Becoming a mom has been a huge lesson in patience, asking for support and a crude evaluation in my needs to survive.
Becoming a first time parent is filled will the most intense highs and lows. For me, I couldn’t even begin to imagine the extreme emotions and physical endurance of becoming a mother. I’ve learnt the most about myself during those newborn months.
Between the sleepless days and nights, recovering from labor and having a baby who required stroller walks to fall sleep, I was left with no energy to hold filters and social pleasantries. My husband took the brunt of my emotional roller-coaster and to his credit he was a champ and humble gentleman. It was also a great wake up call for me to be more open in my needs and ability to communicate with him.
My husband and I are both the youngest children in our families and so despite reading many books, we were definitely under-prepared for the realities (and relentless nature) of having babies. WE WERE READY FOR KIDS, BUT NOT PREPARED.
Newborns can be summed up with one word: RELENTLESS
The relentless nature of loving a baby was a huge kick in my pants. Those nights of crying, feeding, rocking, pooping, crying, bouncing, feeding, pumping, burping, crying, walking and on and on until it was morning and you had another full day to do it all again.
- Where did those hours go while I slept?
- Why is movement and nursing the only things that stop the crying?
- How can a smile, giggle or fart make me melt into a puddle of ‘awwwww’?
- Why is watching my baby sleep so mesmerizing?
- Why am I so anxious all the time?
- Why is he so fragile?
- When can I get a break?
- When will it get easier?
- How can I love anything so much?
- When can we have another?
- How could we ever have another?
- How can nipples hurt so much?
- How is my awesome body able to grow, develop and feed a baby?
- How do I have so many pictures on my phone of my child?
- Why is it that the first thing we do on date night is look at pictures of our son?
And then time suddenly passes and your baby is not so little anymore. He isn’t so helpless. And the days get more and more fun. You stop looking forward to sleep so much and you maybe even stop taking naps whenever you can. You find yourself looking forward to mealtime, bath time, and playtime.
For us, snuggles started getting longer and we didn’t have to negotiate for kisses. The moment some physical independence occurred (ie. sitting, walking) and communication (sign language, body language, speech), there was a drastic change in our relationship.
I never realized what a worry-wart I was until having my son.
When I was a competitive athlete and all through my schooling career, my anxious nature seemed to be a normal and appropriate response to stress. And I always thought I was good at stress management – deep breathing, meditation, journaling, exercise. But the one thing that parenting lacks – when compared to competition, examinations and even a job – is AN END. A break to recover and a choice of when to work and when to rest.
When I had my son I’ve never felt such a relentless exhaustion.
In addition to the constant worry and stress of keeping your baby alive, is their ability to feed off of your mood. If you are exhausted, upset, frustrated or anxious, your baby senses it and feels unsafe. They feel your uncertainty, which makes it harder for them to relax and trust (and sleep and nurse and poop). All the parasympathetic activities are more difficult when you are stressed. Confidence when there is none is a lesson I am still learning, while having honesty and patience with my own limitations.
The following are 10 of my most surprising things I’ve learnt (so far) since becoming a mummy to my beautiful and vibrant 2 year old son, C-bear.
10 Surprising Things That Happen When I Became A Mom
1 Your Main Objective is to Stay ALIVE
Initially, I put a lot of pressure on myself to be the PERFECT mummy:
- Home-cooked nutritious meals
- naps every 3 hours (even if it meant stroller or carrier walks)
- not letting the little dude cry for more than 10 seconds
- solely breastfeeding (because I didn’t prioritize it and was too exhausted to pump and bottle feed after 4 months old)
- taking the night shift so my husband could sleep
- creating stimulating and educational activities whenever C-bear was awake (there was a lot of swimming in the condo pool)
- Everyday I tried to workout, get together for play dates, pack a picnic lunch to have with my husband and take care of myself
I was pretty successful for a while but then I started to get overwhelmed when I didn’t build in enough breaks or solo time to recharge.
After listening to the audiobook, ‘You Are a Badass’ by Jen Sincero things got crystal clear. In those first months of motherhood, our number 1 priority is to stay alive – you and your baby.
PS. audiobooks have been a true life-saver for those long boring (and exhausting) stroller walks.
Post-partum I ate voraciously for calories but mostly to stay awake. Parenting is tough. And it’s even harder after doing a marathon and having traumatic injury to your organs (aka labor), so cut yourself some slack. Nothing is more important than your health and sanity. This part of parenting will be short-lived (retrospectively) so you really don’t have to do it all now.
2 You Are Always Doing Laundry
I was (and still am) so surprised by how much laundry a little baby can create. Between spit up, drooling (through a bib), meal time, spills, leaks and blowouts I was doing at least 1 load a day.
