5 Things Your ‘Girlfriend’ Didn’t Tell You About Motherhood

DISCLAIMER:  I am not a licensed medical or mental health professional, but my life experience is such that I could play either with frightening accuracy on Grey’s Anatomy or Private Practice (stay tuned).  I would prefer that my life experience had prepared me to wow the crowd on American Idol, but hey, that’s just not the card I drew out of the ‘next life’ grab bag.

I am also not an expert in marriage or relationships, like Dr. Phil or Oprah, but I think I could host a pretty entertaining talk show, given the chance.  The information and advice contained herein is intended to make desperate, tired, and very likely unshowered, new mothers feel better.  Perfect parents should proceed directly to the next post without reading further.  Now on with the show…

My sister recently had a baby.  This is her first (ultra-adorable) child, and he is by all standards an exceptional infant.  However, he is a B-A-B-Y, so he is by definition a small, irrational, vocal yet nonverbal creature who has a lot of demands. Sort of like my husband when he arrives home to find that we are out of beer.  Except that he is big.  So  we’re on the phone this morning and my finely-honed intuition and razor sharp emotional IQ give me the sense that she feels guilty about possibly, maybe falling short of the shockingly unreasonable standards the women in my family like to set for things like motherhood and corn pudding.  For those of you who may not always pick up on these subtle pleas for interpersonal connection and reassurance, see if you can spot the red flag in the excerpt below. 

Me:  Hey, girl.  How’s it going?

Her:  I guess I’m having a hard day.  Maybe it’s the 750 straight hours of infant care without so much as 4 hours of sleep strung together on any given night, but I’m just not as patient with ‘X’ as I was the first week he was home. I feel so guilty.

Me:  Aww, don’t feel bad.  Is it really the 26th?  Of April?

See?  It’s tricky.  Don’t be upset if you missed it.  I graduated with a degree in Communications; I’m trained to identify and respond this stuff in even the most complex and convuluted of scenarios. 

At any rate, there are a lot of books out there that purport to provide new mothers with the perfect postnatal compass to navigate the treacherous landscape of early parenthood.  Some of them are very good, but in my opinion they leave out a couple key details. So in honor of my sister and all you other new moms out there, here are a few things your good ole’ Girlfriend Vicki didn’t tell you:

  1. ‘Sleep deprived’ is a clinical term for fatigue so mind-numbing it often induces hallucinations.  It begins in your third trimester when your body has taken on the appearance of a slick and sweat-soaked elephant seal.  The condition is exacerbated by labor, which typically begins sometime between 11 PM – 3:00 AM and ends around the same time the following day.  Finally,  just when you’ve come down off the high of having that beautiful bundle of joy and you’re gearing up for some real sleep, some deranged nurse will wake you up to breastfeed.  Bottom line:  You start out exhausted and it gets worse before it gets better.  Hang in there and do not eat the 2 lb cupcake on the kitchen floor…it’s not “really” a dessert food.
  2. Your infant — no matter how easy and flexible — has expectations.  Chief among them is that he or she has been born to the President and CEO of the Psychic Mommy Network.  When said infant discovers otherwise (likely because you shoved that binky in his mouth when that was clearly the Crap Cry) he will be pissed.  It takes around six weeks for the anger to fully dissapate.  In the interim, try to project all feelings of failure and insecurity onto your spouse.  Babies can smell fear.  Better that they take out their disappointment on Daddy during his shift.
  3. If you are entering motherhood within the context of a marriage, you will find that you also have expectations.  These are different than the ones you imposed upon your relationship prior to having children, and if your chosen partner happens to be a man, they are often startled by a whole new set of ‘Rules.’  You might think these rules are uncomplicated and require only a modicum of common sense and shared empathy to uncover and act upon.  You are right.  Still, it’s good to use words, pictures, X’s and O’s when outlining the new game plan.  It’s irritating, but it’s a gender thing.
  4. Guilt will become your constant bedfellow.  You are not experiencing a spontaneous conversion to Catholicism.  Guilt, unfortunately, comes with the territory.  It can be induced by any number of perceived ‘failures’ and will likely evoke a strong desire to contact your own mother, if for no other reason than to remind yourself that there’s someone else on the planet who has at some point screwed up and still managed to raise a reasonably sane adult.  Also, you can be pretty sure your mother will tell you it’s OK and not to give yourself an ulcer over it.  Particularly debilitating episodes of guilt are often brought on by our 5th and final ‘thing.’
  5. At some point between the third and eighth week of your infant’s life you may have something akin to a mild psychotic break.  It may last 30 seconds or a full infant feeding cycle.  During this time, you may use inappropriate language and/or raise your voice above a coo in the same general location of the house where your baby lies wailing.  You may huddle on the floor in the fetal position sobbing and bemoaning the need for just a couple hours of sleep, a shower and a bowl of stale Cap’n Crunch.  You may also mentally assess the various ways in which you can dispose of your spouse, who is sleeping in the next room.  Do not feel bad.  You are not alone.  We have all been there, and any mother who tells you otherwise is very likely a sociopath and a liar.

