As you may or may not know, my first foray into motherhood was not a smooth road. It was more like the Dakar Rally to be honest. At twenty-six weeks pregnant I was diagnosed with gestational hypertension and immediately admitted to hospital. And what followed for the next nine weeks was an uphill battle to grow a healthy baby, while flat on my back. Did I mention that we were building a house at the same time too? Yeah, this time in our lives was quite the opposite of stress-free and relaxed.
At our 35 week ultrasound we heard the words we had been preparing for, "It is time." Our baby was the size of a 30-week fetus and my body just wasn't giving him enough sustenance anymore and he needed to be delivered. On the evening of December 11, 2006, after a surprisingly fast induction, our tiny, fuzzy, 3 lb, 13 oz, skinny little baby, quite literally flopped his way into the world and onto the delivery room bed. I gave him one kiss and he disappeared with his father and a brigade of nurses and residents into the bowels of the NICU.
Our days and nights blurred and became about life in the neanatal intensive care unit. Wires, tubes, beeps, blips and alarms, blue lights, an emergency transfer to another hospital to see a specialist and back again the next day. I honestly can't remember much of those first few weeks of my child's life. I spent about 18 hours a day at the hospital and Christmas 2006 didn't really happen that year. I had one focus, and one focus alone; feed my baby, help him grow and bring him home.
I was a tired, stressed, on edge, first-time mother, with a tiny baby, who needed so much of me and from me and once we got him home, this did not change. He needed to be held constantly (or I needed to hold him constantly) and fed almost every hour. I did not sleep, I am sure I forgot to eat most days and I spent countless nights with tears streaming down my face and onto my sore nipples every time I got up and moved to another room to feed him, so as not to wake my husband.
I have the pictures from this time in our lives and in most of them I am smiling, but for the life of me, right at this moment, I can't remember half of what happened in those first 4-5 months. I know that at least once a day I would be breastfeeding him in our chair and then wake up 20 to 30 minutes later, with a kink in my neck, not able to remember falling asleep or knowing how long we had been there and thankful that I hadn't dropped the baby.
I was obsessed with my little preemie's weight and became a regular weekly fixture at the public health clinic. I charted his pees and poops and I timed how long he fed on each breast and the intervals between feedings. I scheduled his naps like a drill sergeant and I had a three ring binder to house all my colour-coded charts. My poor baby was slowly becoming a set of numbers that somehow I had to make sure all added up.
And then, probably around the same time that I was about to lose my mind and a friend suggested I attend a La Leche League meeting, something clicked. I realized that I was reading too many books and blogs and forums about how to do this mothering thing. I was listening to the advice and good intentions of everyone around me and I had not even considered listening to myself or to my child.
I threw away all the charts and the ugly binder. I got rid of the timers and gadgets to remind me which breast was up next and I let go of trying to control every aspect of our new life. I came to realize that doing so just meant that I ended up frustrated and depressed that I couldn't actually control any of it.
I looked at my baby and not the charts that I had assumed he had to measure up to. I listened to him. I fed him when he wanted to be fed. More often than not, in bed, lying down with him. We slept together. Better than we both had in MONTHS. I wore him in our favourite sling and we found our comfort zone with nursing in public. We started to go out more, made new friends and I continued to let go of my need to control and schedule every moment of his life.
I started to worry less and relaxed into motherhood more and a natural rhythm to our days and nights started to emerge. I admit that sleep was still our most difficult hurdle. My husband wanted our baby to sleep in his own room and my son wanted none of that! I believe that had we not pushed back on this so much and just let him continue to sleep with us (as we ended up doing most nights anyhow), we might have avoided all the nights of trying all the different no-cry-gentle-shushing-sleeping-on-the-floor-sleep solutions and whatever other tactics suggested in the sleep-book-du-jour we happened to be reading. Yet despite this, I finally felt like I was doing motherhood the way I was meant to.
Why all this reminiscing about early motherhood you ask?
I wrote this with a friend in mind. I think she may be struggling a bit with being a new mom and trying to figure it all out and get it right. The sleep, the breastfeeding, all the other stuff that still needs doing, all of it is overwhelming. I want to remind her, and all new mamas, that motherhood is in us. It is written in our mitochondrial DNA from our grandmothers, grandmothers, grandmothers and we just need to trust in our nature, our instincts, to access it.
Think of a mama cat who has her first litter of kittens. She has never done this before, but she makes a nest, she births her babies all by herself, she licks them out of their caul, chews off the umbilical cords, starts nursing the first one even before the next one is delivered and will eventually eat the afterbirth and placenta. No one taught her to do these things and she didn't read "What to Expect when you are Expecting a Litter of Kittens." She is following her instincts and doing what in in her nature to do and what her babies need her to do.
Perhaps, for some, the charts and the books and the schedules help to make the transition to motherhood easier. It makes sense to want an Operations Manual or Policy and Procedures binder for a new job, and in this regard, there is no lack of written material out there to read and use as our manuals for motherhood.
I would like to propose that we look deeper within ourselves for our own motherhood manual. It is there, just waiting to be accessed. And what I have learned is that the best way to access it, is to throw away all the other books, focus on your baby and listen to what your heart, your body and your mind are telling you do to.
If your child is crying and "the book" says don't pick him/her up, but your gut is twisting up with anxiety and the cries are like knives in your brain... LISTEN TO YOUR GUT and hold your child!
If you know what your baby does when he/she is hungry, but "the book" says to wait 3 hours between feedings to get a good schedule going... throw away that book, watch for these hunger cues and FEED YOUR BABY!
If you know that the only way your baby is going to sleep is safe and warm in your arms and against your chest and beating heart... then establish a safe place to co-sleep and SLEEP WITH YOUR CHILD! ( I am almost certain that you will get more sleep too!)
Trust your instincts mamas. They are there for a reason. And as it was for our grandmothers, grandmothers grandmothers, it is and always will be about survival. These days it may not be a saber-toothed tiger that is the main threat, but the constant bombardment of images and information about 'how to be the good mother" can be just as devastating to us!
Take a deep breath and relax.
You got this one, Mama!
I took a teeny little hiatus from the Summer Blog Challenge these past few days. I am sorry, but life trumps blogging and really, if I have no life, I have nothing to write about, so it is actually a win-win for everyone!
Be sure to check out the other fine #summerblogchallenge writers who have no lives... JUST kidding! Liam, Zita, MagzD, Peter, Christine, Cliff, Hethr, April, Karen, and Kim all have wonderful lives that you can go read all about on their blogs!