I added to our laundry load by opting for cloth diapers, which mind you was great but by the age of one I switched to disposable out of convenience and functionality (C-bear was leaking out of his cloth diapers every 2 hours, that’s a lot of diaper washing).
Not only was it C-bear’s clothes, diapers, bibs and blankets that needed to be washed but also my own clothes. There was always some spit up, snot, milk or food on my clothes. Lately, he’s developed a habit of wiping his dirty hands and snotty nose on my pants, ugh.
NOTE: One of my favorite baby laundry detergents has been Rockin’ Green.
3 You Find Yourself Constantly Watching
Every stage has it’s struggles but also it’s miracles. I’ve never watched my little dude more than when he was a newborn, whether it was out of fear (ie. is he breathing) or complete awe (ie. the infectious giggles).
I’ve also never taken so many pictures and videos. If you are due for a new cellphone get one with an awesome camera, you will thank me later. I also highly recommend that you “favorite” your photos as you take them. It makes it easier if you ever want to print photos or photobooks, and God forbid if you ever have to DELETE anything to make more room on your phone.
These have been my favorite (and most memorable) moments to watch:
- Staring at the baby monitor while he slept (but mostly when he cried, heartbreaking)
- The first smiles, giggles, kisses, hugs, I love you’s
- Watching my son and husband play or cuddle together
- Learning to crawl and walk
- When they start playing (nicely) with other kids or holding hands
- Finally putting on their own shoes and jacket
- Trying to feed themselves
- Learning to swim
- The tickle battles and raspberries
Soak up ALL the moments as much as you can. They really are so special and I often receive reoccurring advice from parents that they regret not being more present, even for the tough parts.
4 How Uniting a Baby Can Be
Babies bring people together. Not only because of their infectious giggles, smiles and wide-eye awe of the World but also the struggles of raising one. There is a silent code between parents that is just understood.
When I see a mom pushing a stroller while dragging her feet and trying desperately not to make eye contact with anyone, for fear of bursting into spontaneous tears, I feel her pain.
Having my son has given my family and friends more purpose for getting together. Whether it’s to help babysit or plan play-dates, there is a deeper reason for meeting than only catching up, and often there is actually very little catching up but more running around catching kids.
Having a baby gives you secret entry into a new social circle of parents. You may find that friends and colleagues start treating you differently. You just get it on another level. When a single twenty-something tells you they are tired because they are hung-over from partying all night and had to wake up at 9am, there’s just no way to sympathize. It’s just a completely different world that you live in after having a baby.
5 New Hobbies Involve Diapers, Milk and Shushing
Yes, get used to it. Most of your day will be spent changing diapers, packing diaper bags, making milk, pumping milk and feeding a baby milk. Oh, that and coming up with new ways to put your baby to sleep:
- The infamous SHHHHhhhh… with the intention of recreating the sound of blood flowing (and NOT trying to quiet your screaming baby, of course!)
- The bounce into slow motion rock… that sometimes successfully transitions into laying down on the bed then tip-toeing out of the room while holding your breath.
- The hard back pats… you’d think it would be uncomfortable but somehow it does work.
- The pacifier… no judgement. It’s a miracle when it works.
- The swaddle… I became a pro-swaddler wrapping my baby like origami.
- The baby-carrier or stroller walk… so many stroller walks. And if you live in a condo (like I did, on the 38th floor), the dreaded elevator ride up always with people who talk so loudly.
- The car rides… while slowing to ‘almost a complete stop’ at stop signs and speeding through yellow lights.
- The car seat swing… we didn’t purchase any fancy baby swings or rockers so we resorted to hand swinging.
- The sauna… not actually, but a nice warm dark room definitely helps.
- The BOOB… and more and more boobie.
- Bob Marley… don’t ask me why but when my brother babysat C-bear he’d always use reggae to put him to sleep.
6 You Won’t Love Every Minute of Parenthood
I’m not going to lie, being a parent isn’t all roses and rainbows. I consider myself a strong, independent and creative person. I’ve endured training as a National level gymnast and have successfully completed medical school. I thought I had parenting in the bag. Especially since I decided to be a stay-at-home parent without major stressors (physical, financial or emotional).
But let me tell you that parenting is really tough. And really boring at times.
I went many months feeling like I was living in 3 hour intervals. I dreaded naps and bedtime because I was so anxious that my son wouldn’t sleep and I desperately needed to sleep.
I would fill the hours doing tummy time, walks, swimming (lots of swimming when we were living in Costa Rica and we had no stores or restaurants in walking distance), baths, dancing, singing, attending drop-in centers and visiting friends. Before the 6 month mark your baby is perfect, but also a blob. They may have some personality but there is little interaction and I remember yearning for some adult interaction. Some mental stimulus. Conversations that didn’t revolve around my baby.