So dear, sweet, lovely new mother, give yourself a break.  Be as kind to yourself as you would be to your sister or best friend.  And when you finally realize that you absolutely, positively MUST have a couple hours a week to abdicate responsibility for another living soul, approach your spouse very slowly.  Use a calm and neutral tone as you frame the request.  And if that doesn’t work, proceed directly back to item #5.  A good psychotic episode during daylight hours generally works wonders.

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11 Responses

  1. Amen.

  2. And all this is just the beginning. It’s a series of changes when your precious little bundle morphs from an adorable toddler to little mancub to full-throttle boy (all still very cute) into Teen Wolf or perhaps Major Dork (depending on the child). Even though they are half a foot taller than you are, there are times they want to still cuddle in your lap or they want to kiss you in an overly zealous sort of way. They also become very observational about how you look compared to the latest pop stars and teen idols. The rest of the time, you are one big, giant eye roll. (Which, can I just say, is infuriating because you can’t say “Stop rolling your eyes at me, right now!”) During this time period, you are freed from the maintenance of their physical needs, but now instead you are in charge of the state of their immortal souls. To do that, yours has to remain pretty pristine as well. But know that this is kind of the down side of it all. They also, at every age, make your life completely FUN and crazy. I do remember and acknowledge the difficult New Mom phase. There is some evolutionary device embedded in us to make new moms almost totally forget how difficult this phase is (or otherwise the perpetuation of the species would probably not occur)….I remember asking anyone with a baby: “When did your baby sleep through the night?” And “What did you do to make that happen??” Now I have a new kind of fatigue, like frosting on that initial new mom fatigue (which never really went away) and it’s written all over my face. But I also have love, I think, written all over my face.

    • Suzanne — Your comment about your boys being a half a foot taller than you and still wanting to cuddle gives me hope, so thank you. Griffin (over-achiever that he is) has already begun making notes on my personal appearance. Good thing I’m open to honest feedback, lol. I am bracing for the ‘eye roll’ era and hoping that my sense of humor remains firmly intact. Thanks for the heads up on what’s to come. I must say that if I had to trust the state of my immortal soul to anyone, you’d be tops on my list, girlfriend.

  3. Uggg. You know that 80% I mentioned on that other post…it just dropped to 60%. Just kidding, sort of. This is a great list Laura. *Thinking* “What have I done?”

    • Don’t sweat it, girl. You’ll make it through the worst of it relatively unscathed. They are so worth the effort 🙂

  4. Can I be on your talk show?

    I promise to be entertaining. I had a baby once. My baby is now as tall as me, but I can remember those times. Or I can make stuff up.

    Either way.

    But you need to supply me with: a stylist, a publicist, cold M&M’s, hot M&M’s, filtered water and 7 napkins.

    Cause I also want to be a diva.

    i can be loud.

    And, excellent advise. : )

    • Lori — We should co-host. It’ll be like The View, but instead of three funny chicks, a journalist and some random girl from Rhode Island, it’ll be us, in all our comedic glory. Think of the audience we’d attract. You bring the Pledge and I’ll work on the napkins, M&Ms, etc.

  5. I can promise you all mothers experience some form of psychotic behavior.I refused to let any one come see me after Beckyy was born.I was too depressed .I made this decision while was wearing a strange outfit left over from high school.Blue botton down shirt madras bermuda shorts, knee socks and loafers.I looked in the mirror and swore no one,no one would ever see me this way.
    Becky by the way was being held by Laura on the front porch swing
    .My mother would lock herself in the bath room and chew gum and drink those small Cokes from long ago.We were all yelling and begging to come in.Her reply,Some one take the baby out!!!
    It was always a stall everyday after school who would go in the door first,The first words out of mom’s mouth Take the baby outside.
    All of this experience has given me great insight.I swore when my daughters had children I would break my neck to help in any way.I feel I have done my best.But Looking at little Luke Saturday night sleeping so quietly on my bed I realized this Baby stuff is hard no matter how many times you do it it’s hard. Of course that moment lasted only one second I was crawling around on the floor looking for the binky and my glasses both of which I had some how lost during this one amazing moment. Becky would go home and Grandma would sleep for the next 12 hours.Sorry girls but being a grandma has all the perks.Cute sweet babies and the pride you experience when you see your girls become such good mothers.

    • Yep, grandmothers and aunts get all the fun. There’s such a huge transition to motherhood that goes well beyond just care-and-maintenance of a small person. It’s good that we have each other to talk to and occasionally even pinch hit 😉 I know I could not have gotten through the first three months with either of my children if I hadn’t known there were people to call and people to come home to. I have nothing for love for you girls. Nothing but love, baby.

  6. being the first of my friends to have a baby i feel the need to pass this to them when they begin the wonderful and excruciating experience of child bearing,

    thanks for another wonderful post. i’m loving your blog

    • Kirby — When I replied to you last night, I almost suggested that you read this post. I wrote it after a particuarly frenzied conversation with my sister. It is my experience, hers, and maybe in some small way, yours. Terrifically glad you came across it and could relate. Thanks a bunch for commenting!

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