I knew I was pregnant when I threw my wallet away in a New York City Subway garbage can. Yup, you read that right. I was waiting for the subway, reached into my purse to throw away some old receipts that were collecting and instead grabbed my WALLET and dropped into arguably one of the dirtiest places on the planet. Luckily, a very kind subway attendant dealt with my hysteria and retrieved the wallet for me. (The NYC subway trash cans are cemented to the ground and padlocked closed so that no one can tip them, so getting the wallet back was truly a process…) I sat on the train and thought, “How could I make that mistake? I need to take a pregnancy test…” And so began nine months of pregnancy brain.
I was over the moon to be expecting and I was incredibly blessed to have a relatively easy and enjoyable pregnancy. Looking back, I went into motherhood with blissful ignorance. I was an elementary music teacher and had also worked in the baby and toddler rooms of daycares for years during my undergrad – how much more difficult could being a mom be? Feed, burp, change, nap, repeat, right? Simple enough.
Well. Turns out motherhood is A LOT HARDER. Like, an inconceivable amount harder. When I got home from the hospital, I was zero percent prepared for what I would feel. I didn’t even know that the “fourth trimester” was even a thing.
I felt completely disconnected from my body. In one moment, I would feel so powerful and strong for having just given birth, but in the next months, I would feel inept, confused and lost. Nursing around the clock, it seemed like my body no longer belonged to me and I resented feeling that way. Looking back, I wish someone had prepared me better. I wish I had known some concrete ways to help me through it, to navigate how I was feeling, and to be more mindful about all of it.
Here are five things I learned and did along the way that really helped me.
1. Know that you are never, ever alone in what you are going through
I felt overwhelmingly lonely when I first became a mom. My daughter cried NON-STOP for the first 8 weeks and it felt like she was constantly cluster feeding around the clock. I really struggled with Postpartum Anxiety and I was often overwhelmed by my emotions. My husband is the most incredible and supportive partner in the world, but I still felt so alone in what I was going through.
About six weeks in, I started going to a breastfeeding support group and it honestly saved me. Suddenly, I was surrounded by other moms who were walking through the same struggles I was and it just felt so good to be heard by people in the same season.
Mama, know that whatever you are feeling, NONE of it takes away from how amazing you are as a mother and you are never, ever alone in what you are going through.
When I was having a particularly tough night with breastfeeding, I would sit in the rocker with Lucy and picture the thousands of other mamas out there doing the same thing with me at that moment. I visualized calling upon their strength and I sent my strength to them.
2. You are so much more than your worst moments
I remember taking Lucy on a short road trip (about three hours each way) when she was about three months old. It was just her and I in the car. On our way home, she SOBBED the whole time. To the point where she made herself throw up. When we finally got back to the house, I walked in the door and lost it. I was so guilty about making the decision to go and that she had gotten so upset. I felt like such a terrible mom.
But you know what? That did not make me a terrible mom. Not even close.
We are all going to make decisions that we regret later. We are all going to make mistakes and learn how to do better next time. We’re all going to have moments that make us feel like we don’t know what we’re doing. But, we’re still incredible mamas.
I believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that no one could be a better mother to my baby girl than me. And mama, no one can be a better mom to you kiddos than you. They were hand-picked for you, and despite how many times you may stumble, they are always going to see you through the eyes of unconditional love.
3. What’s best for you is what’s best for your family
Take care of yourself, mama. You’ve got to know that doing what is best for you is ultimately going to be the best thing for your family.
And even more than actually going through the motions of doing the things to take of yourself – time for just you, meditating, reading something you love, exercising, etc. – you have to BELIEVE that you are worth doing these things. You have to really know that by showing up for yourself and taking care of yourself, you are going to be able to show up as the best mom and partner. You are worthy of feeling your best. And the best part? You don’t have to do anything to earn that worthiness. You’re breathing. HOORAY! You’re worthy of all the self-love and acceptance and self-care.
So go ahead and take the time to do something that is just for you. Ask your partner to help with the kids so you can. It’s not selfish. Hire a babysitter so you can. It’s not selfish. Have a family member or friend come watch the kids so you can. It’s not selfish.
4. Other people’s opinions don’t matter
When I became a mom something hit me hard and fast immediately. The fact that everyone seemed to have an opinion about my parenting. I certainly didn’t have to ask. They were given to my loud and clear. At first, these opinions really rattled me. I was getting conflicting information about everything from all around me. It heightened the feeling of not knowing what I was doing and made me question every decision even more. I finally realized – these opinions don’t matter. AT ALL. A lot of people in your life may mean well when sharing their opinions about parenting, but it in no way means you need to take them to heart.
Mama, you know in your heart what is best for your babes. And if you’re in a situation where you feel like you’re not sure, you know the people whose opinions really matter to you. Trust your gut and tune into those who you really want in your inner circle when it comes to parenting. That’s more than enough.
5. Gratitude is a mom’s best friend
The biggest practice that has helped me reframe my life as a new mama has been intentional gratitude. It’s impossible to feel grateful and upset or anxious at the same time. Plus, when you start to pay attention to gratitude each and every day you are actually retraining your brain to focus on and point out the positive rather than the negative. I can’t say enough how POWERFUL it is!
Each morning, I start the day by listing out 10 specific things I am grateful for. I try not to list super generic things like “I’m thankful for my health,” or “I’m thankful for my family.” I want to be really intentional about it so I list things like, “I’m so thankful that we met a new family on the playground yesterday. Lucy had so much fun playing with them and it was great to meet a new mom.” It gets me in the right mindset at the beginning of the day. Also, when I’m having a particularly tough day, I have a whole journal full of incredible things that I can go back to, to remind me of how much I have to be thankful for.