Not only can parenting be boring and relentless but also AWFUL. There, I said it.
Yes, you will come across times when you feel like you HATE your baby.
I vividly remember the first time I really couldn’t keep it together. C-bear was a few months old and having trouble going to sleep. I was beyond exhausted and I was by myself (my husband had already moved to the couch for the night to get a more sound sleep in our 1 bedroom 500 sq ft apartment). I tried all the sleep techniques I could do from our bedroom without success. I even tried pleading to baby C-bear. And there were a lot of tears. I was at the point of wanting to throw C-bear into his crib and walk out. So, I put him down before I actually did anything to hurt him and left the room. I let myself feel bad. I let myself breath and re-group before going back into the room.
Letting your baby cry for a few minutes is okay. And letting them cry is certainly better than pushing yourself to the point of harming your baby or yourself. You are human and have a breaking point. Remember #1? The most important thing is that you and baby are ALIVE. If your baby misses a nap or a feeding they will be ok. They will survive. You don’t need to put so much stress on being the perfect parent. Be good enough to keep everyone alive and healthy. Beyond that, give yourself some slack and remember to be proud of how well you’ve done so far.
7 HELP: The Most Valuable Tool
Asking and accepting help has been one of my biggest weaknesses. For so long I was under the belief that I needed to be strong and independent. That I should never rely on someone else or expect too much for fear of being disappointed. This is a story I’ve told myself for so long. I believed it because I thought it was what got me here and I’m pretty darn proud of myself.
All through my pregnancy I prepared myself to be strong and do it alone, despite having a loving husband and lots of family who supported me. I knew my husband needed his sleep and energy to run his business and I didn’t want to burden others by asking them for too much of their time. I told myself that I would take a maternity leave for up to 2 years without putting pressure on myself to work. Since I wasn’t taking on a career while being a mother I was stubborn in thinking I should be able to handle taking care of my son solo. Right?
And I could do it. I know I’m strong enough and capable of doing it. So I should, shouldn’t I?
I know that self-care is important. I wasn’t naive to think I could effectively and happily parent without any help, but I just didn’t realize how exhausted I’d be. When times get tough my natural reaction is to take it on myself because the thought of needing to plan for childcare or explain how to take care of a baby was too much. At my breaking points I just wanted to do it myself. The problem with a lack of sleep and regular self-care is that you don’t think clearly.
It was only when I passed my breaking point when my husband stepped in and demanded I rest or get a break. It was a learning process for him too. He had to read my signs and continually check-in with me while we worked on having open communication. He was very patient with me but also felt clueless (and scared) with raising a baby. Remember, we both had very little experience being around babies.
So here are some helpful tips:
- Accept help when someone offers it – Take the help whether it’s having someone clean your house, make you a meal, or to take your baby for a stroller walk to give you a break to go shower, workout, sleep, eat, etc.
- Ask for help before you hit your breaking point – If possible, build in regular breaks into your day (not just when baby is napping) to do something or nothing for yourself.
- Go out with other adults – This includes date nights, girls’ nights or going out to a cafe for a quick catch-up with a friend, but SOLO. If your baby is there likely they will consume all your attention, even if someone else is watching them. Force yourself to have a social life with people who don’t need your time, attention or energy.
- Treasure your partner – Your partner is still the most important relationship you have. Accepting and asking him/her for help is key but it is also critical to be there for them. So often you are too tired to even get up and give them a hug at the door. It’s easy to lose intimacy and lust during this time. It’s also so easy to neglect their feelings when you are neck-deep in your own struggles. You don’t need to give them a private 4-course meal and sexy dance every night, but showing that you appreciate and acknowledge what they are committed to goes a long way. Communication is the key to a strong and supportive foundation for your family.
8 Food, Poops and Sleep are Constant Worries
A universal and constant question for first-time parents is always ‘is my baby is growing appropriately?‘ Tracking their poops, pees, feeds, and hours of sleep can be all consuming. Do they have enough? Are they thriving? What percentile are they?
A common thought is, “What is normal? And where is my child in comparison?”
And what it boils down to is not just a concern for their health, but a need to compare.
The Pressures of Comparisons are Constant
Aside from health care issues (like colic, getting sick or injuries), the pressure to have your baby grow, develop and learn up to speed with other kids starts way too soon. Whether we recognize it or not, most adults are constantly comparing themselves to others and they transfer their insecurities on to their children.
We worry, doubt and shame our kids while they are still only learning how the World works.
