When I was a first time mom I struggled. Badly. That was with your oldest brother. Then another brother came between. With you, I found out that I was having a daughter and I wanted to write about all of those Very Important Topics that were near and dear to my heart so that I could convert you the way I tried to convert many others in the debates that made up the mom groups that I found myself a part of. It is just what mothers seem to do. We join groups. We debate stuff. Instead I realized that I don’t want to debate anymore. I don’t want to clamber on top of another mom’s head when she’s struggling to stay afloat just so that I can float a bit higher for a bit.
We all struggle in the early days. Fact of life. Having a baby is hard. It changes things in ways that nothing can prepare you for.
I wanted to share my accumulated wisdom with you in case you one day decide to have a child of your own.
Fingers to the keyboard I started to type and the things that I found my heart wanting to say didn’t contain a debate or cold hard facts. The things that I found myself wanting to say only contained reassurance.
The early days feel like drowning. Like impossible. Like failure that you can’t succumb to because for the first time in your life it’s really not about you. It’s about this small new human being that you hold in your arms.
When someone is drowning you don’t lecture them about the proper technique for swimming. You hold their head above the waves. You let them catch their breath. You let the panic drain away.
It’s okay. You’re not alone. You’re not drowning. It’s scary. It’s new. It feels impossible. It’s hard. Breathe.
Thinking back to the earliest days of my motherhood it wasn’t the debates that helped me stay afloat. It wasn’t the minutiae of the choices that I made as a new mother. It was the gentle voices scattered among the chaos. “You two make a good team.” “You’re doing a good job.” “It’s hard, but you’re doing great.” The information helped me make the choices that were possible, but the gentle supportive voices helped make things feel possible. They helped make life seem achievable. They helped me realize that I was treading water just fine. And that the earliest days of learning don’t look like a graceful swan dive. They look like a belly flop and frantic splashing.
I have shared some of the letters that I have written to you. Other mamas have reached out to me. I have seen strong women struggle and question their abilities. I have seen strong mamas conquer colic and reflux and hang in there with their babies, holding their babies up above the waves even when they felt as though they were going to be sucked under.
They weren’t. These mamas who struggled so badly, I see them now holding the heads of other mums above, helping them to relax as they hold their babies near. They struggle still, sometimes. And I hope that they know by now that it’s okay. It’s okay to fear your ability to stay afloat. It’s okay to feel sucked under. They’ve learned to breathe. To relax. To float. To reach out for the helping hands of others when it feels too hard. And even though they still struggle, they reach out their own helping hands to lovingly catch the mamas around them. I see their weakness, sure. But more overwhelmingly I see their strength. Their tenacity. I see how determined they are. Not just to stay afloat, but to help make sure those around them stay afloat as well.
If you one day have a child of your own I hope that I’ll be able to be there for you in those early days to tell you all the things that I want to tell you about how awesome you’re doing even if you feel like a complete wreck. I hope that I’ll be able to be there for you to help you hold your baby and to help you learn all the tools that you can use to fill up that toolkit of yours. I hope that I’ll be right there with you helping you keep your head above the water. I know that life has a way of making the wishes of our hearts impossible sometimes, though. And of fading memories… So I want to write to you from the here and the now and tell you this thing:
Stay afloat. You won’t drown. You’ll learn to swim and you’ll help teach others.
When you’re helping them you’ll recognize the strength that you had when you felt that you had none. You’ll see another mama struggle and you’ll recognize the flailing. You’ll whisper in a non-believing ear “It’s okay”. Not because you’re trying to convince them of something. But because you know it really truly is okay. You know how ridiculously strong they are, even if they can’t see it yet. And you understand how ridiculously strong you’ve been.
It’s okay. This passes. You learn to swim.
Breathe deep. Kiss the baby in your arms. Feel your love deeply.
You’ll look back on this and you’ll say “Holy shit, I did it.” Because you’re DOING it, baby girl. It’s hard, but it passes. Look at you swim. You’re doing great.