A friend gave me the best reality check before I became a mother. She said, "It took me almost a year to start feeling like myself again, like how I did before I became a mom."
That little comment help set expectations for what I could expect from myself as I navigated my first year as a mom. It made me a little kinder to myself and helped me remember I'd figure out my identity as a mom all in good time.
I've received a lot of wonderful and candid advice from moms that helped me through that crazy first year, the one where at times, you feel like you're just surviving. I wanted to share some of that wisdom, plus some of my own experience that has colored what I share with my clients becoming first-time moms.
Have Zero Expectations
Literally, zero. A very wise mama I worked with told me this and it helped me make it through many sleep regressions, fussy periods, witching hours and public outings.
Your baby will appear to get on a pattern. You'll think, "This is great! I know exactly when she'll wake up, this will make my life so much easier!" Then your baby will go from waking up at 7 a.m. every morning for two weeks, to waking up at the butt crack of dawn four days in a row. Babies don't care if you're expecting them to be on a schedule.
When you think about it, the amount of developmental leaps and sleep regressions that happen over that first year make it difficult to assume a pattern. At some point, your baby will be learning something new, which throws them off, which then throws that expectation you assumed for nap time, feeding or fussiness out the window. Throw in teething and you've really got a free-for-all on your hands.
I went into the first year assuming every pattern my daughter developed would be quickly changed. You know what, they were. Having the expectation to have zero expectations helped me weather that storm a bit easier. I knew eventually even this bad period or early wake-up call would soon be a memory.
Even better news, as you start to wind down your first year with your baby, patterns start sticking. You can start developing more expectations on when your baby will go to bed or when they'll wake up. As they become a toddler most of those surprise moments start to fade away and you get predictability back.
You Can't Fill Someone's Cup if Yours is Empty
I had just gotten back from maternity leave and was freaking exhausted. I remember sitting in my office with several moms and one very patient dad, complaining that I felt like the life was being sucked out of me. Now, as a pumping and working mom, it really was, but everything else felt depleted as well.
That's when my coworker turned to me, who at one time made it through mothering the first year of twins along with a toddler, and said "You can't expect to give to other people if you feel drained. It will help you and everyone around you if you prioritize time for yourself." If that mom, who definitely has her hands full, could figure that out and felt it was important, I thought I should listen.
I came back home that day and told my husband I needed to start prioritizing self care. At the time, I had a new baby, was back at work, taking classes and starting my business, clearly I was over-stretching myself. He was immediately supportive of my need for me-time and put a plan into action.
Since that day, every morning, my husband gets Tess breakfast, unloads the dishwasher and gets everyone out the door. Each morning he brings me coffee in bed. The man is the best and I'm super lucky to have him. That new routine of getting hot coffee in the morning and being able to get ready for the day was life-saving.
Each morning I know I get me time and it made coming home to chaos and staying up late to side-hustle worth it. It also helped me save my sanity, which made me more patient with my husband and daughter, making me more giving in the process.
Self care is crucial.
Know What You Need & Ask for It
Never be afraid to ask for help. Our culture today places a very unfair expectation on moms to do it all on their own, all while smiling. Where this expectation came from is beyond me, because not even a century ago most women were immediately surrounded by help after their baby was born. Every woman knew there was no way this new mom could make this through these first couple of weeks, months and year without support.
When you need help, ask people for it. If you need a girlfriend to come over and chat with you while you're on maternity leave so you don't go crazy, do it! If you're really struggling with breastfeeding, ask for help. You're not expected to know how to breastfeed right away! It's super hard, man. Get advice from professionals and friends. Do you need someone to bring you some coffee and dog food? Call up your mom, I'm sure she'd be happy to help her baby.
Most importantly, let people know what you don't need. Often times with new babies, we feel obligated to let people into this moment with us, but never give ourselves the space to experience it. If you know that you don't need visitors today, let people know. If someone is putting up a fuss, they obviously don't care about supporting you the way you need. Buh-bye, now.
It's okay to set boundaries with people, your friends and family will understand. We had a hard and fast rule about bedtime with Tess: we had to be home to put her down at 7 p.m. Tess was use to a 7 p.m. bedtime and my husband and I depended on that time to reconnect or get personal work done. We let our friends and family know and they were amazing. Dinners were planned earlier so we could be home on time. Friends came to us so we could put Tess to sleep then hang out like adults.
Your tribe will support you, but you have to ask for it.
You'll Start to Feel Like You 're Not Just Surviving
This is the number one thing I say to every family I work with. I say it during our prenatal visits & postpartum visits. I say it to mamas I'm supporting as they breastfeed. I say this to couples I do photoshoots with. Little by little, you'll start to feel like you're not just surviving. You'll feel like maybe you can actually kick ass at this parenting thing after all.
We had a little victory early with my daughter. Headed out to her two week appointment, I made sure to grab another outfit, just in case. We get to our nurse practitioner's office, start to strip her down to be weighed and she has blown out absolutely everywhere. As my husband begins changing her, I started pulling out her back-up clothes. Our nurse said, "Wow! You guys are so prepared, way to go!" My husband and I looked at each other and high-fived. We did it! We parented!
As the year goes by you become more confident. You get more little wins. You'll have hard moments too, but at the end of that first year, you'll look back on how far everyone has come and be super proud. You did it! You survived.