You see it clearly at the playgrounds as parents hover and protect any incident from happening. Our children are learning what actions and sounds get a reaction out of you and others. They are not trying to be malicious when they throw, hit, bite or have a tantrum. They are expressing a feeling that they can’t yet describe. Helping them navigate and express emotions in a safer way takes time. Be patient.
There is often pressure to raise independent and confident children, but I suggest you be patient and give them time. Give them space to be free-thinking and wondrous spirits. Slow down and observe. Don’t be in too much of a rush to have them grow up. They have lots of time to follow rules and social norms. And it will do you some good too.
And as for those picky eaters, I find varying their snacks and drinks are ideal. Use some fun bowls, cups and silicone straws to keep them engaged with what they are consuming. Here are a few tips to make sure they are getting as much nutrients into their bodies:
- Vit C and greens drink – my son loves drinking a mixture of 1/2 a vitamin C packet (500mg) with a 1/8-1/4 scoop of green’s powder (we use Amazing Grass). This is a nutrient packed drink that tastes sweet and delicious. You can also bring this with you on trips and airplane rides to help with immune support.
- Bone broth and vegetable soup puree – Ready-made roast chickens from grocery stores are an affordable, healthy and delicious protein option when you totally forget to meal plan. After removing the meat, I love using the bones to make a soup broth. If you’ve never made soup this way, it’s really easy. Just put the bones into a pot of water (an inch from the top to allow space to add veggies) and bring to a boil. Once the soup is boiling, reduce the heat down to a simmer for 30-60 minutes. Then add in some chopped veggies and you have a hearty and nutritious soup that your child can drink as is, blend to make it a thin puree or add in some noodle fun.
- Smoothies – Have fun with smoothies by adding different kinds of fruits and veggies. My favorite recipe is frozen blueberries (1 cup), frozen spinach (1 cup), banana (1), almond milk (1 cup), water (1 cup), vegan protein powder (25g), green’s powder (1 scoop), tahini paste or almond butter (1 tbsp). Use fun colorful silicone straws to slurp up a drink packed with nutrition.
- Fish oil – I avoided giving my son fish oil for a long time (despite it’s health benefits for brain development in children) because I don’t like the taste of fish oil. But to my surprise he LOVES THEM. He takes the capsule and bites down to suck up the oil. It’s incredible and surprising that he keeps asking for more. I use Ascenta brand high in DHA for cognitive development.
- Guacamole – Guac has been a staple snack in C-bears life, even before living in Mexico for a few months. You can easily hide raw garlic, raw onion, tomatoes, and cilantro in the creamed avocado. Just add a pinch of salt and a splash of lime to enough this healthy treat. We eat it with cucumbers or rice cakes.
NOTE: Make sure to dice up the garlic and onion into really small bits to avoid the pungent taste.
9 Books Will Never Truly Prepare You
I read up on what to expect, but truthfully reading prepares you for having a baby, not parenting a baby.
10 More Sleep Sometimes Isn’t The Answer
There was a time when all I could manage was to shower, eat, and sleep while C-bear was napping. When I was given a break all I wanted was sleep. I vividly remember when Calvin was 4 months old and someone had asked me,
“What do you look forward to most when you wake up first thing in the morning? What are you so excited for in your day with your son?”
Not my most shining parenting moment, but it was the honest truth. I was so exhausted and could only manage 1 major outing a day (ie. trip to the park, visiting friends, going for my post-partum check-ups). Besides that, I was nourishing or resting my body.
Fast-forward to 6 and 12-month old and despite still being tired, more sleep wasn’t always the answer. Of course I could use more sleep but even if I napped for an hour I’d still be tired, just not quite as much. So, what I found to be even more fueling for my body was to do something that nourished my soul. It could be getting together with friends, having a date night, seeing a movie, going out dancing (or to a class because my bedtime is 9pm) or picking up a long forgotten hobby. If I don’t have any support, I find writing or drawing to be a great outlet for creativity and self-expression.
For any new mom feeling the relentless stress, please keep reminding yourself that it is just a phase. “This too shall pass” are words that have never rung truer for a parent.
Yes, the moments feel grueling; yet looking back it’s a flash in the eye.
There are countless things we question as new parents, everything from swaddling and formula feeding to daycare and vaccines. The list is long and it continues to grow as they get older. And not only does the list grow, but it also feels more substantial to the health and well-being of your child’s future.
So breath, chill and be kind to yourself (and your little ones).
And please remember to PLAY. Be present and soak up all the moments. Life is too short to be so serious. And if you are finding yourself stuck in a ‘poopy pants 3-year old tantrum’ kind of mood try SPINNING.
Note: My husband and I literally twirl each other if we are in grumpy moods. Keep spinning until you are left with a genuine smile on your face.
Find the humor in life and it will give you rainbows of love.