We were thrilled when we found out we were going to have a baby on that chilly November afternoon. I had planned to heat up some soup for dinner; instead, we went out to celebrate. We did all the things you do when expecting a baby- we took the classes, furnished the nursery. I read every book on parenting and babies that I could get my hands on. We’re planners, my husband and I. We were ready.
And then… the baby came!
It wasn’t long before I had my first experience with the uncertainty of new motherhood. Our son had mild jaundice, and he needed to have blood taken while we were still in hospital. But his blood wouldn’t flow, and as the nurse repeatedly poked his tiny newborn heel with a lance, scraping the blood out, he cried in pain and fear. Meanwhile, I sat by and wept while I suppressed the urge to grab him away and comfort him. As I held him afterward, I silently promised him that I would never let anything happen to him that I could prevent; that I would listen to my instincts to protect him, no matter what.
Advices, recommendations and opinions…
When we brought the baby home, it felt like everyone had advice. Of course, it was well-intentioned; in fact, it was probably very good advice for some moms, and some babies. But for me, much of it didn’t feel right; it didn’t resonate with my instincts. I was surprised to find that I had an incredibly powerful urge to keep him close to me all the time. The crib in the nursery sat empty, as I felt anxious without my child near me at night; he slept in a bassinet beside my bed for months. I couldn’t bear to leave him to cry. I held him almost all the time (You’re going to have to put him down sometime, an exasperated visitor told me). But for me, it didn’t feel right. After all, not long ago, this helpless creature had been living inside my body.
While the lactation consultant at the hospital told me to co-sleep with my son, some books told me to absolutely NOT co-sleep, and others said that it was ok, under very strict conditions. Attachment theory books said to keep him close, and other guides said to teach him to be independent as quickly as possible. I’d read about the dangers of giving a bottle too early, as it could cause something amusingly called “nipple confusion”, so I was panicked (panicked!) to find a nurse giving my baby formula from a bottle in the middle of the night. The theories and advice were overwhelming, and while my instincts were screaming that I knew what was best for my baby, it was impossible to shut out all the conflicting information I was being offered (and that which I had sought out).
A mother knows best
It took time and experience to realize that my gut feelings were what was best for the baby, and for our family. My approach to surviving as new mom was about as far removed from what I expected as it could be. And today, that tiny baby who I made a promise to in the hospital is a happy and confident 4 year old. His little sister is an equally plucky and happy person. I approach parenting with love and logic.
I made choices for my family that were right for us; instinct driven choices I never expected to make. All families and babies need different things, and the choices each family make are the right ones for them. There is no “one size fits all” when it comes to raising your children. What you decide is what’s right for you. So now, the advice I give to my friends who are about to become mothers for the first time is this: “Don’t read the books. Listen to yourself. You know what to do.”
Featured image by Mikel Garcia Idiakez