you've clocked babysitting, becoming a mom for the first time catapults you into an entirely foreign world that you could never be fully prepared for or expect.
As a mother of three (including a set of twins who initiated me into motherhood and now a newborn), let me help by giving you the inside scoop on what every new mom should know. May these frank words of wisdom help you to forge into the unknown with a bit more knowledge, confidence and a knowing smile on your exhausted, yet sure-to-be joyous face.
1. Most moms have no idea what they are doing. Actually, make that "no mom has any idea what she's doing." Sure, caring for a newborn isn't rocket science and there's mother's intuition to guide you, but the whole business of motherhood is truly just a huge job of winging it. You figure it out as you go along. You make plenty of mistakes, save many a day, and together with your baby you learn and grow... and figure out how to do it better tomorrow.
2. Many tears will be shed. Your baby's and yours. Babies cry no matter how good of a job you are doing. Sometimes, they cry really hard and for so long that you think they'll never stop. There are times when you'll join them, crying from exhaustion, frustration, hormones and a whole host of rioting emotions that become a part of you when you become someone's mother. There's comfort in reminding yourself that the crying will stop -- it always does -- and if you're lucky, you'll shed many more tears of joy than any other kind.
3. Your old life is gone, but certainly not forgotten. Bringing home a new baby changes everything. Your identity, marriage and your daily routine may seem like someone else's. No matter how much you promise yourself that you'll never lose sight of who you were before you became a parent, you can't help but become somewhat of a new person. It's completely normal and understandable to miss the past, the old you and your old life. As your baby grows and becomes less dependent, it'll become a little easier to reconnect with your old ways. That woman you used to be is still in there. You'll enjoy meeting (at least a part of) her, again someday.
4. Your gut is your most valuable tool. No, not the one threatening to make skinny jeans a thing of your past. Your intuition. Listen to that inner voice -- the sixth sense that is bestowed on all mothers -- that tells you what your baby needs. Go with it. Don't let it be trumped by what you read by a childcare expert, or by advice you get from your mother, your best friend or the neighbor who has successfully raised six children. You know your baby best. Do what works best for the two of you.
5. You will feel with far greater intensity than you ever felt before your child was born. It's true what they say, being a mother means wearing your heart on the outside of your body. A mother's heart hangs by a sliver of a string, completely unprotected, totally vulnerable and yes, bursting with love you never knew existed. Maybe you expected that, but you may not have anticipated all of the other emotions that come along for the ride -- guilt, resentment, fear and frustration, even loneliness. There's no norm, and nothing is wrong with you if you don't feel what you think you ought to feel.
6. You can't go it alone. Neither one parent nor two can raise a child without some help. It's tough, relentless work. You need time to yourself, even if it's just to go for a cup of coffee without lugging a 20-pound infant carrier in the crook of your arm. All moms need a reprieve from baby duty, even if it's just long enough to thumb through a magazine or take a shower without having one eye on a bouncy seat and ears on high alert. Enlist a helpful neighbor, compassionate friend or book a babysitter so you can get some time away. Your baby will be just fine, and you'll both be better off once you've had a chance to take care of your own needs.
Motherhood can a bumpy road to travel, but with a little veteran wisdom and support, we can all be better equipped to enjoy every precious minute of our child's first years. Next time you meet a soon-to-be new mom, pass along your own words of wisdom and encouragement. You just might make those early days a little easier on her.