6 Lessons in the First 6 Months of Motherhood
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Two Saturdays ago Hudson turned 6 months! I really cannot believe he is already half a year. These past 6 months have been filled with so much joy, but to be fully honest, these past few months have also been a real challenge. Motherhood has already been so much harder than I was expecting; however, it also has been even more beautiful that I ever could have dreamed up. The Lord has been doing some major heart work within me through this early part of motherhood and I wanted to list out the six biggest lessons He has taught me so far.
1. Plan for the Unexpected
Lance and I are big planners. We plan mostly everything. We plan out our meals each week. We plan out vacations. We plan out when we will workout. We plan things out. We like it. I think mostly because it gives us a sense of control. So, when we started hearing about the importance of making a birth plan, we made one. We had it nicely laid out in a Google Doc and made multiple copies to give our parents, the doctor, and the nurses.
Even though everyone kept telling me to not be too attached to my plan, I could not help but think that my birth would at least mostly go with the plan that was neatly typed up. Sure, there might be a couple things that would or would not happen, but all the major things like a vaginal birth, that would have to happen. C-section was definitely a word that we did not type up, but that ended up being our reality.
After nearly 40 hours and Hudson’s heart rate dropping, I had to have a C. This was my first reality check that they were right. You cannot be too attached to your plans. Delivering Hudson in an OR was not how I pictured it. I was picturing using all the lamaze breathing I learned in class. I was picturing breathing in the lavender essential oils lofting out of the diffuser we brought. I was picturing pushing and laboring and sweating. Instead I was cut open. This of course was not the plan.
I was initially disappointed about it. This was my very first taste of motherhood and it was not what I expected, not what I imagined. But, in the whole scheme of things, it did not matter. Hudson was born healthy. He was beautiful. And while he was delivered by C-section, I will forever remember the very moment I heard him cry. I have never felt so much joy and relief. The C was the first lesson. Then, came breastfeeding.
2. Breastfeeding Is Not Always Natural
I also had a picture of what nursing Hudson for the first time would be like. I wasn’t necessarily picturing rainbows and butterflies but I was picturing a special moment where he actually latched on and wanted milk. This did not happen for me. And I felt like the biggest failure. Just about an hour into motherhood and the one thing that I am actually supposed to do for my newborn baby, I can’t. I was not expecting to feel like a failing mom within just an hour.
Nursing was not what I expected.
Our story with it was really challenging and stressful and time consuming. I would spend at least an hour per feeding trying to get him to nurse and usually we both ended in tears. While all of this is behind us and now I really do treasure the moments of nursing, it was definitely not always like this. While I heard it would be hard, I also heard story after story about how beautiful and wonderful it is. It was not wonderful for me. It was painful.
Physically, I was engorged which was way more painful than I had ever heard it would be. I literally had lumps in my arms pits that were clogged milk ducts. I could barely lie on my side. It was that painful.
Emotionally, I have never felt so rejected. This baby that I loved so deeply, would become so frantic when I tried to nurse him. It was more than just him not latching, to me it seemed like he did not want me. He screamed and turned his head. While looking back, I know there were so many factors that caused this reaction, but at the time I could not help but feel rejected and like a failure.
I also was very much unprepared for how demanding and draining breastfeeding would be for the first couple months. I did not even go to a breastfeeding class because I assumed it would come naturally. That was my first mistake. Besides the actual breastfeeding itself, there are so many rules when it comes to storing milk, pumping schedules, re-heating milk. You can’t microwave the milk, you can’t shake it, you can’t give your baby the same bottle that they drank from earlier. This might seem obvious to some but I literally had no idea.
I unfortunately let the dark cloud of breastfeeding fully take over the first few weeks home with our little Hudson. I wish I did not do this. I was fully consumed with the mission of figuring out this nursing thing that I missed some of those tender first moments. My days were good if I was able to actually nurse Hudson and they were bad when I was plugged into my pump for the entire day.
All this to say, breastfeeding is hard. And it is wonderful. But it is especially hard those first few weeks. If I could change anything about this particular part of my experience, it would be to fill those weeks with so much more grace. Grace when I had to give him another bottle of pumped milk. Grace when I had to use a nipple shield for literally 4 months. Grace when I felt like I should be like all those other moms that seem to be able to nurse their babies with such ease.
I was so hard on myself, but the Lord was so tender with me. Around 3 and a half months, I was reaching a breaking point. Up to this point, I still could only nurse with a nipple shield. I never thought I could hate a tiny piece of silicon more than I hated that shield. I was embarrassed and so tired of feeling like I needed a crutch. In my prayers one morning, I very specifically asked the Lord to allow me to not need this anymore. Two weeks later, after 4 months of needing this shield, Hudson no longer needed it. The Lord was so tender and kind to me in the way he answered this prayer. I really wish I was more reliant on His ever-sufficient grace much earlier than 4 months.
3. Allow Others to Help
For some reason, the moment we got home with Hudson, I felt like I needed to jump right into being the perfect stay at home mom. I also felt like I had to do everything on my own. I kept telling myself that Lance will be leaving for work soon, so I needed to get used to doing things on my own. Within the first couple weeks, I was already doing things like holding carseats and lifting them from the car to the stroller. I just had major surgery and my hormones were going crazy, but still I felt like I needed to hold it all together.
