I realize that this post may seem a bit precipitate considering that I've only been a mother for three weeks now. Nevertheless, I feel that when you're thrust into the role of mother, you do a lot of learning on the fly and no matter how many parenting books you've read or how many conversations with other moms you've had, you're never really prepared for your new role until you're knee deep in it. The things I'm about to say are things you've probably heard before, but trust me, the full weight of these realizations won't hit you until you become a mom yourself. Here are a few of my profound realizations:
1. Breastfeeding is TOUGH. You always hear about sleep deprivation as one of the most challenging aspects of new parenthood, which I'm sure it is, but for me the biggest hurdle that I had to overcome within the first few days (even the first few hours!) of becoming a mom was trying to feed my baby. The first day I spent with Roman in the hospital, I could not get him interested in my breast at all. He must have been the only baby in the world that wasn't born hungry. The hospital nurses kept coming in to our room and asking me if he'd eaten yet and I'd explain to them that he seemed to be just too sleepy to eat. Even though I'd read a nursing book before I gave birth, I still needed the nurses to help me get Roman to latch on correctly and to motivate him to eat. Then, once we finally got him to latch on, he was insatiable! Suddenly, my poor, virgin breasts became permanently attached to my son's mouth. I don't want to frighten anyone but there was blood. It probably took a whole week of agonizing pain every time I nursed until my breasts became acclimated to their new role. Three weeks in, my breasts are doing fine (thanks for asking!), but I still find breastfeeding to be challenging mostly because once you decide to breastfeed you also decide to be on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and NO ONE can take your place. Which leads me to my second point...
2. There are NO breaks. This is something that applies to both mother and father really. Once you become a parent, you don't get a break. If your baby needs you, you have to drop whatever you're doing and be a parent. Forget that game you wanted to watch or that long conversation you were having with your best friend. When Roman starts crying, the Professor and I quickly go through the list of things that could be wrong--is his diaper dirty? Is he tired? Does he just want to be picked up? Is he hungry? (The answer to this last question is almost always "yes"). The Professor has been wonderful at splitting the parenting workload with me. He gets up in the middle of the night when I do, he almost always changes Roman's diaper, he burps him and bathes him, and he jiggles and rocks Roman all over the house when he's fussy. But if Roman is hungry or thirsty, that's a problem that no one can solve but me. Which means that no matter where I am or what I'm doing, if my baby needs to eat, I need to be available. On frequent occasions, I'll come out of the shower hearing Roman shrieking at the top of his lungs for milk and I open the bathroom door to find a harried and frustrated looking Professor waiting for me--or waiting for my breasts actually. Once I settle myself down comfortably to breastfeed, I can potentially be stuck there for thirty minutes to an hour. This is because our baby is narcoleptic. He sucks vigorously for the first fifteen to twenty minutes and then he falls asleep at the breast and only sucks intermittently. So every time I see him drop off, I nudge his cheek or the back of his head and he'll suck again for a few seconds before sleep overtakes him once again. This can go on for some time. In total, I would estimate that I spend around five or six hours a day breastfeeding--it's practically a full-time job!
3. You have your own instincts. Trust them. When you're a first time parent, you're constantly afraid that your complete inexperience and lack of knowledge will somehow hurt your baby. So you tend to ask other people for advice, consult numerous books and websites, and treat every parenting decision as though it were a matter of life and death. What I've come to realize is that every baby is different and what works for one baby may not work for yours. What may be the right decision for some mothers may not be the right one for you. In the end, YOU know what's best for your baby, yourself, and your family. I came to this realization recently when I polled a bunch of my mom friends on their opinions of whether I should introduce a bottle or a pacifier (or both!) to Roman. All last week, I'd been toying with the idea of pumping breast milk and having the Professor give Roman a bottle every now and again so I could get a break (or shower in peace). But after we gave him the bottle a few times, we realized that Roman was chugging the milk even though the bottle has a slow-flow nipple and after he was done feeding, he still wanted to suck to soothe himself to sleep. I was hesitant to continue with the bottle or introduce a pacifier because the different books and websites I consulted said it was too early and my baby might get "nipple confusion". I also feared that by introducing a pacifier, I'd make Roman emotionally dependent on something that I'd have to throw away once he became a toddler. When I read my friends' responses to my predicament, I saw that each one of them (all amazing mothers who I admire and respect) had different advice. Some had to introduce a bottle early on, some formula-fed their babies early on, some of their babies took to a pacifier and some did not. The fact that all of their babies thrived no matter what decision their parents made was very heartening. So ask for advice by all means, but trust yourself to know best. As my very wise friend said, "in the end, as long as your baby is well-fed and loved, everything will be okay."
I know this post was pretty long but I think it's important to share and to be honest. If you're a mom or dad, I'd love to hear from you too since I'm still new to this and just figuring things out as I go. What would you say were some surprising realizations about parenthood? What was the biggest challenge you faced and how did you overcome it?
(Photo: Mother and Child)