Before I had my first baby, I envisioned a picturesque setting of a tiny, cooing baby decked with layers of flannel and eyelet while nestled on a lofty, plush mattress. This baby would be tucked safely in a high wicker bassinet with fluffy, warm blankets and of course, the room would be set in a hazy twilight glow while a warm breeze wafted through the open window and fluttered the sheer curtains.
After I had my first baby, the room the baby was mostly in never seemed to have a hazy twilight glow, I never managed to put sheer curtains up and I made sure to keep all the windows closed, avoiding a cold breeze that could be tinted with RSV. The doctor told me the dangers of large, soft blankets and strictly forbade the use of plush mattresses.
I soon learned that it wasn't the picturesque setting I should strive for as a mother; it was the hope that my baby would burp after his feeding and have a bowel movement 6-8 times a day.
Before I had children, I thought all babies smelled pretty. After I had my first baby, I learned how much work it is to keep a baby smelling pretty.
Before I had children, I kept the little bed in our room decked with neatly folded receiving blankets and matching burp rags laid decoratively with the blankets. I was sure to keep the powder and baby brush in a neat little basket at the end of the little bed along with a neat stack of diapers and a small tub of wipes.
After I had my first baby, I learned that it doesn't matter if the burp rag matches the baby's blanket; when you need a rag, you'll use anything within reach. I also found that I had only seconds to get the old diaper off and the new diaper on before a shower would turn on. Who had time for powder?
Before I had children, I had so many good ideas and so much fun planning. I knew how often my baby would eat, how long he'd be awake before I'd put him back to bed and he'd obediently coo for a few minutes and then go back to sleep. I knew how easy it was going to be to nurse -- I mean, I wasn't going to have to warm the milk or wash bottles so it was really going to be a breeze.
After I had my first baby, all my ideals and plans went out the window within the first 24 hours. My baby would NOT eat until I was home from the hospital. Then once he ate, I had to burp him, change him and then nurse some more. Then we burped again, changed again and surprisingly, he didn't just settle down and coo and go back to sleep in his own little bed. As his tummy got used to real milk, he was a little fussy until it digested and settled down. Nursing was painful and he wanted to nurse all the time.
Before I had children, I thought that once the baby was born, all pain and discomfort would be gone. I thought contractions would be the worst part and everything after them was bliss.
After I had my first baby, I couldn't believe how long it took to heal and regain my energy. I didn't know how painful childbirth would be and how drained I'd feel after he was finally born.
Before I had children, I never pictured myself as a tired mother.
After I had my first baby, my head bobbed through the night as I sat up and tried to stay awake and feed my wide eyed little baby. I would wonder and imagine what it would be like to be sleeping just then. But sleep was still several hours away: this little baby had his days and nights mixed up. And I honestly didn't care if it was day or night; after just having a baby and going through a whirlwind of change and decay, I was afraid I would fall asleep on my feet if I wasn't careful.
When he did finally fall asleep, I'd wake up at the slightest sound just to make sure he was still breathing. And I'm the person who could sleep through a tornado while everyone else ran around and lit candles and made sure the twister wasn't going to take the house away. After I had that first baby, I was forever waking up just to make sure my baby was still alive. I was petrified that he would suddenly succumb to such a deep sleep, he would forget to breath. I wondered what it would be like to sleep and not worry at the same time.
Motherhood is such a complex, complicated yet completely natural process. But, a lot of ideals and prefabricated plans designed by inexperienced people, can make the process a lot harder.
Babies are meant to be loved, held, enjoyed and snuggled. There's more to babies than just feeding, burping, changing and putting to them to sleep. So often, babyhood is turned into a strict curriculum and motherhood is replaced with strong leadership and tight schedules.
As for feeding, nursing isn't just meant for nourishment; it's meant for cuddling, soothing a fussy baby and enjoying a moment alone together as mother and child. Even though nursing isn't just meant for filling a hungry tummy, I'm not abolishing all scheduling standards for feeding. As a matter of fact, both of my babies required a schedule for feeding because of the quantity of milk I had when they were newborns. I could never demand feed on a regular basis. At the rare times I had to nurse closer than 2 hours apart, my babies have both been very fussy and would spit up often.
But, here again is something I learned soon after I had Landon. Sometimes 4 hours apart worked great; other times I was lucky to go 2 hours. Babies are always growing and changing and growth spurts can really effect their eating schedule. As can the quality of the mother's milk.
While seeing many other mothers raise their babies while I was raising mine, there is a camaraderie acquired between mothers that is nonexistent until you both join the ranks of motherhood. In my observations, sadly enough, there seems to be a trend of motherless motherhood among many young moms.
I heard a young mother say to me that she was still trying to be able to tell her 3 wk. old baby's cries apart: whether she was hungry or whether she was angry.
Another mother exasperated that her baby was having a hard time lately because she was weaning the child off of nursing. I wondered why it was important to wean the baby if she wasn't ready yet. The mother excused that since the baby was a year old now, she (the mom) was ready to quit. I looked at the little baby sitting forlornly on it's mother lap and I saw such sadness and confusion in the baby's eyes. Her face was etched with pain and confusion not intended for such a young one.
What has happened to the nurturing and caring that motherhood is supposed to bring to our little ones? Instead of using God-given instincts to care for our own young, we implement tight schedules, follow rules and books written by inexperienced people who have never been mothers and shun cuddle time with our babies in order to avoid spoiling and coddling.
As I observed my own pregnancies and then the resulting baby, I began to think about the fact that a baby in it's mother's womb never experiences a need. He is warm, fed, clean, rocked and his food is fully digested. After birth, suddenly many parents see the child as a potentially rebellious and angry person. He is no longer rocked 24 hours a day like he was before, he is no longer always fed when he is hungry, his digestion problems are sometimes mistaken for an attitude problem because of all the fussy and crying a little gas can cause and his needs of mere comfort are overlooked.
In experiencing babies twice so far, I have come to realize that all babies have a very real need that ties right along with needing to be fed. And that need is comfort. If I had known everything I know now about being a mom and having a baby, I would've enjoyed my first little baby so much more. I would've relaxed, cuddled, and enjoyed MY baby.
The best advice our pediatrician ever gave me was this:
Until your baby is 3 months old, there is no possible way you can spoil him. He can be held, rocked, cuddled and snuggled as much as you want because it is impossible for him to remember things. A lot of times parents want to avoid spoiling their baby so they avoid holding it a lot. When the child cries, they refuse to pick it up, thinking that doing so will "teach" the infant how to get his way. The results are never effective until some time AFTER the child is 3 months old.
I took that advice to heart with both of my babies and I didn't feel guilty or "used" when my babies cried and I held them.
Before I had children, I never imagined the joy of holding a crying baby and seeing his broken heart mend just by nestling him close to me.
After I had my first baby, the greatest thing I ever experienced was watching the way my baby listened immediately to my voice and calmed as my hands lifted his little wriggling body as I picked him up. I never knew how exciting it would be to hold my very own baby in my arms and see him relax just at my touch and voice.
To think of avoiding that bond of nurturing and caring because some idealistic philosophy that holding a crying baby is synonym to spoiling them, is a thought that every mother should take to heart. By relinquishing our responsibility of nurturing and caring for our young, we are giving up our rights as mothers... we are giving up our responsibility to motherhood. We lose motherhood but still keep the baby.
And that's what happened to motherhood.