New Mothering

Dr. Corinne Masur

A couple weeks after the birth of her first baby, one of the women in our mother-infant group came and in and immediately started to cry. “No one told me it would be so hard,” she said. The other women looked on, slightly horrified, as they were all still pregnant. And it was true. No one talks about how hard the transition is from non-mom to new mom. No one talks about the complete loss of autonomy, the feeling of being controlled by your baby, the dramatic change in the relationship with your partner, the extreme vulnerability you feel, how everything hurts your feelings and makes you cry, how hungry you feel for support and how you feel like YOU need nurturing while, in the mean time, you are expected to nurture your baby.

This new mother’s baby had been born a couple of weeks early, and because of his low birth weight, she was told to nurse him every three hours. She went on to tell the group that as soon as she was finished nursing, all she had time to do was to diaper and change the baby’s clothes and maybe to put him down for 10 minutes and then it was time to nurse him again. It felt relentless to her and crushingly fatiguing. And, although she felt guilty saying so, boring. She had been a working professional up until her delivery and now she was at the beck and call of a baby, stuck in her house, wearing sweat pants.

Everyone says, “treasure this time, they grow up so fast.” Well, it’s hard to treasure the time with your adorable newborn when you are so tired that all you want is a nap. Yes, your baby is beautiful and precious but it is difficult to actually see your baby in this way when you feel like you have no time for yourself – even for the basics – like eating, for instance.

Once upon a time when families actually were a part of the proverbial village there were mothers and aunts and grandmothers around to help with new babies. Now most new moms are isolated in their own houses or apartments. And unless they are lucky, they don’t even know another new mom nearby with whom to commiserate. The feeling of being all alone, of having to make it up from scratch is terrifying. “Can I keep this baby alive?” is the unspoken subtext of their lives. What am I supposed to do when he cries and won’t calm down/when he won’t nurse/when he repeatedly falls asleep while nursing so he’s always hungry? What am I supposed to do to get him to go to sleep/stay asleep? And why won’t he sleep at night? Why does he seem to wake up just when I’m ready to lie down? How is it possible that he can be wet again after I have JUST dressed him? Even before I pick him up off the changing table? And then wet AGAIN for a third time in the space, literally, of 5 minutes?

New moms have more questions, more feelings, and often, more tears than they know how to deal with. Pregnancy was a time of increased attention from others – even annoying strangers want to know how far along you are and when the baby is due. Everyone wants to give a gift, a shower, a piece of advice, to go out for lunch. Their underlying motive, of course, is often to tell their own pregnancy stories – but they are there and eager to talk. After the baby is born the attention shifts to the baby. No one is interested in the mother anymore.

The new mom so often feels alone, isolated, bereft and, even worse, just WRONG for feeling these ways.

New mothering IS hard. Suddenly you go from being a “me” with personal freedom to do what you want when you want to being a person in servitude to another. Your baby is a constant – and as much as you wanted him/her, as much as you planned for him/her, there is nothing that can prepare you for how it feels to have such responsibility, to have such a gigantic identity shift, to have so many changes happening in your body, all occurring in the course of a moment.

Once a mother you can never be just a “me” again. You extend yourself into your baby. You are intensely preoccupied with him (or her) and his/her wellbeing. You worry, you dream, you fantasize about this new person. More than ever before, your needs come second – or third – or get forgotten altogether.

No wonder partners feel as jealous and left out as they often do – the baby is your new partner, your new lover, your new interest. When you yearn for a free hour it’s not so that you can cuddle with your partner, it’s so that you can take a shower and wash your hair. And once you have that time, if you DO succeed in making that time happen, all you can think about (during your shower) is your baby.

If you were working before your delivery you miss the company of adults, the gossip, office politics, the lunches where you could actually sit in peace for half an hour. You miss your identity as someone other than your baby’s mother. You had a whole separate life that now you don’t have – or, if you do, the quality of that life has changed drastically because it is filled with guilt over not being with your baby.

New motherhood is hard. There is never enough sleep, never enough support, never enough time to contemplate the changes in your identity, in your psyche, in your relationships. There is always laundry and so many tasks that were easier before you had a baby.

So, how did YOU cope?

What did YOU wish you had known then that you know now?

Enter the conversation.

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