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The One Thing I Wish I'd Known as a New Mom

Photograph by Twenty20

I’ve always been anxious. But I can’t remember a time more flushed with anxiety than new motherhood. The stakes were so damn high. Suddenly, I was in charge of another person’s life. A tiny, helpless person. Every day brimmed with decisions from the logistical (Should I nurse him again?) to the controversial (Should we circumcise?) to the temporal (Just how long should I wait after he poops to change his diaper, knowing very well that he might be about to poop again?)

Basically, I worried about everything.

Was I nursing him too much? Not enough? Was our bedtime routine adequate? What should his first food be? Am I awful for checking my email while he nurses? Should I be more assertive with teaching him baby signs? I’m horrible for letting him take naps in the swing, aren’t I? Am I being attachment-parenty enough? Too much?

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I get exhausted just thinking about those newborn days. I was rigid with fear. As a sensitive, intuitive person, I’d assumed that motherhood would feel more natural. But I second-guessed myself at every turn. I spent hours reading articles online, which never really answered most of my questions, but instead, allowed headlines bringing new doubts in: Should we be delaying vaccinations? Should we be putting him in his own crib? I should be reading to him more, right?

Whatever mother’s intuition I might have possessed was drowned out by my anxiety, by hyper-focusing on parenting and the ticker tape of decisions coming at me.

I can tell you, from a little further down the parenting journey, that those things didn’t matter one damn bit.

My heart hurts when I think of that version of myself, that fear-filled new mother me. I wish I could go back and hug her, and bring her a huge vanilla soy latte, and tell her what I’ve learned in the past eight years—that you don’t need to worry so much about all the decisions. When you get stuck in the hamster wheel of self-doubt, ask yourself this:

Will it matter in five years?

Will it matter whether or not you introduced a pacifier? Let him nap in the swing? Browsed the internet while nursing?

I can tell you, from a little further down the parenting journey, that those things didn’t matter one damn bit.

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And I would say this: Love your son, though that part is easy. That love materializes all by itself, whether it appears fully formed at the moment of your baby's birth, or whether it grows slowly over time, forming and rearranging.

But don’t forget to love yourself—that part's not quite so easy.

Take more breaks. Don’t fret so much about “being present” with him. About making all the right decisions. I know that it all feels high stakes right now. And I know that it also feels like this period of sleepless, blurry time will last forever. But it won’t. Coiled just inside your baby is the blossom of a fiery four-year-old. A baby-faced Kindergartner. A funny, football-loving eight-year-old.

And he is OK.

And coiled just inside you is a slightly older, wiser, softer version of yourself. Time has taught her that it’s okay to lower her standards, to stop trying to be perfect. She’s watching over you, wishing for you to be gentle with yourself. To dig deep and find that still, quiet voice inside you, beneath all the advice and comparisons, the voice that says, "You can do this."

And you can.

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