[DISCLAIMER: This is a lot of rambling and thinking-out-loud, except not out loud, on paper (on screen?) so if you want to read an honest account of an emotional girl's journey on learning and being a mom, read on. If not, don't. ]
So it turns out there is only so much preparing you can do before you become a parent, as everyone who is a parent most definitely knows. We were prepared as much as we could've been--we took a natural birthing class, we read books, we asked our parents and close friends for their best advice--but there is nothing that can truly prepare you for the real deal. You have to learn many things as they come and it is both hard and beautiful. But there are a few things I wish I really could've understood about being a new mama before Forest was born.
It is okay to ask for help. I've never had too much of a problem asking people for help in regular everyday things--where the laundry baskets are (seriously SO hard to find at Target), how to find the bathroom, how to use a copy machine, how to set up renters insurance, if Zach can please put my shoes on and rub coconut oil on my belly (when I was pregnant, obviously!!!) etc.--but when it came to getting help with Forest, it was pretty near impossible for me to ask for it, even with my husband. I didn't want to ask him to hang with Forest or change his diaper or give him a bottle or put him to sleep, especially after he had just gotten home from a long day at work. I felt like I had to know it all and be able to do it all, by myself, without sleep. And so I never took time to be alone, at home or outside of the house, for the first month or so. I barely slept. I barely showered. It was rough. And I became exhausted, in every sense of the word, and then had a giant meltdown and realized I was too proud to ask for help. And then I learned to ask for help and that I didn't have to know it all or do it all and then, things got a lot better.
No one is good at breastfeeding at first. It takes time to get the hang of it, for both parties involved, and can be so frustrating and sad and even depressing for a new mama. I was in pain and cried a lot and felt so guilty and like a failure of a mom because of how hard it was for us at first. But it got better, so much better. One day, it was like it clicked for both of us and now, nursing is a breeze. But it took weeks of trying and failing and crying (from both of us) and finalllllly getting it, to get it.
There are so many feelings. At first, joy. So much joy at this perfect tiny human. Joy and happy tears and thankfulness and so much love and surreal-ness. Then comes the frustration and exhaustion and sometimes guilt and sadness but still so much joy. Sometimes I feel unappreciated--there's not a ton that a two and a half month old baby can do to show his appreciation. And sometimes I feel very sad and exhausted, all mixed together. But most of the time, when I am just at my wits end--when I've had a full day of the tiny human refusing to sleep, even though I did the calculations and he is supposed to sleep at least this many hours but he is screaming instead--when I've had one of those days and seriously feel like I might be going crazy, I look at that little baby and he decides to smile at me or make some sort of adorable perfect talking noise. And literally all the bad stuff--the nap protests and angry-stop-breathing tantrums and my feelings of inadequacy--melt right outta my brain. I think God made babies so cute so we don't go crazy trying to deal with all THEIR crazy.
Trader Joes meals. They have the greatest selection of salads and wraps and frozen meals there could ever be and they were an absolute life-saver those first few weeks with Forest. There were days when I just wouldn't eat anything cause I didn't want to leave Forest alone for even a second. And then I realized that is crazy and I need to eat in order to feed that baby so he will have to be alone for two seconds. And Trader Joes meals were the easiest to make in those two seconds. Plus, anything that is the TJ's brand, is free of preservatives and artificial flavorings/colorings. So they may not always be super healthy, but at least you're not filling your body with chemicals and gross ingredients that are hard to pronounce! (also, most importantly, they are super tasty).
Coffee literally keeps my body working most days. Seriously. I think 1/3 of my blood is coffee, at any given point during the day. I have never been an avid coffee drinker--even in college, I didnt need coffee to stay awake, even after staying up late working on all the projects and papers. But now it is so different. When I am up at three in the morning with a baby who has been sleeping for half hour increments and then wanting to be awake/staring into my eyes/talking and smiling at me for an hour and a half, I tell myself, "Its okay! You can have coffee tomorrow!" and it calms my mind. (This is not so much something I wish I had understood before having Forest, because I knew I'd be tired. Its more like something that somewhat surprised me when I had Forest.)
It is important to still stay "me" while figuring out being a mama. This one is still something I'm figuring out. There are days when it seems all I am is a diaper changer and feeding machine and baby snuggler (which is the best of those three) and most days, that is what it consists of. But I am trying to make time for things that I love to do. It was hard at first because the second he'd fall asleep, I would have to get dressed or make myself something to eat--I usually couldn't put him down cause he's a snuggler, which once meant, "never stop snuggling me or I will scream real loud," but now means, "I love snuggling so much but I also love laying on my back and kicking my legs and talking to my animal friends," so I usually get to eat and brush my teeth and get dressed most days. Anyways, now that he is okay with hanging by himself, I try to use his nap times to do something that I love to do--reading, crocheting, cooking sitting in the quiet and drinking something warm and tasty (most likely coffee), journaling, blogging--and it has helped me so much. It evens me out. I really think having some sort of a creative outlet is important for everyone, but especially new mamas. My roles have changed a bit, yes, because I have become someones mom, which has been the sweetest blessing of my entire life. But I am still all that I was before--Christ-follower, wife, sister, friend, creative thinker, lover of the outdoors and good food, wanna-be baker and cook--along with being someone's mom. And I am figuring out how to be all of them at once. Which has proven to be a bit tricky, but I'm still working at it every day, with a lot of help from Jesus (who constantly reminds me of my identity in HIM alone. I'm saving that for another blog post, this one is very long already) and my husband/bestie.
Last but not least. The amount of love that occurs upon becoming a mama is huge. This is the one that everyone tells ya about. I don't even know how many times I've heard my mom say, "Oh you won't understand until you're a mom!" and it is so very cliche but, oh my lanta, how true it is! There is so much sacrifice and patience and learning and sharpening and serving involved in this whole motherhood thing, definitely. But, by far, the thing that most surprised me was how much I love this tiny kid. He has shown me more about Jesus and how God loves us, than any other experience in my entire life. I absolutely love everything about him--the way he looks so intently into my eyes when I'm nursing him, his balding little head and the new hair growing in, the way snuggling with him can probably heal broken hearts and cure any bad day, his fingers and toes, the way he talks when he's getting his diaper changed, the way his whiny cry sounds, the way he falls asleep easiest when he's laying on my chest, the way he smiles SO hugely when he sees his daddy. Sometimes, his smiles bring tears to my eyes (actually, many things that sweet little baby does bring happy tears to my eyes). He is so perfectly sweet and tiny and full of life and he brings us so much joy. I am so thankful to be his mama.
Anyways, I am still learning so so much, every single day. And I know all of these are things you will have to experience for yourself but I hope this helps some new mama-to-be out there. Motherhood is messy and beautiful and such a sweet and perfect gift from Jesus.