New Motherhood: Three Tips for Success (or Survival)

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Just over a month ago, my daughter Avery (future lady project member) was born. I had prepared extensively for her birth - for me, it seemed to be a completely unpredictable and intimidating process. I expected it to be one of the hardest things I will ever do. For Avery and I, the birthing process was wondrous. Don't get me wrong - there was plenty of pain, discomfort, and fear involved, but also awe, joy, support, and even humor.

It was what came after that really threw me for a loop, particularly the challenges of adjusting during the first few weeks - so much change happening in my body, my home, and my identity all at once. Here are a few key things that I wish I had known two months ago, in hopes that they'll help any other soon to be new moms out there in the Lady Project community.

1. Wish, don't plan My OB talked with me throughout my pregnancy about birth wishes, not a birth plan. Know what your intentions and hopes are, but be flexible because the birthing process can unfold in unpredictable ways, and we need to stay adaptable and focus on the greater goal: a healthy baby and mom.

I now know that the same can be said for the first few weeks of my baby's life. What I planned for and how life with my newborn unfolded were very different things.

For example, I planned to breastfeed exclusively, but plans changed quickly when Avery lost a large percentage of her birth weight and we had to start supplementing with bottles and formula when she was just three days old. I had been to the breastfeeding class and read the books about the benefits of nursing. I thought I had checked that box - yes, I will nurse my baby exclusively for six months! Yet there I was at our first appointment in the pediatrician's office, feeding my baby a bottle of Similac and weeping uncontrollably.

Nursing was extremely challenging in the beginning - my milk supply was delayed, and what I thought would be a natural and intuitive process was more painful and complicated than I ever expected. If I could have fed Avery with my tears, she would have gained pounds upon pounds - they were NOT in short supply!

Now, when it comes to feeding, sleeping, and parenting, I'm thinking in terms of my wishes, not plans. Everything depends on so many circumstances out of my control that I need to remain adaptable and stay focused on the ultimate goal: raising a healthy, happy, and resilient daughter.

2. Know your resources In the beginning, everything is so new and it can be both overwhelming and isolating to care for a tiny person with so many needs. When challenges came up for me, I wanted guidance on what to do and reassurance that I wasn't a big failure doing everything "wrong" - that the challenges I faced were something experienced by other new moms. I kept asking myself: What is normal? Am I a good mom or bad mom?

There were two main resources that got me through these first weeks.

For expertise, my doctors and friends alike recommended Healthy Babies Happy Moms, a wonderful organization out of East Greenwich. Certified Lactation Consultants will come to your house to offer expert advice on nursing and work with you on a personalized plan for getting on the right track. These visits are covered by most insurance. They also hold a free breastfeeding support group at their office every other Saturday. I found it incredibly helpful to work one on one with them, and to find a community of moms through their support group.

For reassurance, a friend recommended the podcast The Longest Shortest Time, available for free on iTunes. Think This American Life, but just stories of surprising challenges with newborns. It comes out on Wednesdays at 3am, which is perfect for moms who are up feeding in the middle of the night. I've now listened to most of the back episodes, and in them I've found comfort, humor, and reassurance that I'm doing the best I can.

3. Shamelessly draw from your community of support Your friends and family are going to want to support you, but many of them won't know how. Because I was a new mom, I didn't know what to ask them for or what would be most helpful.

By far, the thing that we needed the most was food. All the peer moms in my life knew it, because they stopped by with platters of meals that made my husband and I rejoice. Don't be afraid to straight up ask friends to bring dinner.

Second, identify a great listener and empathizer in your life - someone who will hold back on advice and simply hear you out and validate that it makes complete sense that you feel the way that you feel. I've learned that people love to offer unsolicited advice (if one more person tells me that I should sleep when the baby sleeps, I'm going to throw a dirty diaper at them) and they love to reminisce about their own experiences (which often include horror stories) in ways that are completely unhelpful to me. Finding a person that I could call in the tough times, who would just listen and be with me in the moment was a game-changer.

Stay tuned for the second part of this two-part series on new motherhood: a post for all you ladies who are friends of new moms, on three ways to be a new mom’s BFF.

Carole Ann is a life purpose coach, arts & culture administrator, quilter, and blogger based in Providence, Rhode Island. She works with women to uncover, articulate, and activate their life purpose so that they can craft an intentional life that embraces what matters to them most. When she is not coaching, she can be found blogging at www.caroleannpenney.com, or designing modern quilts in her studio.