I have no idea what I’m doing. Do you know how many times I say that to myself in a day? So many. I’m in new situations regularly with my girls and I think, Ack. This could be a memory they remember forever and I could really mess this up. Before I became a mother, I thought I would have children and I would just know. I would just have a feeling of what I needed to do. Those mother intuitions and instincts that everyone talks about – I was sure those would kick in once I had kids. I was wrong.
I was 24, and I just birthed my sweet teeny tiny girl. I was in labor for ten hours, I pushed loudly for two. I was exhausted when she was finally born at 4:00 PM. My eyelids were heavy and my arms felt like weights. Our new tiny baby slept in her clear sterile box next to my hospital bed, and I quickly melted into a deep sleep.
I awoke frightened when I saw the hospital nurse bustling around the box my girl slept in, my little baby crying softly. “Her diaper is soiled,” The nurse huffed, “You have to wake up when she cries!” I felt scolded, and I was very embarrassed that I didn’t wake up from my baby’s cries. Once my girl went back to sleep, I allowed myself to sleep as well. As I drifted off, I repeated to myself, You have to wake up if she cries, you have to wake up if she cries. I was ashamed that I had to remind myself of this.
Reminding myself to wake for our baby’s needs wasn’t the only trouble I had. Nursing was difficult as well. I was expecting this to be easy, but it certainly wasn’t. My girl wasn’t latching correctly. My breast would bleed. Why can’t I get this?! I asked myself. My older sister told me, “You’ll get it, just stick with it and you’ll get it”. Shouldn’t I already have it? I wondered.
Sometimes our tiny girl would cry and cry. She was fed, she was dry, she was comfortable. I had no idea why she cried. My amazingly sweet mother-in-law would offer to hold my girl, and it seemed almost instantaneous that my little girl would stop crying. I tried to hide my disappointment. I’m the mom, I thought, but I don’t know how to comfort my baby?
I had no idea what I was doing. I was disappointed in myself as a mother that I didn’t know how to best care for my baby. I was so sure that when I had my baby I would instinctively know what to do and know what she needed. I felt confident that these instincts would come immediately after I had my little girl, but they didn’t. It scared me that this little baby was completely reliant on me for her life, yet I didn’t wake up immediately when she cried, I didn’t know how to nurse her correctly, and I didn’t know how to comfort her when she cried. Where was my motherhood instinct?
This motherhood instinct that I had heard about my entire life, was just not what I thought it was. Motherhood is learned in so many ways. I learn by seeing, by doing, by hearing, by reading. Many of us do. I wasn’t just going to know immediately how to comfort my baby. I learned. I learned quickly that I needed to (and my husband, too!) wake up in the middle of the night when our baby cried. I learned how to comfort and nurse my girl by doing something and then realize that it didn’t work, then trying something else. My mother-in-law knew what to do when our girl cried because she tried something that worked with her three other boys, and it just happened to work on our girl as well. This is something my husband told me, and it made me feel a lot better about not being about to comfort our little girl when my mother-in-law could.
I thought that I would be so much better at comforting and nursing and all those things that come with being a mom once I had my second child. It turns out, no! These children are all different and because of this, we have to learn by doing to know how best to be mother and father to our kids.