I was worrying about so much those initial first couple weeks when I really should have just been resting and soaking in the time with sweet Hudson. I really wish I leaned more into the help I was offered. I wish I took more naps. I wish I asked for even more dinners made. It is okay to get help. It is especially okay when you just had a baby. I really wish I enjoyed this season more where people were willing and happy to serve our family. Instead of feel like a burden or super needy, I wish I just reveled in the help.
The other major lesson in here is that it is okay if one day the only thing that gets done is feeding and loving over a baby. I would and still feel like a failure when it feels like I did not produce any measurable outcomes except a happy baby (depending on the day) and maybe some folded laundry. This is more of a lesson I am still in the process of learning, but I am working on being okay with this. Certain days the house will be a mess, dinner will only be half made, Hudson will not be napping, and it will be okay. I simply cannot do it all and I need help.
I am so thankful for friends bringing over meals, all our family spending so much time with us at the house, and especially my mom and sister coming over nearly every morning so I could leave the house or just rest. I am also thankful for medical help like the advice and guidance I received from doctors and lactation consultants.
I am one that really hates asking for help. The perfect example is when I try to buckle the back of the ergo carrier. I don’t know how some people make it look so easy. I still struggle with this, but my own stubbornness prevents me from just asking for help. This results in just looking silly for a few minutes with both arms behind my back when I could have just gotten the help I needed immediately. But is this not how we live? We choose to look like fools frantically scrambling to do it for ourselves rather than humbly admit our need. Well here I am, finally admitting that I need help. Please help!
4. The Newborn Season is Fleeting
It is amazing what a month brings. I think this is one piece of wisdom I wish someone had more directly spoken to me. Those first two months were real hard. Like melting down on bathroom floor hard. It was two months filled with emotional waves, uncertainty and deep anxiety. I was struggling to feel happy and myself. I was not fully myself. While those first two months were some of the very hardest, I am amazed how quickly things did get better.
The amount of growth and development babies go through is amazing. From two months to four months, Hudson had become so much more predictable, attentive, and happy. It was four months in that I could feel some of the heaviness lift. The anxiety was slowly beginning to fade. I was beginning to feel so much more confident with this new role as mom.
Those first four months, I would look out into the world and see all these moms doing all the things and I felt like I was no where close to getting to that point. I would see moms out with the stroller and the dog and I was amazed. I was so nervous to walk by myself with an 80-pound golden that is overly excited and a baby. Now, I don’t think twice about it and love getting out of the house with Nala and Hudson. I am pretty certain that the person I was in July would not even recognize the mom that I have become within just a few short months. I did not know this in July and I think this would have made all the difference. It felt like July would be the picture of what our entire year would look like, but it turns out that November and December look nothing like July and August.
5. Getting Outside is Essential
Within just a week, I put a pressure on myself that I had to go out and do things with Hudson. I wish we didn’t go out as much early on. I think in ways I was not fully ready. While early on, I felt an eagerness to go out into the world, I am finding as the months go on and as I become even more tired, I am more inclined to just stay inside. However, I am learning how important and helpful it can be to just go. To leave the house even on the days where you don’t fully want to. Sometimes, it is those days that getting out of the house can be the most beneficial.
Especially recently, I can’t even think of a time where we went out and I regretted it. It usually is the opposite. I come back home with new perspective, new connection, and new energy. I am learning that it can be really easy to convince yourself that you should not go, that you should just stay home. I have been there. The voices of doubt start to creep in. I am already late. Hudson just spit up all over himself. He is screaming crying as I put him in his carseat. It is often in these moments, where I wonder is it worth it? From my experience so far, it almost always is worth it. Even if it is the smallest outing, it can really change the day to get out. I have let the what if’s control my day. What if Hudson cries the whole time? What if people think I’m a bad mom? What if I can’t get him into the carrier properly? These questions and doubts would prevent and sometimes still do prevent me from just going out, living, and being okay if things did not go perfectly.
I am learning, there have been very few times that I have gone out and it was a perfect experience. Usually something happened. He had a blowout. He refused to sit in stroller. He cried in yoga class. I think of each of those situations and if I let the what if rule my decision and chose to stay inside instead, I would have been missing out. I would have missed out on that beautiful run we had together on the strand. I would have missed the connection with a great friend. I would have missed seeing the way he smiled when him and all the other babies danced with their moms at the end of class. Things will happen when you go out. Some good and some not so good, but without going, you are potentially missing out on something really beautiful.
6. You Were Made for This
There have definitely been those days where I wondered am I really cut out for this? I wondered if that tugging on my heart to be a mom was accurate. Did I hear God wrong? Is this my calling? But even on those days of doubt, I am daily reminded that I am made for this. The Lord has perfectly equipped me to be mother to Hudson. I am made for motherhood because I am made by Him. He has crafted my heart in such a way that has prepared me for both the joys and challenges of being a mom. I am thankful for those quiet moments alone with Hudson. The way he looks at me right before he falls asleep. The way he sleeps in my arms as I rock him in the glider. It is these little moments, these quiet ones that show me there is no place I would rather be than right here with him.
So if you also are experiencing these days of doubting and questioning your role as mom, remember this simple truth: you were made for this, mama.