Before I had my babe – before I was even expecting her – I looked forward to being a mother. I longed for my own baby in the ridiculous way that we 20-something women do when our ovaries are whispering at us to make them useful. I had it all planned, found my man, ushered him into marriage, and pushed until he caved to the idea of making a baby. Men, as it seems, are usually on the other spectrum of baby-wanting where it terrifies them to no end to be responsible for a little human.
If I had any sense, I would have made note of that terror, and realized that, yes, it is in fact, an overwhelming and exhausting idea. But, you know. Ovaries. My mind was only set on “Baby. Baby. Baby.”
So here we were, in the hospital on the first day of becoming new parents to this tiny, fresh little being. It was wonderful. For about 20 minutes, at which point our baby started doing what babies do: crying. Okay, so I expected this to happen, but what I failed to realize is just how long it would carry on, and how helpless we would be to calm her. She wouldn’t latch. She wanted to, but she just… wouldn’t. For a few humbling days of the screaming, not sleeping, and being constantly manhandled by different staff who were trying to help stop the crying and get her to latch, I panicked in my head.
“What the *bleep* have we done?!” This was the worst mistake of my life. I didn’t even feel that all-encompassing love for this cute, yet strange, little being that moms are supposed to feel (Note: I’ve since realized that moms aren’t “supposed to” anything. That love grew all in its own time.) How would we possibly get through the next week like this, let alone the next 18 years of being the sole caretakers of our daughter? This was too hard.
The thing was, we didn’t.
We went home. Our midwife met us there, and with a quick tip she showed us, we were soon latching and nursing the way I had assumed would come naturally. We were so thankful that finally we were able to calm our babe (and our exhausted and emotional selves), and we ignorantly went on believing that we had this covered. We could do this all on our own now. Or so I thought.
Having heeded our midwife’s advice during my pregnancy, we made connections with other expecting mamas and papas. She had warned us about how much we would need a tribe, but how difficult it would be to make those connections after our baby was born for a variety of reasons (an exhausted new parent does not make the best new introductions due to ALL OF THE THINGS that are going down in your life then). So I put my shy and awkward self out there at our prenatal group and collected phone numbers, made calls and plans, and soon our tribe of parenting peers was built.
Each week at the end of our pregnancies and for the next year we got together, rotating at each of our houses. We welcomed the new additions to our group as they were born (and as we made new mama friends), and we quickly became fast friends. We shared our stories and fears, our “failures” and successes. We passed our children back and forth to go to appointments. We shared snacks and tea and, for a few hours on those days, we filled each other with the confidence that we were doing just fine, our kids were okay, and each phase would pass. This group has been the most supportive group I have been a part of in my life. Gosh darn it, now I’m getting all teary just thinking about it, but emotions aside, this was the best thing that could have helped me through that trying first year of motherhood.
You see, being a mom (and a parent in general, though dads have their own struggles going on) is really hard. Losing the version of yourself you knew before is hard. Not getting the truly free time to yourself is hard. Becoming a sleep-deprived, always turned-on protector and caregiver is hard. Dealing with crazy new hormones and emotions that you struggle to keep a handle on is so very hard. Maintaining a relationship with your partner after all of these changes is another tough piece entirely.
My tribe saved me. Without these women and their families, I feel very strongly that I would have fallen into that dark place on which I teetered again and again in my journey, and I’m not so sure I would have resurfaced. It actually gives me goosebumps now to think how differently this all could have been if I didn’t have my pack of strong, supportive, giving, loving, and sharing women to lean on, who understood more than anyone what I was going through because they were there, too.
The best advice I could possibly give to parents-to-be is to build your tribe. Stay true to who you are, and follow your own instincts, but build yourself a wall of support to get you through what will likely be the hardest times of your life. As much as I thought I knew what lay ahead when I looked at those two pink lines, I could not have imagined how much harder it would actually be.
If you’re expecting, do yourself a favour and make it a priority to connect with others who will be going through all of this at the same time. Your life is about to become rooted in being able to stand up and be heard for your children’s sake, as their protector and voice while they develop their own. If you’re timid and socially awkward, now is the time to practice reaching out and being confident. Don’t be afraid to be rejected. Those mamas may look collected and stuck up, but chances are they’re just like you – about to go through one of the greatest transformations of their lives, and in need of support.
Give it a try.
You never know how much that “Hello, I’m Hannah” might mean in the future, when you’re exhausted and confused and afraid and need a friend who understands.